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Smokes and Sins
And why experts can't tell the difference
From a young age, we are told that the smartest people in the room also happen to be the ones with our best interests at heart. Such a view has been established not by actual evidence, which almost uniformly contradicts it, but by the sincere hopes of careful people whose constitution prevents them from entertaining a more sinister reality. Namely, that expertise doesn’t automatically come equipped with a conscience.
For confirmation of this, all we have to do is open to any random page of news. For example, new Health Canada regulations now require every cigarette to come wrapped in its own damning indictment. These range from the pleasantly alliterative — “Poison in Every Puff!” — to the more direct —“Cigarettes Damage Your Organs.” This new messaging will, of course, augment the “Still Life with Charbroiled Lungs” that has already been cheering Canadian smokers for the last 25 years. For at least one analyst, whose analysis has apparently never extended to smoke breaks, such a move “Is going to prompt discussion, including by smokers during smoke breaks: ‘What warning have you got today?’” Here we find the true mark of an expert. The ability to combine a profound estrangement from reality with the conviction that everyone will be as excited by banal policies as their paycheck says they have to be.
Flip over a few more pages, and you might just as easily read something like this, which recounts the classic tale of when the Medical Officer of Health colluded with the Police Chief to decriminalize hard-drug possession. Evidently we must simply accept that the same officer who called for mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations of all school-age children back in 2021 is also qualified to tell us "what's best" for criminals. “We’re talking about a matter of health and a matter of human rights, not one that really is meant to be addressed or is best addressed with a criminal justice approach.”
Here is someone who could tell you the names of all 26 bones in your foot and yet wouldn’t know justice if it assumed the mass of Saturn and careened into her windshield. Yet de Villa and her tribe are quoted and looked to with the kind of reverance normally reserved for beatific visions.
I am not suggesting we protest by rushing over to Circle K for a king-sized pack of Export A’s. There are likely better ways to spend your time (and lung term limits) than hacking darts in the middle of a Canadian winter. I am simply drawing attention to the fact that, based on the ire of Health Canada experts, one might almost get the impression that shaming/pricing people out of their smoking habits is a more urgent priority than getting hard drugs off the streets. Or that lighting up in local parks is more of a problem than sponsoring meth addicts to pass out in front of the local library.
In all this, it seems about time for a reminder that:
The possession of expertise in one or more fields doesn’t qualify someone as a moral authority in that, or any other, field. Information describes. It doesn’t determine or direct. And if you still think The Science™ is a replete moral program that can guide humanity into a better future, I’m sure you’re a lovely person but — don’t call us, we’ll call you.
Those who claim to be in secret possession of moral hierarchies were also those voted most likely to cross the street to avoid a dying man in their high-school yearbooks. As limited, fallen creatures, we are dependent on nature and revelation to convey moral order — not the inscrutable visions of stygian witches.
We need to be aware of our tendency towards abdicating responsibility; that many disguise this tendency as humility doesn’t change the fact. We also need to acknowledge that the presence of a powerful class that also happens to have the empathy of mainstream media makes it even easier to opt for abdication. The solution is to acknowledge with the Scriptures that “No one is good except God alone.” Where they “teach as doctrines the commandments of of men,” we make sure to butt out on their manifestos.
When experts stay in their lane, their research and insights can be a great blessing to people and culture. In my darker moments, I suspect mandatory smoke breaks might help get things back on track.
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