Why Do MIND Want To Force Psychiatric Patients To Give Up Smoking In The Middle Of A Mental Breakdown?

Cigar_smoking_woman_in_Cuba

Here is an email from the mental health charity MIND explaining why they won’t oppose the banning of outdoor smoking in mental health facilities, and why they support forcing psychiatric patients to give up smoking when they are in the middle of a mental breakdown.  My response is below this letter.

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Hi Barry,

Thank you very much for getting in touch about the smoking ban in mental health hospitals and we are sorry for the delay in responding to you.

 This is a challenging and difficult area and one that we have recently given great thought.

 We are aware of the challenges that the smoking ban can cause to people in mental health hospitals – we understand, like you point out, that many people who smoke while staying in mental health units do so to pass the time or to socialise, and that quitting when someone is experiencing poor mental health will be challenging. We do, however, support the move towards completely smoke free mental health settings due to the evidence for the physical and mental health benefits for service users – people with mental health problems, for example, die on average 10-20 years earlier than the general population, and smoking has been found to be the biggest reason for this inequality.

Due to the challenges that the smoking ban will cause, it is vitally important that any moves to go smoke free are done in conjunction with tailored stop smoking support and address the reasons why people may be smoking while in a mental health setting. We would not support a hospital’s decision to ensure an individual gives up, without the necessary support and we also ask hospitals to develop alternative recreational facilities and opportunities to socialise.

 I’m sorry if this was not the response that you were hoping for – this is clearly an area that you are particularly passionate about and we wish you all the best for the future.

 Take care,

 Alec

Alec Williams
Policy and Campaigns Assistant

(Mental Health Services)

Mind
15-19 Broadway, Stratford, London E15 4BQ
w: www.mind.org.uk
Registered charity number 219830. Registered in England number 424348.

 

Dear Alec,

Thankyou for your response. On behalf of CASBIPU (The Campaign Against Smoking Bans In Psychiatric Units), I would urge MIND to reconsider their position. MIND is supposed to be a charity that advocates patient’s interests and rights, yet now you are riding roughshod over this. After a debate at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London on 11 November 2015, where all the arguments for and against were heard, an online poll found that 72% of respondents were against the bans, only 28% for them. So you do not have democracy on your side.

You trot out the statistic often used by the powerful ‘public health’ lobby that SMI sufferers die on average 10-20 years earlier than the general population, and blame all this on smoking. The statistic needs interrogating. Smoking is no more physically harmful to an SMI sufferer than it is for a ‘normal’ person (and indeed carries some health benefits in terms of metabolising medication, mitigating side effects of both the medication and the illness, and improving happiness).  The evidence on the physical harm of smoking for all people is clear: if you persist in smoking 20 or more cigarettes per day beyond the age of 40, then your mean average life expectancy decreases by 10 years. This is a mean average, it doesn’t apply to everyone. So smoking beyond the age of 40 is certainly a health gamble – you might die younger, you might not. All smokers these days are aware of the gamble and think the risk is worth taking for the role played by tobacco in enriching their lives. You may disagree with their choice, but it isn’t always irrational. This is even more so with SMI sufferers whose lives are generally more miserable than the general population’s (they may have difficulty holding down a job or forming relationships due to their condition, so choose to smoke). Even if they do smoke, they are taking the same gamble as the average smoker – a potentially shortened life expectancy of 10 years for the sake of happiness in the here and now. This is not an irrational choice, and it is theirs to make, regardless of whether you disagree with it. To deny SMI sufferers this choice is to discriminate against them, based on the prejudice that they are unable to make rational choices and thus do not qualify for having rights. That is tyranny.

So if smoking only accounts for an average 10 year depletion of life expectancy in SMI sufferers, why do some appear to die on average 20 years younger? The answer is not mysterious. The statistic was concocted by finding a mean average for the mortality across all SMI sufferers. Thus someone who commits suicide in their 20s was equated with an SMI sufferer who dies in their 90s. The ‘middle point’ that was found is therefore misleading, as like is not being compared with like – the two cases are very different. Furthermore, more light is shone on the statistic if one bears in mind that SMI sufferers generally have worse access to physical healthcare (due to socio-economic factors or idiosyncratic factors emanating from their condition such as fear of doctors or drug and alcohol abuse). It is an extremely vulgar analysis to pin the entire blame on smoking.

CASBIPU believes smoking bans in psychiatric units are actually dangerous to patients in three ways:

1) They are dangerous to the culture of the ward. Since the UK indoor ban came in, cases of self-harm have gone up by 56% as the removal of this freedom and the predictable failure of distracting yogic flying therapies or whatever has lead to a deterioration in one’s quality of stay. In the USA where outdoor bans now exist in state-run hospitals in 35 out of 50 states, patient-on-patient violence has increased by 22%, and up to a whopping 170% in Austin, Texas, as patients no longer have a shared interest or social life, so have turned against each other. Furthermore the evidence from the USA suggests that average durations of detention have increased by nearly 90% since the smoking bans came in.

2) They are physically dangerous to the health of the patient. In an article in the journal Current Psychiatry, abrupt smoking cessation is linked to a wide range of health problems, including worsening psychiatric symptoms. Note that NRTs including e-cigarettes are absolutely useless in mitigating the disastrous effects of abrupt smoking cessation since it is the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in tobacco, not the nicotine, that is physically stabilising.

3) They are therapeutically dangerous to the mental health of the patient. In a perceptive article for the BMJ, a retired GP observes that smoking bans undermine the autonomy of the patient, something that is vital for their recovery in a mental health setting. Mental illness in one way or another, is a breakdown in the individual’s ability to govern himself. Therefore if you take away his ability to make choices, you actually do harm to their recovery. CASBIPU believes it is fine for medical professionals to advise patients that smoking is bad for them, and provide NRTs especially including e-cigarettes upon request. But there is a world of difference between advice and a ban. Advice can cultivate one’s autonomy, and is therefore therapeutically useful, whereas a ban is the opposite.

I hope MIND can rationally discuss all these points, see sense, and ultimately issue a press release that you’ve come round to supporting CASBIPU and saying you are signing the petition. Your support would be incredibly valuable in our fight against the dawning of a new dark age in mental health care.

Yours faithfully,

Barry Curtis, Online and Social Media Co-ordinator, CASBIPU.


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Why Bombing Syria Is Not The Best Way To Defeat Islamic State

kurd

Many countries are now involved in bombing ISIS in Syria and Iraq, with Britain expected to join the aerial bombardment in Syria soon (it’s already involved in Iraq).  ISIS clearly do deserve to die, and the barbarism in Paris on 13/11/15 has brought this need into sharp focus for many.  However this blog asks if we’re going about it the best way.

One problem is that airstrikes are imprecise – they invariably kill civilians.  So France is currently levelling whole Syrian cities based on their intelligence that they are ISIS controlled.  A second problem is that they inflame wider regional tensions which really ought to be avoided.  As the Muslim world witnesses Western and Russian airpower involved in such acts of destruction, it might lead to a greater sympathy for ISIS who would then come across as the victims.  It would be a tragic unintended consequence if the airstrikes led to an overall increase in radical Islam over the months and years to come – the point was to squish it now, not make it worse.  Thirdly airstrikes have already exacerbated the ISIS-caused refugee crisis in Europe as ordinary Syrians flee for their safety.  Fourthly they can be seen as just a PR gesture to make politicians appear effective to their domestic audiences when really they are furthering chaos.  Really the global solidarity expressed after the barbarism in Paris ought to be channeled into something more productive.  It seems then, that these problems with airstrikes would tend one to favour the sending in of ground troops.  But there are problems with this as well.

Ground troops are not the answer because they too inflame regional tensions.  When a superpower such as the US or NATO deploys troops, it still comes across as using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.  Tragically any kind of display of might by major powers appears to the Middle East as supremacist and anti-Muslim, as if they were sending a warning that “you could be next”.  Thus ground troops, while avoiding some of the problems of airstrikes, might still lead a growth rather than reduction over time of radical Islam.

It seems then we are in a quagmire.  Whilst ‘something must definitely be done’, it seems that it cannot be done by foreign states without creating worse problems.  Mercifully there is a solution – action can be taken without involving foreign states at all.

The best way to defeat the ISIS menace is for lots of individuals (possibly including members of the armed services acting in a non-official capacity) from aggrieved countries to be allowed to join Kurdish warriors who are already battling them.  The Kurds are already located in Iraq and Syria (as well as Turkey and some other countries), and they are proven to be a disciplined fighting force.  The Kurds could lead the fight against ISIS with the backing of brave and talented individuals from many other countries operating in a non-state based capacity.  It would be a people’s army, as effective as Western ground troops, but without the drawbacks.  Indeed the Muslim world, the overwhelming majority of whom hate ISIS, would cheer it.  The war could then be over very quickly without future repercussions if done in this way.

So what’s holding this realistic solution back?  Sadly some countries regard the PKK, the Kurdistan Worker’s Party who are doing most of the fighting, as a ‘terrorist army’.  Therefore anyone who wants to fight alongside them against ISIS can be jailed in certain countries, Britain among them.  On 20/11/15, a British court locked up a young woman for wanting to fight with the PKK against ISIS, elevating the letter of the law over moral decency.  Polticians’ current reluctance to remove the PKK from their list of proscribed organisations reveals their absence of a sense of solidarity with the victims of the barbarism in Paris that all of their constituents would have been rightly appalled by.

Rather than treating those who want to fight ISIS as heroes and freedom fighters, we treat them as akin to ISIS themselves, which is truly sickening.  Indeed Turkey is bombing the PKK right now in Syria (NATO is turning a blind eye).  We need to argue with the states that proscribe the PKK who, as well as Britain, France, and the USA, are Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Canada, Germany, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Syria, and Turkey, to temporarily lift their bans, just for the duration of this fight with ISIS.  Then it could be reconsidered afterwards.

This should not be regarded as a controversial demand.  The PKK has never been designated as a terrorist organisation by the UN. Most European Union member states have not individually listed the PKK as a terrorist group.  Other major powers such as Russia and China do not regard the PKK as a terrorist organisation either.  Furthermore if one looks at the history of the PKK’s relations with Turkey, it is clear that they only took up armed struggle against Turkey when she failed to grant autonomy to over 6 million Kurds living there.  So the PKK’s status in some countries’ eyes as a terrorist organisation should be a contentious issue.  At the very least, it is imperative the PKK are given leeway for the duration of the war with ISIS.  It’s our best hope of a swift victory.

Outdoor Smoking Bans Debated At The Battle Of Ideas

How Dare You! An African-American woman lighting up in a park - soon to be banned. (c) Bill Branson/WikiCommons
How Dare You! An African-American woman lighting up in a park – soon to be banned. (c) Bill Branson/WikiCommons

This is the text of my introductory remarks for a session called ‘Hot Off The Press: Outdoor Smoking Bans’ at the Battle of Ideas conference, October 18th 2015.  Other panellists were Josie Appleton and Dolan Cummings from civil liberties campaigning group The Manifesto Club, and Simon Clark, Director, smoker’s rights group FOREST.  Chair: Rob Lyons, Action on Consumer Choice.  My remit was to talk about outdoor bans as they afflict sufferers of mental illness within psychiatric wards where outdoor bans are gaining pace.

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I don’t think anyone should be forced to give up smoking against their will. I know we are in the middle of ‘Stoptober’, but come on – giving up when you’re in the middle of a mental breakdown is inhuman. I can’t think of a worse time or place to quit.

That’s the way I see it, but public health quangos instead say it’s a prime time to intervene because they have a powerless captive audience.

They really believe they have a duty to treat one’s smoking as if it was a part of your condition, so are demanding a total outdoor ban.

This goal of health is a joke – since the indoor ban came in, cases of self-harm are up 56%.  In America, since outdoor bans came in, violence is up 22% and average duration of detention has increased by nearly 90%.  This is interpreted by authorities that we are in a ‘mental health epidemic!’, oblivious to the more likely truth that smoking bans are causing bad behaviour.

Furthermore most patients go back to smoking within 5 days of discharge anyway.  Some result.

Public Health England think the high rate of smoking amongst the mentally ill is a ‘health inequality’ that must be tackled.  The main problem with this is that the old principle of autonomy never gets a look in.

Because they have overlooked autonomy, smoking bans are cruel at a time when the individual is at their most distressed. Smoking is often their only comfort. Also bans inevitably deter smokers from seeking help if they are developing mental illness because the idea of spending time in a clinic is unbearable. Star Trek Voyager's Seven of Nine: Out of Range

Back in 2001 when I was Sectioned after trying to contact Star Trek Voyager’s Seven of Nine, not the actress, the actual character, the care was pretty good back then. You could smoke both in a dedicated room and outdoors. Barriers between patients and staff were also broken down thanks to a shared smoke and their getting your tobacco.

Smoking bans destroy that trust – a nurse confiscating your tobacco upon entrance would appear like a prison guard rather than someone on your side.

The next step will be to replace vending machines that currently sell Coca-Cola and chocolate with one’s that sell only carrot juice and Omega 3 supplements – after all, patients also have a tendency to become obese.

If you were a smoker in hospital for a broken leg, a ban wouldn’t stop your healing. But if we understand mental illness as a breakdown in reason and autonomous functioning, then smoking bans do prevent full recovery by cementing the patient’s lack of self-control.

One of the first clinics to ban smoking was Islington. They said “We are filling the void with activities like dance”.

It seems to me they don’t want patients to regain their humanity but sing like children: “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands”.

Public health types argue patients will be grateful for the smoking ban, coming out as ‘changed beings’. But really this is like Winston Smith in Orwell’s 1984 after having endured Room 101, he declares “I love Big Brother”.

If we add this all up, then metaphorically speaking, think of the treatment endured by Jack Nicholson’s character in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. In that film, after massive electricity is applied to his brain, he emerges as a grinning blob who has been lobotomised. We should wonder why today’s public health managers want to replicate that.

 

Jeremy Corbyn: Has Labour Gone From A Lifeless Corpse Into Frankenstein’s Monster?

Jeremy_Corbyn_2014-04-30

No doubt some of you will have been celebrating hardcore this past weekend over Jeremy Corbyn’s election victory, becoming The Leader Of The Labour Party, no less! Indeed I would agree that his projection from Zero to Hero is something quite good in terms of making Parliamentary debate more interesting. Now it’s time for some sober reflection. Here are a few areas through which progressives should want to challenge the limits of Corbynism, to help promote a better future for all.

Welfare

One of Corbyn’s main strengths has been to appeal to those who are ‘mad as hell’ (millionaire singer Charlotte Church) over Evil Tory welfare cuts. Indeed this sums up Corbyn’s whole critique of ‘austerity’. He doesn’t have an alternative economic plan, except for maybe renationalising the railway (more on this later) – his main beef with austerity economics is only that it leads to welfare cuts and a low rate of increase to the salaries of the bloated public sector.

Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between Corbyn and IDS however. To his credit, IDS recognises that disabled people and those with one form of mental illness or another are not, by default, unable to do anything. Volunteering is a good way for those people to gradually reingratiate themselves with the workforce – it gives people something to do rather than being idle at home watching boring daytime TV, provides structure to the week, and gives people a raison d’etre that the false freedom of doing nowt does not. Indeed forms of online volunteering now exist as well for those that are housebound for whatever reason. This should be promoted if we care about utilising the human potential.

However IDS can be a little too punitive at times. Getting people back into the workforce has to be done in a way both parties consent to, often gradually, and the DWP has to use humane reasoning skills rather than only apply blunt sanctions.

Warfare

Corbyn is to apologise for his Party’s disastrous military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, support for the Libyan bombing of 2011, and blundering in Syria, all of which has arguably contributed to a million deaths, and created the Islamo-fascist regime known as ISIS which, in turn, has helped fuel the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War. This apology is really great! But one wonders why, if Corbyn is so principled, he remained in the Labour Party for so long whilst all this was going on? Perhaps he was just playing the slow game, cunningly waiting for a chance to pounce and become the new Leader, whereupon he would denounce the 22 crimes of his predecessors in order to glorify himself and make the Labour Party totally different! Then again…

Will The People’s Jez promote world peace in contrast to the entire history of the Labour Party? Well, as National Chair of the ‘Stop the War coalition’, the ‘Stop’ possibly better being renamed ‘Start’, our Jez wants the West to apply sanctions against Israel. As any critical leftist knows, sanctions are a form of ‘soft war’ or ‘siege warfare’ that tends to push the targetted country into a position of defiance that ends up leading to all-out war. This is what happened in Iraq. Throughout the 1990s, after their first war against a bad dictator that left 150,000 dead, the West applied sanctions against Iraq, arguably killing millions of children, left the country destitute, and paved the way for Tony Blair to bomb the place again onwards from 2003. Corbyn wants to apologise for Blair, but at the same time, having wiped the slate clean, may repeat the same mistakes of history in relation to Israel. He does already hang around with Holocaust deniers, so perhaps this holy man of peace might launch a far more devastating righteous war?

Nationalisation

Top of Corbyn’s ‘to-do’ list is nationalising public utilities like the railway. Wa-hey! Obviously no-one remembers when the railway was previously run by the state and popularly known as ‘British Snail’. Nevertheless, Corbyn doesn’t seem to grasp that nationalisation is not the same thing as socialism (worker’s control). In fact nationalisation is a prop for capitalism. What happens is that the state, using taxpayers money, buys an industry at premium price, runs it shoddily, then uses that as an excuse to say it would be better in private hands. They then resell the industry to the private sector at a knock-down price. The overall effect is that billions of pounds of taxpayers money subsidises capitalism, with the public suffering in the meantime. Nice one, Red Jez.

Policing society

Corbyn proclaims himself a ‘man of the people’ yet hates the liberties we enjoy. Before Blair even had the idea, Corbyn was arguing for a smoking ban in public places in 1997. Then, on this election run, he floated the idea of having ‘women-only’ carriages on trains. The claim was that over 1,300 women report sexual harrassment on the railway each year. What he failed to mention was that in Britain there are over 1.5bn journeys made each year, making a woman’s chance of being ‘harrassed’ 600,000-1. Furthermore, among these cases of harrassment, most are of the category ‘receiving unwelcome attention’ – not something that should be seen as a serious problem, but something that happens rarely when one lives in a society of human beings. The idea of women-only carriages is a form of segregation. One could easily massage statistics to show 1,300 black people get racially abused each year, therefore we need negro-only carriages. There’s a word for that: apartheid.

Conclusion

As I said at the start, I think Corbyn will help shake up politics in Westminster. Despite his defects, he is not the worst of a bad bunch, and I wouldn’t hold a grudge against anyone that voted for him. But please don’t let nostalgic sympathy for Ye Olde Left get in the way of taking a critical stance to any of our leaders. The last thing we need is a new Messiah.

French Train Terror: Reason Goes Off The Rails

Even accounting for terrorism, train travel has never been safer. So why the fear?
Even accounting for terrorism, train travel has never been safer. So why the fear?

 

After the 22nd August’s foiled Islamist attack on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, it is proven that ballsy citizens are the best way to combat terrorism, not panic-prone government policy.  French-American academic Mark Moogalian, 51, tried to apprehend Moroccan-born Ayoub El-Khazzani, 25, when he emerged from a toilet armed with an AK-47 assault rifle.  Moogalian was shot in the back with El-Khazzini’s concealed pistol, but three other travelling Americans, Spencer Stone, Aleksander Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Briton Chris Norman eventually subdued El-Khazzani.  Stone treated Moogalian’s wound, probably saving his life.  They have all been awarded France’s highest honour, the Legion D’Honneur by President Francois Hollande in recognition of their bravery.

Sadly the fact that this terror attack was subdued by gutsy civilians is being overwhelmed by nervous security policy that will just make people more fearful rather than genuinely empowered like heroes Moogalian, Stone, Skarlatos, Sadler, and Norman.  Nine EU countries are implementing baggage scans, identity checks, and more armed guards for all train journeys that will increase, not decrease, the level of fear experienced by passengers, undermining their confidence in tackling a terrorist nutter when they (very rarely) do appear.  Short of having airport-style body scanners in all of the EU’s train stations (logisitically impossible), there is no way of guaranteeing someone hasn’t sneaked aboard a weapon.  Scaremongering by militarising the railway therefore makes little sense, unless of course Euro elites want us to be constantly afraid.

Western leaders have been lavishing praise on the five heroes in the hope of syphoning off some of society’s admiration for themselves.  After Ice Cube, one of the founding members of hip-hop group ‘Niggers With Attitude’, recognised Sadler in a Paris restaurant, Sadler was invited to the French premiere of movie ‘Straight Outta Compton’, joining stars on the red carpet.  “I feel like I’m in a dream, it’s unreal,” the Sacramento State University student said as he attended the prestigious event. “It’s pretty crazy.” The fawning over the heroes does indeed have a dream-like quality, because in the waking world security officials do not deserve to be basking in the glow of such courage – their policy response rather indicates a great deal of merde in their underwear.

Prior to 22/8, the last terror attack on France’s railway network was on December 3, 1996, and claimed two lives in a powerful explosion.  Before that, there was an attack on the Saint-Michel station on the Paris Metro in July 1995 that killed eight and wounded 80.  These attacks were more severe, yet did not lead to increased policing of everyday travel in a country at the heart of Europe.  Back then, there were high-level meetings of officials, and paramilitary security sweeps of North African neighbourhoods that ring-fenced many French cities and ID checks.  But the whole of the EU was not put on alert, nor were the majority of train travellers inconvenienced by intrusive security scans that could compromise the efficiency and smooth running of the network.

We should remember that terrorist incidents on trains are exceptionally rare.  In France, there are over a billion passengers per year using the network.  Yet with the exceptional years of 1995-6 when Algerians were a bit peeved at French post-colonial policy, there have been no deaths from terrorist incidents.  President Hollande should not feed people’s fears, he should assuage them with reason.  He should state the truth that if the past 20 years are anything to go by, one’s chances of dying in a terror attack on the railway are 10 billion to one.  One is more likely to die from a train accident, falling out of the door, or choking on a croissant on the advanced French railway than one is likely to be a victim of terrorism.

EU policy makers therefore need to get some perspective and be more concerned about the messages they are sending out.  For if a lone-wolf from Morocco can seem to induce paranoia on the railway, surely policy makers are inviting more of the same by over-reacting in this way.  Indeed French security officials have said there’s no way to monitor each passenger and bag without choking the continental train system, which Europeans rely upon heavily.  So it would still be possible for an El-Khazzani to sneak aboard, but now in the full knowledge he can terrorise an entire continent.  We would be better off recalling the words of George Orwell who, amidst fascist violence, said “the thing that I saw in your face no power can disinherit, no bomb that ever burst shatters the crystal spirit.”  That was the spirit of the heroes on 22/8, let’s not ‘dishonneur’ their attitude.

Outdoor Smoking Bans: Defend The Right To Be ‘Abnormal’

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Source: “Annette Schwarz On Set With Annette Schwarz 4” by Photo from http://www.lukeisback.com – via Wiki Commons

In 2007, the UK government, along with many other countries, banned smoking inside all workplaces, all public buildings, and all pubs. Yet although health fanatics are now completely protected from dangers they believe emanate from ‘second-hand smoke’, they were still not content, and from October 2015, it will become a criminal offence to light up in your own car if there is an under-18 year old present, even if you open windows and the sunroof. Still the health zealots are not content. Having protected themselves and ‘The Children’ from wicked smokers, they want more bans on top of this. The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), which is an influential government-lobbying charity whose president and vice presidents are all Lords and Baronesses, want smoking banned in many outdoor places. This will include all parks, public squares, beaches, school gates and pub gardens.

The casual adding of pub gardens to the list will inevitably pave the way for more bans in years to come since they are privately owned rather than publicly owned. This means a logic is put in place where part of the private sphere will no longer be seen as beyond the jurisdiction of health zealotry. Hence already in New York, the mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to ban smoking inside people’s private homes.  So UK citizens should challenge the RSPH to stop such Orwellianism becoming a reality here as well. Unless we mount a challenge, groups like the RSPH will never stop.

Some people such as smoker’s rights group FOREST have criticised the RSPH saying it will accelerate the rate of pub closures and is authoritarian. Indeed this is all true – smokers will avoid pubs altogether, slashing their income to the point of closure. And there will be no way round it – a pub won’t be able to turn a blind eye to smoking in its garden because they will fear being heftily fined, or shut down by the council. But there’s also something more going on with the RSPH’s proposal that puts it in a new nadir for smoking bans: they are using criminal law to spread their own moral message.

The RSPH’s attempt to ban outdoor smoking differs from the previously mentioned smoking bans because it doesn’t use the argument about ‘second-hand smoke’ as its justification. Even the RSPH are not stupid enough to say there is a physical threat from smoke outdoors. Instead they want to ban it merely out of spite. They say smokers are “abnormal”. They believe the possibility that a child might see someone smoking is a direct influence on that individual possibly taking up smoking themselves in the future. The RSPH wants to nudge the child from growing into that bad adult by preventing them ever witnessing anyone smoking in a public place. Hence the ban is called for not because the smoke is a direct physical threat, but because it might influence a young mind. Arrogantly, the RSPH believe only they should influence young minds, no-one else, and that new criminal offences should be constructed to aid this objective.

But if one thinks about it, one can see that smoking in an outdoor public space or a pub garden is the responsible thing to do, in relation to children. It confirms to children the notion that adults want to protect them by not breathing smoke at them in a confined area (even if passive smoking is actually a threat). We might be dealing with responsible parents who do not smoke inside their houses, but would like a cigarette when outside. This can be a loving caring act, and it is wrong to label such behaviour ‘abnormal’. The RSPH are using criminal law to send out a ‘moral’ message that only they have the legitimate authority to mould a young mind, not parents, teachers, or any other traditional authority, and most certainly not the general public. The RSPH are censoring reality as if it was a soap opera. They are demanding society in all its activities must always send out ‘correct’ moral messages, and anything that is a threat to this must be banned. It is making moral conformity compulsory by threat of legal penalty. This is the stuff of a totalitarian dictatorship, not a liberal democracy.

If the RSPH really do care about the lessons being learnt by children, they might consider their own lesson they are sending out. If the RSPH’s ban goes through, this will teach children that we do not live in a free and tolerant society, and that those old ideals are bad. It will instil in their brains an ideal of conformity rather than diversity. And it will instil an idea that it is ok for the law to harass those deemed by government to be ‘abnormal’. Who wants to live in a society like that?

After Cecil: What Africa And Its Lions Need Is Economic Progress, Not A Green Moral Panic

Cecil, just lion around.  Source: Wiki Commons/Daughter#3
Cecil, just lion around. Source: Wiki Commons/Daughter#3

Economic progress is vital for the third world so that the human population can live longer lives than the current paltry life expectancy in mainland Africa of 46 in Sierra Leone up to 65 in Botswana. Economic progress would also deliver better services, better housing, better electricity supply, and better jobs, leading to a superior quality of life than the suffering and back-breaking conditions currently endured by Africans. However this ‘humanist’ case for economic progress is likely to fall on deaf ears in the West today. Humanism has been hunted down over the years by green ideology. Now, as the international outrage over Cecil the lion attests, all that seems to morally matter is individual members of wildlife. Therefore in this degraded ethical context, I will argue in this blog post for economic progress as a way of saving the lion population of Africa.

The reaction to the death of Cecil the lion makes economic matters in Africa worse than they were. This will have a deleterious effect on lion populations, something that is tragically ironic given how the international community has been so keen on advertising its moral credentials by chest-thumping over poor Cecil. As has been explained by scientists writing in the National Geographic magazine, myself on spiked, and in a radio debate here (available to listen to until late August 2015, and commences at 01:13:40), lion hunting generates millions and millions of dollars that is desperately needed in Africa, revenue which does go back into broader conservation projects and supports 88,000 human families. An EU and US ban on the import of trophies, coupled with pressure from charities and NGOs to place lions on the ‘endangered species list’, will effectively ban hunting, depriving Africa of this money. This will disincentivize Africans from having policies that lead to sustainable lion populations, including removing the motivation for communities to combat illegal poaching. Add to this, a dominant view in the West that African governance is corrupt and that there should be closer UN oversight (which is apparently morally pure), and we are inviting a scenario where there is no socio-economic compulsion to protect any lions, only ineffective coercion from on high. The way the international community has reacted to Cecil’s case is therefore really bad news for lions in general.

Since the 1980s, the lion population of Africa has roughly halved, with between 32,000 and 35,000 on the continent today. Although this doesn’t mean the lion, as a species, is ‘endangered’, the downward trend does need some explaining. Amid the hysteria over Cecil, greens claim the decline is all due to legal hunting. This claim does not stand up to objective scrutiny. A far more believable explanation is that lion populations have dwindled because of habitat loss and illegal poaching. It is the shrinking of the areas in which lions can breed and roam that is the main cause of the decline. Illegal poaching is also important, and African governments have taken steps to combat this. So what causes habitat loss?

Once again greens contribute very little to the debate over habitat loss. They argue it is ‘overpopulation’ (of humans) that causes habitat loss. However the term ‘overpopulation’ has no clear meaning. It is simply not clear what an ‘optimum’ population would be, given available land. Africa’s total population is just over 1bn, whereas China and India each exceed this, yet don’t seem to have the same problems with sustaining biodiversity. ‘Overpopulation’ is actually a morally loaded term that leads to draconian birth control policies. It has no scientific merit in explaining anything, and is essentially anti-human.

Another implausible green idea is that habitat loss is caused by climate change. Whilst it is true that certain weather phenomena can temporarily disrupt an ecosystem, the general climate trends are no more life-threatening than they ever have been. Even if some studies have shown temperature increases of 1 degree celsius since the 1980s, it is difficult to see how this would directly cause habitat loss for lions. In Australia, it is often as hot as Africa, and it is drier too, yet Australian wildlife habitats are thriving.

The real cause of habitat loss is poor agricultural technique. Lacking much industry, African countries rely on agriculture to sustain themselves. Whilst this doesn’t generate enough wealth to extend life expectancy or the standard of living, it would not inherently be a cause of habitat loss if modern technology was used in agriculture. Yet thanks to the ‘fairtrade’ scam that is promoted in the West as a form of ‘ethical consumerism’, African farmers are deprived of the latest technology, including use of GM crops, that would allow for increased agricultural output from the use of less land. Therefore the agricultural use of land has to expand to meet human needs, and this impinges on lion habitats. Furthermore, with the absence of reliable energy sources caused by the green belittling of power stations (‘we have to cut carbon emissions!’), some African countryside dwellers are forced to burn wood for fuel. Again, this impinges on lion habitats. So once again, green ideas have made a bad problem worse. The most immediate concern for economic progress in Africa then is that agriculture should become high-tech rather than low-tech, and that energy supply needs to be increased. Both these things will involve less hectoring from the green international community. These progressive humanist policies will also be of benefit to lions.

Removing the political fetters imposed on Africa by the green international community will firstly lead to increased agricultural output. What next? After the ball has started to roll, increased agricultural output will lead to an accumulation of capital rather than the meagre sustaining of an impoverished population. This increased capital will want to be invested, and expect to be rewarded. Naturally then, it would lead to an industrial revolution in Africa, as has been experienced in the countries of the Western world, China, and elsewhere. This economic progress will lift millions of people out of poverty, increase life expectancy, and the overall quality of life. Furthermore, being less reliant on the agricultural sector for economic sustenance, and with the moving of more people to cities that accompanies industrialisation, lion habitats would grow back. In addition, the newfound wealth would disincentivize illegal poaching. Therefore, in a few years, the lion population would return to 1980s levels, without ever having ignorantly to clamp down on permitted hunting. So if one cares about the plight of lions, it is far more effective to focus on improving the real world rather than be engulfed in a post-Cecil moral panic, demanding bans, and more crippling green policing.