courtesy Travis Hardin Home : Essays : Paradigm Shifts



When I was in high school in 1956, there was a class called "Health." In the textbook was all kinds of commonsense information about physiology, disease, hygiene, and of course, health.

Located in north Alabama, a state never distinguished for spending tax money on schools, this high school was not progressive–it was indeed inadequate. Nevertheless, in the old health textbook, my teacher pointed out the sections that talked about the harm of alcohol, coffee, and tea–and also the section that said cigarette smoking was addictive and caused many health problems.

As I say, this was common and commonsense knowledge in 1956. Any suggestion that someone or some agency held sway over the smoker and made him smoke, and that, further, this agency was required to "make him whole" with monetary payments for poor health resulting from his smoking—well, it would have been unthinkable and preposterous. As late as 1995, the thinking people I encountered still held the same opinion.

Meanwhile, several decades earlier, the American Cancer Society, recognizing that smoking caused disease, announced with fanfare that it would attempt to eliminate smoking before the year 2000.

Perhaps I'm leaving out a few steps here. But before long, trial lawyers, the kind who work on contingency (If they win a 2 million dollar lawsuit they keep nearly 1 million), saw a way to exercise their greed in this situation, and as they went to court to sue tobacco companies the paradigm started to shift in the public eye.

Now it was no longer unthinkable and preposterous to blame someone else for a smoker's choice. Important people had done so and had made lots of money from it.

In 1998 and 1999, several individual smokers (who in 1956 would have been seen as "making their own beds and lying in them") won awards of millions of dollars by convincing juries that someone else was responsible for their smoking. Now we had juries convinced that smoking was not the individual's fault. The public was more convinced of that view.

In 1998, a lawsuit by many of the U. S. states against tobacco companies resulted in huge payments to states. The public now sees itself-as-government blaming tobacco companies.

In late 1999 (it is my understanding), Janet Reno, Attorney General of the United States, filed suit against tobacco companies to recover the cost of caring for veterans, soldiers, etc. whose smoking has caused health problems treated at government expense.

If the power of the United States government is behind the idea that a smoker is not responsible for his own actions, then the completion of the paradigm shift is near at hand.

Soon it will be unthinkable and preposterous to suggest, as my health book did, that a person is responsible for his own actions. This new paradigm will hold as long as there is anybody around for trial lawyers to sue, and as long as juries are composed of greedy people.

This discussion cuts short some of the realities. The government versus the tobacco companies is two Goliaths battling, and the individual had best stay out of the way with his observations. The lawsuits are simply one more way for the government to raise money. Suffice to say, the government will accept money wherever it is to be found, and has no interest in preserving paradigms.

"Evil isn't a cosmological riddle, only just selfish human behavior." –Joyce Carol Oates in New Your Times Book Review, quoted in Jan 2000 Readers Digest.

27 Dec 1999

Send comments about this page to Travis Hardin,

Last updated