Archive for the ‘Tobacco’ category

Changes to society

May 31, 2008

Over the last two weeks, two items have got attention from the media, which highlight two trends in our changing society, both of which the socialist left have been behind.

The first is the descison by a California court to legalise gay marriage. As a social conservative I am very disapointed by the descison. To those who argue that same sex couples should have “equal rights” including the “right to marry”, the words of new London mayor Boris Johnson “if gay marriage was OK … then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men, or indeed three men and a dog”, give a pretty good reason to keep marriage within its traditional definition (i.e. between a man and a woman). Fortunately there is hope that gay marriage (called henceforth in this post fake marriage) in california will be short lived, as there is a ballot initiative for the 2008 elections to change the constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. A referendum on the issue in 2000 saw 63% of Californians oppose fake marriage. On the other hand, opinion is more liberal now than 8 years ago, and California is one of America’s most liberal states. Regardless of the final outcome in California, it is only one part of a growing wordwide trend towards fake marriage (and an extension of the trend of legalising homosexuality (sodomy) over the last forty years). In 2001 fake marriage was legalised in the Netherlands, and since then in Belguim, Spain, Canada, South Africa, and Massachusetts (and now California) in the US. Equally concerning, is the shift in public opinion, with is some US polls support increased by 12% in one year, with support strongest amongst the young. Micheal Kinsley wrote an excellent piece for the time magazine here, about the “quiet gay revolution”, concluding that in 20 years time “gays will have it all”. I, sadly, completely agree with him and find it hard not to forsee a future in which fake marriage is the norm in all western countries in my lifetime, and the view (which I am proud to hold) that homosexuality is morally wrong, will be seen as wrong-headed by society in the same way rascism is (rightly) seen today.

Also in the news, just out yesterday, is a new survey showing the percentage of New Zealanders who smoke falling to 19.9%, with only 18.7% doing so on a daily basis. This is a big decrease from 1996, when 25.2% of Kiwis smoked daily, and over 30% in 1986, and over 35% in 1976 (the 1976 and 86 data is for all smokers, including non-daily ones). there have been similar trends in most other western countries. Between 1974 and 2005, the percentage of British men who smoked fell from 51% to 25%, while amongst women the percentages fell from 41% to 23%. In the US, 38% of American men smoked in 1980, only 23% do so today, while the decline in American women over the same period is 29% to 18%. Australia has seen similar trends, with smoking decling from around 40% of the population in 1976, to under a fifth tin 2001 (see article here). The trend is truly pleasing to those who dislike the ill effects on people’s health by smoking, and truly alarming to the tobacco industry. The decline in smoking has not only seen the number of smokers fall, but the number of cigarettes smoked per smoker has also gone down. In New Zealand tobacco consumption fell by half between 1990 and 2005, a much greater decline than smoking rates, showing that smokers are cutting back as well as quiting. In the UK, the average number of cigarettes smoked per day per smoker declined between 1979 and 2005, from 22 to 14 in men, and 17 to 13 in women. Similar trends have been shown in the US. Also good news is the rapid fall in youth smoking, with only 13% of year 10 (14-15 year olds) students in New Zealand smoking now, compared to 29% in 1999. Tjis shows that as the older generation of smokers are dying, quiting or cutting back, there isn’t much of a new generation to replace them. The long term net effect of this is that one day, and I would not be surprised if this occured in my lifetime (although given the addictive nature of nicotine it will take a long time) we may have a smokefree New Zealand (and eventually world). Although the number of smokers will never be zero, unless the government bans it (something I am completely opposed to, but would not be surprised if it happens one day in the distant future), in future it will not be a normal part of society, and only done by a small number of people in private (one related issue I have not covered in this post is the corespending rise of smokefree areas, which now extend into not only all public indoor areas in NZ, but also some parks, and in one Californian town, in the street (and I don’t think it will be too long before we see street bans here).

These two changes to society have occured quite rapidly. In the space of two generations, we are likely to see homosexuality go from being illegal in most of the western countries to fake marriage being the norm. And in the case of smoking, from a normal part of everyday life for almost half the population, which is allowed almost everywhere, to something which can only be done in private in certain designated areas outside (once nanny state bans it in the street and peoples homes, if not completely) to being done by only a small minority of people (I guess under 5% in 2050). These are not the first big changes to society to take place. The abolition of slavery, women getting the vote, legalisation of abortion represent other rapid and major societal changes, with the latter two occuring in one generation.

The key message is that sometimes things which are a normal and acceptable part of society can become frowned upon and rare in a short space of time (e.g. smoking and slavery), while other abnormal taboos may become commonplace and accepted equally quickly (e.g. women having the vote, abortion, homosexuality). These can happen for good or ill (the abolition of slavery being the greatest victory for freedom in the history of mankind, while in my opinion the legalisation of abortion constitutes the biggest mass murder ever). For social conservatives who are interested in what kind of society we are going to live in the future, we need to study these changes, and see (and hope) we can replicate them in areas where we want to see changes. For instance, wouldn’t it be great if sex outside marriage, and alcohol abuse, made people social outcasts and were rare, instead of being the norm. And wouldn’t it be great if we had laws that protected the right to life of the unborn, and abortionists seen as the evil mass murderers that they are, like nazi war crinimals. I know that my views on abortion are very controversial, but the fact that abortion is legal, accepted in society, and most people think it is right, doesn’t make it okay, any more than the fact slavery was once legal, accepted in society as morally right by most people as morally right, made it okay. Although I concede that such changes are unlikely to happen in the forseeable future, we can learn from the examples of smoking and homosexuality that big changes can happen to society, faster and more completely than anyone expects.