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Individual Rights & Collective Rights: Smoking

[Updates below.]

Erik recently dealt with a comment left on a previous post about a letter he read in a (I'm assuming) San Antonio newspaper about a smoking ban or restriction.

Baer (the commenter) said:

People who smoke don't have the right to put other people's health at risk just so they can enjoy themselves.
I don't think its too much to ask that smokers refrain from puffing away whilst on buses, at bustops or on trains etc. Nor do I think its wrong to expect to be able to visit a so-called local family pub or restaurant and be able to eat in a smoke-free environment.
I have no problem with smoking - go ahead damage your own health as much as you want. But don't go thinking that gives you the right to inflict it on other people.
Asthma attacks can kill - just because you wouldn't be held legally to blame for triggering an attack doesn't remove the moral accountability.
Besides which - anyone who can't go more than 10 minutes without lighting up needs to seriously rethink their lifestyle.

Basically, what she said was her right to property (her lungs) is more important than the owners' right to their properties (their businesses). More precisely, she thinks the collective right of the group Nonsmoker outweighs the individual right of the owner to his or her bar, club, restaurant, airplane, etc. Of course, this is crap:
By the nature of rights, there can be no such thing as collective rights: in the sense of rights, deriving from membership of a group, that supersede or negate an individual's rights. Rights derive from our nature as rational beings: and we are both rational and beings, which is to say, individuals. As rational beings, we have no choice but to live by the judgment and decisions of our own minds. Even if the only decision you ever make is to blindly follow some guru, that is the decision you made, that is the course you chose for your life, and is a choice you keep making every day of your life. It is the individual who must decide -- the individual who must think -- the individual who must be free from coercion -- the individual who has rights.

Whatever group you may belong to, it is a group of individuals. Whatever virtues that group might claim, you cannot claim them unless you, as an individual, possess them. Whatever vices they might be accused of, you cannot be guilty of them unless you have committed or abetted them. Whatever values that group might seek, you have no right to them unless you have earned them.

Thus, there cannot be collective rights such as "women's rights", "men's rights", "Aboriginal rights" or "blondes' rights". You cannot have more, or less, rights than anyone else. Any such claim is simply this: because I belong to some group, I have a right to take a value I haven't earned from someone else who has, by force.

Original author's emphasis.

It makes no sense to say the Group is more important than the Individual because in order to enforce the 'rights' of the former, you must first violate the rights of the latter. However, any individual can be rationally classified into any number of groups, meaning that violating an individual's rights ALSO violates some groups' "rights."

Why? Well, the group Nonsmoker cannot get lung cancer...but Baer and each discreet person who inhales smoke certainly can. Organizations that try to enforce their vision of collective rights do this in the interest of each person in and supporting the organization. They may try to spin it otherwise, but they are actually defending what individuals feel is a right.

This is obviously a contradiction. But don't try telling it to them. They aren't listening. To them, "public health" is an autonomous unit and the people who make it up must sacrifice in order to maintain it.

UPDATE(10/15/2003 2:02am)
Good news: the Austin Smoking Task Force Report is in and it's definitely worth your read.

UPDATE(6/1/2004 11:05am)
Austin Smoking Ban in Effect Today

UPDATED 5/9/2005 9:03am
The Additional Tyranny - The New Austin Smoking Ban Passes

UPDATED 8/30/2005 1:52pm
Deadline for the Austin Smoking Ordinance

UPDATED 7/24/2006 11:22pm
The Group Rights Fallacy

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You know what's even worse? Ed Garza (the mayor of San Antonio) as well as plenty of others have explicitly stated several times that public health is far more important than individual rights. I really wish I had a quote, because it's that bad. Maybe someone should remove his organs and give them to people who need them. After all, if he can help two people live, it's much more important than his rights.

Niiiice. Thanks for the links. They will come in handy.

I love your website. tehshezzys.