A Critique of Thank You for Smoking? Essay
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A Critique of “Thank You for Smoking….?”
Peter Brimelow’s article “Thank You for Smoking….?” is an essay that looks at a rather extreme perspective on smoking. Brimelow starts off by describing the many actions that are taken against the tobacco industry; he writes that in some states, the government is trying to make the tobacco industry pay certain health care costs. However, he then goes on to state that smoking may actually be good for one’s health. He uses various sources to show that smoking has positive effects on our bodies; he states the decrease in risk in numerous diseases. Brimelow uses medical journals to show that smoking decreases the risk of diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. He also talks about some of…show more content…
Brimelow follows up his major claim with a number of minor claims throughout the essay. A minor claim is a secondary claim, one where the arguer is trying to make a point to support his major claim (McFadden 40). Minor claims are important because they strengthen your main point, or your major claim. His first minor claim is actually a rebuttal claim, which is “a claim that refutes the counterclaim” (McFadden 42). He compares smoking-related deaths per year to car-related deaths, saying they are similar. He states that both are a danger to a person’s health, but in many cases the reward outweighs the risk (Brimelow 141). He also compares the number between car-related and smoking-related deaths, but this hurts his claim because the number of smoking- related deaths is ten times greater than car-related deaths. So far Brimelow’s essay is a little weak because so far he has failed to give us enough information to support his argument.
Then as a second minor claim, Brimelow goes on to discuss the advantages of smoking. He shows us that smoking decreases the risk in various diseases, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, prostate cancer and a few others. He also says that smoking lowers the rates of certain lung disorders and
If you want to see an outstanding demonstration of the difference between persuasion and advocacy/activism/truthtelling, see the movie, “Thank You for Smoking.” Jason Reitman’s screenplay (based on the novel by Christopher Buckley) deftly illustrates the classic principles of persuasion in the main character, Nick Naylor, a lobbyist for the tobacco industry through contrast with virtually all the “good guy” characters, like the Senator from Vermont and various advocates in the health community.
Realize that the movie does not instruct in persuasion principles, but rather as all good movies do, simply shows those principles in action through the words and deeds of Nick Naylor, big tobacco mouthpiece. Thus, you have to think while you watch the movie and look for the tactic because no one is going to tell you when it happens.
An excellent illustration of this occurs in a scene where Nick takes a shiny aluminum briefcase stuffed with stacks of $100 bills (just like a drug purchase in a gritty movie about cocaine) to the farm of Loren Lutch, the “Marlboro Man,” who is dying, ironically, of lung cancer. The Marlboro Man, well performed by Sam Elliott, has gone public with the vast hypocrisy of his own life since it was his image on billboards and commercials selling death and now he’s dying from the product he sold with his rugged cowboy masculinity. To silence him, Big Tobacco has dispatched Nick with the money. When Lutch spots Nick with the shiny briefcase, he immediately knows it’s a payoff and he’s angry about it. Lutch is sincere about his anger and his first response is to reject the obvious blood money.
But then, Nick persuades. He tells Lutch that he should take all of it, then call a press conference. Nick then shows Lutch how to run a press conference that will absolutely kill the tobacco industry, offering the words and deeds Lutch should use for maximum effect. In brillant form, Nick shows Lutch how to artfully pour the stacks of bills out of the shiny briefcase in a cascade of shameful guilt. Lutch stands in slack jawed wonder at the power of this demonstration and the realization that his enemy, Nick, is showing him how to do this. Then, Nick hits him with the killer close. ” . . . and you announce that you are taking all of this money, all of it, every dirty dollar, to create a new foundation aimed at smoking prevention.”
Lutch ponders this a moment then asks, “All of it? I’m dying. What about my family? Can’t I keep half of it?” Nick wanly shakes his head and Lutch realizes that he can only refuse the money (leaving his family in a tough situation) or take it and remain silent (helping his family, but corrupting his outrage).
I won’t give up the outcome here – it’s a good movie worth watching.
The point, however, remains. Nick takes a moment of genuine and deeply felt outrage and finds the means of persuasion to convince an angry man to think differently. Throughout the movie, the Nick character demonstrates that in a truly free and open society where we operate in the marketplace of ideas, the person who can persuade is the more effective agent than those who think they are armed with morality, truth, or outrage.
Remember the Rules, all bad persuasion is sincere. Throughout this movie, sincere people like a Senator and health advocates are shown to be sincerely angry, outraged, and filled to the brim with science and truth, yet they appear foolish, ineffectual, and charmless. You don’t bring a knife to a gun fight and you don’t bring sincerity to a debate.
We employ persuasion under circumstances of uncertainty, doubt, and complexity. We do not employ persuasion when the situation is clear, obvious, and simple. Sincerity has a way of making you think that things are clear when they are uncertain. It does not matter whether the Tobacco Industry is “good” or “evil.” What matters is persuasion. And, I’d ask, which is worse: An evil person who uses persuasion as a means of advancing evil or a good person who cannot use persuasion to stop evil because of sincerity? Why can’t a good person restrain sincerity and use persuasion skillfully?