See Something? Don’t Say Anything.

by Daniel Tippens

The children, on the other hand, were systematically turned against their parents and taught to spy on them and report their deviations. The family had become in effect an extension of the Thought Police. It was a device by means of which everyone could be surrounded night and day by informers who knew him intimately.

–George Orwell, 1984

George Orwell’s 1984 is, in large part, a discussion about the importance of solidarity between citizens. This becomes clear once one notices that much of what the ruling Party does is designed to engender distrust between its citizens. Ingsoc has placed televisions equipped with cameras in people’s homes, and cameras are hidden in the streets. It has passed laws requiring people to report on their neighbors, whether they are attempting to lead an uprising or simply having a thought that isn’t in line with the party’s ideology. If anyone breaks these laws, the punishment is disappearance, torture, and/or death. Mass surveillance, strict reporting laws, and harsh penalties for legal violations result in citizens turning on one another in order to preserve their own lives. Even worse, the punishment for falling in love is torture until each person betrays the other, begging the torturer to inflict pain on their lover instead. When one’s children might be spies for the Thought Police, how could parental bonds ever form? How could cohesion and trust develop between anyone, for that matter? Solidarity between citizens, in Oceania, has disappeared, and thus, it is impossible for citizens to come together in order to oppose the State.

An encounter I had on campus at the University of Miami reminded me of all of this. I had only been able to catch a few hours of sleep and spent the morning and early afternoon handling tedious logistical matters with which every graduate research assistant is familiar. Once I finished, having a quick smoke seemed like a good release. Knowing that the campus is smoke-free, I decided to walk to the parking lot — which, while still technically part of campus, would not have many people nearby — in order to burn down a cig. After taking a few puffs, a short yet gangly woman in her early fifties appeared, walking in my direction. As she approached, she glared at me and slowed her pace, squinting her eyes and furrowing her brow. After a moment of hesitation, perhaps considering whether or not to say anything, she committed herself to the vigorous termination of my smoke-break. “This is a smoke-free campus,” she said, her eyes now wide and unblinking, “Put out your cigarette now.” “Uh, okay, I will in just a minute,” I replied, taking another hit. “No, put it out this moment, or I’m calling security. You’re forcing me to walk through that smell.” She began to reach for her phone — perhaps she had security on speed-dial – and I asked her if she also would like to ban restaurants, from which waft odors she dislikes, to which she replied, “I’m calling security now.” I finished my cigarette, hopped on my bike, and drove off.

What struck me about this encounter, above all else, was the reason that this woman gave for wanting to call security on me, namely her disliking the smell of my cigarette. Aside from all the other reasons she could have cited — regarding second-hand smoke, for example, or the litter created by discarded cigarette butts — she simply hated that I was doing something that I enjoyed, because it caused her some momentary discomfort. That was enough reason to turn me in to the authorities.

All of us do things for our own pleasure or convenience that might cause others discomfort, and this is something we learn when we are children. Some of our peers will occasionally talk too loudly, reek from neglecting their hygiene, or pass wind in a classroom. Hell, some kids will even throw stink bombs in their high school hallways. When this kind of thing happens, we may call those kids assholes and even give them a hard time about it later, but no matter what, every kid knows that you don’t rat the person out to the principal. This norm ensures the maintenance of a healthy space between the authorities and the students that mirrors the sort of space that should exist between citizens and the government in a liberal society; precisely the kind of space that Orwell’s Oceania lacks.

In adult life, this norm of “citizen-solidarity,” as we might call it, is reflected in the way people behave when they see someone breaking a law that affects our more quotidian personal choices. Smoking marijuana is illegal in most states, and I might even have voted for the law that criminalized its use, but when I see someone smoking a joint in public, my role as a citizen is not to get them jailed so that they can spend their high trying to avoid getting beat up or raped in jail. Rather, it is to give people some wiggle room to break the rules, which means calling these sorts of petty offenders assholes rather than calling the police.

The same idea explains what is so troubling about police who enforce the law in an uncompromising and draconian fashion. My ex-girlfriend was once pulled over, on a small, low speed moped; the sort of thing that could easily be mistaken for a child’s toy. The officer who pulled her over said that it was for failing to have on protective eye-wear and asked for her license. Politely, she said that she did not have it on her, upon which the officer promptly arrested her, had the moped towed (which must have looked ridiculous), and threw her in jail, orange jumpsuit and all. I would later see a missed call and voicemail from her and listen as it said, “An inmate in this correctional facility would like to speak with you. Do you accept?” My ex literally shared a cell with a convicted murderer for the night, as we waited for her bail to go through.

Many laws — like driving without a license — give police enormous discretion as to how they want to handle things. The officer, I would later find out, could have done a number of far less harsh things to my ex than jailing her, which I hope we would all agree, is absolutely outrageous.  Qua police officer, he may have to do something (though in this particular case, I wonder even about that), but qua citizen, he should have been measured in what he did, thereby exhibiting the recognition that like everyone else, he too is a citizen, who might one day find himself on the wrong side of the law. Bringing down the proverbial hammer, as he did, suggests that there is no such recognition on his part and that he fails to understand the importance of citizen-solidarity to a healthy society.

We live in a society that has been trained to defer to the rulebook and the relevant authorities in virtually every dimension of our lives and in which we are loathe to confront one another at a personal level, in dealing with petty offenses. But the value of maintaining the implicit understanding between citizens that we are all in this together is just too important to let our own petty issues get in the way. The more we abandon the norms of citizen-solidarity, the closer we come to turning into Winston Smith.

30 Comments »

  1. I certainly agree with you on the importance of siding with others of us against the dark side. However, in this case, “us” is the non-smokers and the smokers are the dark side.

    For most of my life, societal norms have required me to suffer in silence while people would blow smoke in my face. I am enjoying the relatively recent change. I can now breath clear air, and avoid that unpleasant stench of cigarette smoke.

    If I had been in that parking lot, I would have just tried to keep my distance. But my sympathies would have been entirely with the woman who confronted you. Given her suggested age, she too had probably suffered in silence for a good part of her life.

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  2. Why is someone smoking a joint an asshole? Your text seems to imply that.

    Someone who would call security because you’re smoking a cigarette in the parking lot is, to put it politely, not a sane human being.

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  3. Neil wrote:

    For most of my life, societal norms have required me to suffer in silence while people would blow smoke in my face. I am enjoying the relatively recent change. I can now breath clear air, and avoid that unpleasant stench of cigarette smoke.

    = = =

    Hopefully you don’t live in a major city. Having lived in NYC for over 10 years, I can tell you that breathing in the exhaust from all the idling cars and trucks was far more “unpleasant” than the smoke from some tiny cigarette. You’d undoubtedly “suffer” quite a lot.

    = = =

    Neil wrote:

    my sympathies would have been entirely with the woman who confronted you.

    = = =

    Does this mean you think it reasonable that she threatened to call security/the police on him? If so, I’d say that’s pretty unhinged.

    I wouldn’t have been nearly as nice to her as Dan was, I’ll tell you that.

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  4. s. Wallerstein:

    I know for a fact that Dan T. does not think that people who smoke pot are assholes.

    His point just is that calling such a person an asshole is the most you should ever do, if you disapprove, and that calling the police or other authorities is just wildly inappropriate, given the nature of the offense.

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  5. Neil wrote:

    I certainly agree with you on the importance of siding with others of us against the dark side. However, in this case, “us” is the non-smokers and the smokers are the dark side.

    = = =

    This strikes me as entirely missing the point of the essay. Your neighbors and fellow citizens should never be “the dark side” when confronting the state. The day may come when it is *your* preferred, small offenses that come under the radar, and you may find that your lack of generosity with respect to others’ preferred, small offenses may be reciprocated by your neighbors and fellow citizens who now treat *you* as “the dark side.”

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  6. This strikes me as entirely missing the point of the essay.

    Oh, I got the point. And I’m glad to see that there’s a strong resistance to Trump.

    However, I was making a point to Dan about how older non-smokers feel about smoking, after living through something like a siege for many years. Older non-smokers are natural allies in wanting to avoid a return to those times. Dan’s choice of smoking was a poor example for illustrating his point.

    As for living in a big city — currently, I don’t. However, the air in Times Square is still cleaner than the air in a small enclosed office when somebody in that office is smoking like a chimney.

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  7. Neil:

    Actually, it was an outstanding example, precisely because it is the sort of minor inconvenience that so many people are willing to go to Def-Con 4 over and break the sort of citizen solidarity that Dan is talking about and which is one of the key bulwarks against tyranny in a liberal society.

    As for the rest, Dan T. was smoking outside, in a huge parking lot. The woman had to go out of her way to get near enough to him to smell his smoke. It wasn’t him being the jerk. It was her.

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  8. Hey, you should read ‘X20: A Novel of “Not” Smoking’. IIRC, he takes up smoking when working in France so he can have a mid-morning break – all the non-smokers have to keep working.

    Even in school, there are some crimes that justify being a tattle-tale. Here in Australia, and I think in the US too, there is a big push to reduce schoolyard bullying. Of course, we don’t have metal detectors in most schools, though some I believe have pretty ubiquitous cameras. Sometimes Mr Policeman really is your friend.

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  9. Dan-T,
    as usual I love your essays. In your insightful way you always touch on something quite vital.

    I also grew up with the norm, don’t be a snitch. This was especially strong in the boarding schools that I attended. In this we showed loyalty to our group. This matters because in childhood and adolescence we are learning to reconcile individual interests with group interests as we develop our identity. We need the freedom to express individuality and identity within space provided by the group, without threatening the group. The group will provide this space as long as we are loyal to the group.

    And then we grow into adulthood where we find that groups are both more diffuse and more uncompromisingly demanding. We adjust to this new reality in two ways:

    1) We transfer our loyalty from the sub-groups of adolescence to the larger functional groups of society. We learn to express this loyalty through the virtues of duty, responsibility, diligence and care. The visceral loyalty of adolescence is transmuted into the responsible loyalty of adulthood and it is a crucial stage in the growth of the individual.

    2) At the same time the nascent freedoms of adolescence become the mature freedoms of adulthood. These freedoms are vital to our sense of identity and well being. But freedoms create friction in the body of society as our freedoms impinge on each other. We learn to absorb the impacts of colliding freedoms through the elasticity of tolerance, forgiveness, understanding and trust. We learn to accommodate each other’s freedoms in the delicate dances, the intricate minuets, that make up healthy social interaction.

    These adjustments are the two vital stages of growth into adulthood.

    But a strange thing is happening to society. Adolescence is being prolonged and proper adulthood is being delayed until the age of nearly thirty or so. But even then it is a deformed, stunted adulthood, the result of force feeding on a diet of hedonism and narcissism. In this kind of adulthood, tolerance has become a solipsistic virtue that we demand of others but need not extend to others.

    And indeed this is what has happened to all the virtues, which we view through the solipsistic lens of what is owed to us, without understanding the demands of reciprocity, that we owe the same to others. In this way virtues become the vice of the narcissist.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Thank you for an interesting read- it reminds me of a Kathleen Stewart passage that I came across yesterday:

    “Sunday drives are ice cream cones dripping down sticky fingers in the back seat and the wordless theft of the baby’s cone, silent tears running down fat cheeks. There is the unspoken agreement among the older kids not to alert the front seat.”

    I think there are multiple layers of complexity here- one that is most difficult for me to chew is a comparison of the solidarity of children against their parents to citizens against law enforcement. Any reckoning of citizens as “children” and law enforcement as “adults” always makes me vaguely uncomfortable, and it’s something I’d love to hear your thoughts on. I don’t have any answers to these questions, but hopefully it’s alright if I use this comment to think through one or two.

    I read you as talking about “petty” crimes, the ones that are annoying but not (?) truly harmful to anyone. I’m no lover of cigarette smoke and due to some genetic inheritance I tend to feel it for days when someone has been smoking next to me, but I must say that I’ve never called, or threatened to call, or even considered threatening to call, authorities on a smoker. I don’t know if my motivation is a sense of solidarity, though- this is what I appreciated about your essay, is that now I’m wondering about my motivation.

    My new neighbor (new because I am new to the neighborhood; he has lived here his entire life), let’s call him Steve, is always leaning through the windows of parked cars. The cars are parked, haphazardly, in front of our garages, on property that is half the City’s and half our responsibility (when it comes to shoveling snow and crimes). We learned, from another neighbor, that the previous owner of our house had to sell because he was ill, in debt up to his eyeballs and addicted to heroin. He was, at least according to this neighbor, buying the heroin from Steve. The drug epidemic in Massachusetts is epic – my husband was in a train car this week with a young man who ODed and had to be literally resurrected by paramedics with a shot of adrenaline. There is a strong possibility that Steve is dealing drugs to the young men through those windows of parked cars, and he is doing it on our property. We have not yet called the police on him, although we also have not ruled out calling the police, for a variety of complex reasons which I think you are scratching the surface of here.

    I suppose the question I’m left with in this case, which is arguably more dire than smoking a cigarette in an empty parking lot, is this: if we are in the back seat of a car on a Sunday drive and I’m protecting the theft of an ice cream cone from my parents’ listening ears, is Steve my brother? Or is it the young men to whom he may be selling heroin?

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  11. A good read, and I sympathize with the point. But as mlrowley’s remark makes clear, this is a very grey area. There is no rule to follow here, but development of a sensitivity to social situations and their implications. There are many issues involved in different situations, and these seem to multiply as the social fabric unravels into separate, oft conflicting threads.

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  12. I’m really puzzled by many of the criticisms here.

    It seems to me absolutely, transparently clear that Dan is not talking about serious crimes, of which dealing Heroin is one. He also is not talking about violent assaults. He is talking about petty infractions, many of which were not illegal, even quite recently, and the only real consequence of which is that some people might momentarily experience fleeting discomfort.

    What he is talking about is the slow encroachment of the State into the civil society, by way of the law. It is always the inclination of the State to do this, and Dan’s point is that the citizenry should not be helping it; that in doing so, we destroy the healthy space that must exist between civil society and the state, if liberal forms of life are to prevail. And that this is very dangerous and leads to tyranny.

    He’s absolutely right. This is why totalitarian governments always do everything they can to undermine civil society and civil institutions. The more citizens participate in voluntary associations and settle their own disputes, the less power the state can accrue.

    The current climate that Dan is describing is one in which we have become so selfish, so precious, so insistent upon every inch of every prerogative, that we are willing to sell our freedom down the river and run to the authorities just to get that guy over there who I can’t stand, because he’s doing something I don’t like. It’s pitiful and pathetic and will be the ruin of us all. And yes, it’s a lesson everyone should have learned by the time they were 8 or 9 years old.

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  13. Hi everyone,

    Thanks for the input, it’s all very stimulating!

    Neil,

    I agree with Dan K’s responses, but just want to add one thing which may be relevant to other commenters (Margaret). I think citizen solidarity doesn’t just prescribe that we don’t rat on people for petty offenses, it also means taking into consideration your fellow citizens *before* you engage in the petty offense. Note that I could have smoked “like a chimney” right in the heart of campus where numerous people were walking, or even worse inside of one of the buildings where nobody could escape the cloud of smoke.

    But instead, I walked far off the heart of campus an into an open parking lot, where few (if any) people wold be exposed. I *already* displayed my citizen solidarity through this behavior, which is just another reason why the woman was a jerk, as Dan K noted.

    Hi David Duffy,

    “Even in school, there are some crimes that justify being a tattle-tale.”
    “Sometimes Mr Policeman really is your friend.”

    Of course there are some crimes which warranting ratting (though, since I think “ratting” is a morally thick term, I would say that some crimes warrant notifying the authorities). If I witness a murder, I’m going to report the killer. There is certainly a question about which crimes constitute breaches in citizen solidarity such that people should report on the offenders, but I don’t think one can give a clear cut answer to the question of when one should report and when one shouldn’t. After all, these are *norms* we are talking about — which are highly context dependent — and not laws of nature.

    Hi Labnut,

    “But a strange thing is happening to society. Adolescence is being prolonged and proper adulthood is being delayed until the age of nearly thirty or so. But even then it is a deformed, stunted adulthood, the result of force feeding on a diet of hedonism and narcissism. In this kind of adulthood, tolerance has become a solipsistic virtue that we demand of others but need not extend to others.

    And indeed this is what has happened to all the virtues, which we view through the solipsistic lens of what is owed to us, without understanding the demands of reciprocity, that we owe the same to others. In this way virtues become the vice of the narcissist.”

    This is amazing and very well-put. I agree entirely, unfortunately because I’ve witnessed this myself amongst many people.

    Hi Margaret,

    “one that is most difficult for me to chew is a comparison of the solidarity of children against their parents to citizens against law enforcement.”

    Hmmm, I don’t think I compared solidarity between citizens to solidarity between children against their parents, but if I did I don’t want to push that analogy, for the simply reason that the relationship between citizen and state is normatively different from the relationship between child and parent. For one thing, I don’t think parents’ primary concern when punishing their children is *justice* or something of that nature, while it (at least descriptively) is that way for the state. Courts function to keep order and dole out “just” punishment and rehabilitation. Parents simply don’t have this as their goal — it is rather *development* of the child.

    I think there are other differences, but the point is that the analogy between parent and state would be a strained one at best. This is why I used high schoolers and their administrators to illustrate the point, instead of brothers/sisters and their parents.

    But you raise a very interesting point with the case of Steve. Like I said to David Duffy, I can’t give any principles for *which* crimes count as “petty” and not harming your fellow citizens, such that breaking them doesn’t breach your citizen solidarity with others. Someone smoking pot once at the edge of your property strikes me as a clear case of something you *shouldnt* report on, but someone routinely dealing heroin on your property in an area where the citizens are struggling with a drug epidemic certainly seems to at least warrant calling the authorities. Part of the reason for this is we might be warranted in saying that the heroin dealer has broken citizen solidarity, as he is making his living by damaging his fellow citizens.

    I just want to remind everyone, also, that my intention wasn’t really to discuss the particulars of *when* we should report and when we shouldn’t. Rather, it was to show how norms of solidarity between citizens, as manifested in certain ways I describe, are important for ensuring a healthy space between the governed and the governing, as the latter has immense power, and if they begin to wield it, citizens need to be able to come together, activating their citizen solidarity in full strength.

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  14. Rather, it was to show how norms of solidarity between citizens, …

    I agree with that point. However, solidarities vary. The solidarities of the non-smoker will be different from those of the smoker. The solidarities of the dog owner will be different from those of someone who has never owned a dog. The solidarities of the cyclist will be different from those of the driver who has only thought of cyclists as road hazards.

    People still respect their various solidarities. But the nature of community has changed. It used to be that our community — those with whom we held the strongest solidarity — consisted of people who lived nearby. But our technology has changed all of that, and community is no longer strongly tied to geography.

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  15. Since someone brought up the subject of denouncing drug dealers in their neighborhood, I live in a neighborhood where drugs are sold nearby or so neighbors tell me. I have no idea what drugs are sold. There are guys standing up street corners who look like they “mean business”. They say “hello” to me; I say “hello” back.

    There are several reasons why I would not turn them in to the police.

    First, I’m in favor of legalizing all drugs. So as far as I’m concerned, the worst sin these guys are commiting is not paying sales and income tax, and that’s a national past-time (I live in Chile).

    Two, if there is a market for drugs, someone will appear to sell them, and these guys in my experience are gentlemen compared to those who could move in to sell drugs. They are not likely to rape women, they are not likely to mug those who walk by them, they are not likely to snatch anyone’s cellphone, and if anyone tries to rape a woman or mug someone in their territory, that person will probably regret it, since they look like people who will defend their space with force and violence.

    Drug use needs to be dealt with by making quality rehabiliation programs available to everyone, not just those who have the money to pay for them. There is something very wrong with a society where lots of its members want to be “stoned out of their minds” most of the day and that needs to be dealt with. I’m not optimistic that current society is capable of pondering why so many young people want to be stoned all the time nor that current society is capable of teaching young people decent values, including self-dignity (not being stoned all the time), rationality (not being stoned all the time) and working to create something that one believes in. I would love to see that, but I’m not hopeful at all.

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  16. @DanK, point understood, but I’d suggest that at least one reading of this essay is as a critique of “crimes” (if they can even be called that- maybe a transgression of rules is more accurate) being both punished in a way that exceeds their severity, or being reported at all. We probably all agree that some transgressions are too minor to require reporting. Some transgressions should absolutely be reported, and again, I am betting that most of us agree. So the most interesting point to discuss becomes the dividing line between those things, which I think is why the conversation went there. My own intention was not to criticize- I was just picking up what I found most interesting.

    Our house is only a few miles away from Salem, Massachusetts. In the burning at the stake of human beings, mostly women, for “witchcraft,” we can make an argument for both over-punishment for “crime,” and policing of thought crimes, before the United States was even a thing. Citizens tattling on fellow citizens is nothing new, I’d argue, nor is it any more prevalent now except, as @dantip astutely points out, in the case of smokers – but smoking is just the crime du jour. While I do want to push back against the idea that this is something new and groundbreaking, I don’t have any resistance to the argument that it is, in many cases, harmful.

    @dantip, I like your idea that Steve has “broken citizen solidarity,” although arguably he has not breached our household, nor has he been anything but friendly to us (regardless, I do agree with you). Another piece of our hesitation to call the police, which I didn’t go into before, is that we are worried about retaliation, and also concerned that he might be in concert with the police force in our municipality. If dealing is what he’s doing, he’s been doing it a long time; we are the newcomers here, not him. Re: Neil’s point above, we may not share a community with Steve, but we do share proximity.

    Finally, as I’ve said before, I’m very wary of arguments that posit that “we” grow/are growing precious, or selfish, or that our entire society is moving in a bad direction, without quantitative evidence. I’d be interested to see some that isn’t anecdotal – here I’m thinking particularly of the long-standing argument that “pop music is simpler now than it’s ever been” and the accompanying assumption that we all are hurtling toward simplicity. There was recently a quantitative study that proved that pop music is indeed simpler now – but the study did so by hand-picking simple music by limiting their definition of “pop music.” In other words, the suggestion that I’m making is that sweeping generalizations are only possible if we ignore detail. In ignoring detail (in this case the hairy dividing line between a minor infraction and a serious crime) we risk doing our subjects a disservice.

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  17. Hey Dan!
    You bring up a point that I think is important to consider (i.e. what/why should we do/not do in situations where someone is breaking a rule and might also be inconveniencing us). It seems that you think one is required to make one of two choices — nark or rule-breaker.
    For me, it’s concerning either way because, ultimately, neither of these routes is one towards government/societal change. Obviously, schools should have smoking-friendly zones because who has time to walk a block from campus between things? And marijuana should be legalized for many reasons. And police officers should be better trained to handle situations like the one you mentioned.
    But simply calling for solidarity between those who have different view points makes a way for dumb rules to maintain their hold on us and force us to find another way around. It doesn’t do much for establishing healthy relations between those of different views, either.
    Obviously you don’t explicitly rule this out, so I’m wondering what your thoughts are on this issue.
    Thanks for the read!

    Lillie

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  18. DanK,
    I understand your response to criticisms here. As I said, I sympathize with DanT’s point. As an inveterate smoker, I could not do otherwise. Clearly Ms. “I’m calling security!” is way off base, since she had to go the extra mile (or 60 yards, whatever) to put herself in a position so she could claim damages. But The more general point opens the door to remarks like those of mlrowley. I stand by my remark that, not only is this a grey area but “There is no rule to follow here,” which I think really important. I don’t see myself as tobacco user as being off the same spectrum as Steve the drug pusher. White and black are not two separate entities; that’s why we have a color spectrum at all. I don’t owe Steve anything, and I don’t look for anything owed me concerning my tobacco enjoyment. Except respect. Ms. Call Security has not shown respect – I recognize that. And I would argue that she should. But this doesn’t negate other respect that may be owed her.

    My point is, what is the nature of this spectrum of citizen unity as opposed to legal (or legalistic) regulation of our behavior? I ask that as an open question, because I don’t know. It’s easy to recognize the excesses (Steve drug pusher, Ms. call security), it’s difficult to find the subtle lines of difference. But those subtle details really determine our responses.Which is why I suggest that the answers are to be found (individually) in development of sensitivity to social situations. It’s something we learn as we go along, I don’t think it can be rationally pre-determined.

    Which is why I think this is a good read – it calls upon us to think about what we do, and about our responses to what others do.

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  19. This is a fascinating article and discussion because it goes to the heart of the way society functions. It is essentially about the intersection between power, freedom and privacy.

    1) Power.
    Society needs the power to enforce norms sufficient to maintain the cohesion and purposive function of society.
    2) Freedom.
    We need sufficient freedom to develop our identity and pursue rewarding choices.
    3) Privacy.
    We find intrusion into the space we regard as private to be deeply unsettling. This lies at the heart of the aphorism that an Englishman’s home is his castle.

    The way we balance these factors determines the nature of society. A happy society has found a balance based on the consensus of the citizenry. But it is a dynamic balance that is easily disturbed. It is easily disturbed because there are in ourselves powerful forces that subvert these factors. They are

    1) The pathological desire for power.
    Each of us contains the seeds of the desire to exercise power over others. It motivates us to exercise excessive power in petty ways and large ways for the sheer enjoyment of using power. As a manager I have been there and done that. I have looked into my own soul and been shocked by the darkness I saw.

    2) The reckless desire for freedom.
    We are freedom loving animals that constantly test the boundaries to our freedom. If done wilfully and recklessly it impinges on the freedom of others and damages the framework of society.

    3) The insatiable urge to intrude.
    We are natural voyeurs, endlessly intrigued by the lives of others, which fuels intrusive behaviour and destroys privacy.

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  20. I have lived in major cities all my life, Glasgow, London, Sydney.

    But it was smoke filled rooms which brought out my asthma. Going to the pub, or parties, or political meetings was more or less ruled out, except for short times.

    No one gave a damn about my asthma back then. Maybe the pendulum has swung too far the other way but I think having a few people who over zealously patrol the anti smoking policies is a lesser inconvenience than having to endure smoke filled rooms and, as Neil said, suffer in silence.

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  21. To forestall a lot of irrelevant conversation, the essay is not about smoking. I think the example is very well chosen — some of the comments here demonstrate that — but if you don’t like it, pick another one.

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  22. Dan

    The fact that you can somehow read hostility into that comment neatly illustrates that you are blowing things out of proportion.

    The occasional busybody threatening to report you over a minor infraction of the rules is an annoyance, no more.

    Pick another example? OK, I have one:

    Someone threatened to report me to the shopping centre security because I was parked in a “parents with prams” spot, although the car was practically empty.

    Irritating? Yes. Big Brother or totalitarianism? No.

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  23. Robin: No one has suggested that there is a direct line between the erosion of citizen solidarity and tyranny. The argument is that citizen solidarity is essential for liberal society, because it is a bulwark against tyranny.

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  24. Hi Lillie!

    Good to hear from you again! Hope things are going well at MSU 🙂

    “You bring up a point that I think is important to consider (i.e. what/why should we do/not do in situations where someone is breaking a rule and might also be inconveniencing us). It seems that you think one is required to make one of two choices — nark or rule-breaker.
    For me, it’s concerning either way because, ultimately, neither of these routes is one towards government/societal change. ”

    Hmm, interesting idea, but I’m curious as to why you think that something is concerning because it doesn’t lead to change in a certain direction. Sometimes, maintaining norms acts purely as a defensive structure — something to *prevent* change in a certain direction. In this case, the direction of tyranny over the people. That is how I’m thinking of citizen solidarity, here.

    “But simply calling for solidarity between those who have different view points makes a way for dumb rules to maintain their hold on us and force us to find another way around.”

    If you want to inspire change and alter rules what not I think that’s great, and am all for it, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also hold fast the defensive norms which prevent people from taking one step forward and two steps back.

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  25. Interesting to me that this is all portrayed as a citizenry issue. My take is somewhat similar to Lillie’s. It’s a simple human decency, kindness. The petty infraction policing lady in the story has the shortcoming of not being a particularly nice, sociable, thoughtful person. By pulling citizenry into it right away, we already skipping something important — and it is at that important level where the actual resolution to the issue, if any, would reside. Clear to me that Dan T was consciously trying to avoid being an asshole, whereas the lady seemingly had no clue about this dimension of human interaction.

    I can say this from the point of view of one being disgusted by smoking in my vicinity my entire life. And this is no mere aesthetic disgust — Dan K’s unwarranted smackdown of Robin H aside — because I experienced it as an unconcerned degradation of my oxygen and breathing quality. (The argument about city life and exhaust fumes is also off-base and beside the point.) It is a definite improvement in social life that one is no longer automatically confronted by smoke in practically every context of daily life — which was the case 40 years ago. Could matters go to far legislatively? Maybe. Maybe an entire campus smoke-free is a step too far already.

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