The French smoke because Americans don’t. Or at least that’s what they used to tell us, only partly joking. But nobody would injure himself just to spite someone else, would he? Seems unlikely.
But if you skim the web looking for reasons why people smoke, beyond the typical reason (they enjoy it), you’ll find a surprising number say that they do it because they know it’s bad. If it annoys others, then so much the better. In a world where people have precious little control over their own lives, smoking can become an act of individuality and rebellion.
In the first episode of True Detective, Rustin “Rust” Cohle asks for “a sixer o’ Old Milwaukee or Lone Star, nothin’ snooty.”
When I heard him say that, I immediately thought, “I know this guy.” I grew up when mainstream beers in the U.S. were pretty tolerable. Did they become more watered-down and more bitter over the past few decades? I would argue that they did. Some of the low-calorie beers that people drink by the gallon every weekend barely taste like beer to me.
Just the fact I admitted publicly that I hate cheap American beer shows that I’m outside of Rust’s circle. Only a fool would pay more than he needs to to get drunk. Only a snob would ask the bartender, “What’s on draft?” Authentic people see value in bad beer, bad coffee, and gummy white bread.
That’s one of the keys to unlocking the mystery behind Donald Trump’s winning the presidency. If you didn’t vote for him, you can probably rattle off a hundred reasons why you think he’ll be a disaster. You may even be in the middle of “explaining it” to somebody on Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit right now. Or maybe you’re laying out your case in an strongly worded email email to an uncle who doesn’t have the good sense to keep his racist comments to himself.
I’m not going to tell you to stop what you’re doing, but you should know that nothing you say will help. Do you think people don’t know by now that smoking is dangerous? Or that not wearing a seat belt could kill them someday? They know perfectly well, and yet you have the nerve to lecture them as if they were ignorant.
You’re making the same mistake liberals and educated elites keep making over and over. Remember the old taste-test commercials that asked consumers to compare Coke and Pepsi? They almost always picked the taste of Pepsi, but did they change brands? Of course not. Coca-Cola lost millions if not billions of dollars changing its formula to taste more like the competition. It was a disaster.
People remain loyal to Coke because it is Coke, and because the acts of buying, holding, and drinking a mass-produced bottle of sugar-water are identifying characteristics. People don’t choose brands for rational reasons. They don’t compare features by plunking numbers into a spreadsheet. They identify with brands.
Rust doesn’t just drink Lone Star. He is a man who is a Lone Star drinker.
They identify not only with their products, but with others who do as well. The guys out on the loading dock, huddled together, smoking their Marlboro cigarettes — they’re being individuals, together. They’re showing defiance of the dominant culture by forming a subculture. Do they care that they’ve surrendered their individuality to the subculture? Of course not, because they’re being “authentic.” As they see it, they’re being true to themselves.
And they differentiate themselves against the over-educated elites who care about frivolous things and worry excessively about their own health. They, on the other hand, are “keeping it real.”
The marketplace of ideas is no different. You keep throwing out numbers explaining why universal coverage under a single-payer system like Medicare for All costs less than our spotty private system based on profit. They don’t care about your numbers, because the government (which they hate) being in charge of anything sounds like the worst idea ever. And besides, the authority figures with whom they identify are against it.
You know why else they hate Medicare for All (which they immediately translate in their minds to “government-run healthcare”)? Because you like it. If your first inclination there was to try explain why it’s cheaper and provides better outcomes, you are not listening. They don’t care about your so-called facts.
I’ll say it again. They know the current system is terrible. But the very fact that liberal elites want to do something about it is enough to sour them on the idea. For as much as they identify with their tribes and their authority figures in the media, they identify just as strongly with their distrust and hatred of “liars in mainstream liberal media,” “eggheads in universities,” and “bleeding hearts in government.” They savor their hatred and love to see their enemies fail.
So when you post memes about Trump’s bankruptcies, infidelities, mistakes, foolish statements, or his links to white supremacists, you are giving them fuel. When you sound the alarm, they laugh. When you admit that you’re depressed, they feel nothing but warm joy inside.
They love him because you hate him.