Over the next weeks and months, I will endeavor to write a series of essays that will be on a different plane than those in the past. Basically, the Pipe Pundit will attempt to go ethereal.
What has me disturbed and agitated is the state of things in our nation, outside of what is going on, or not, with the political process.
I’m more interested in individual rights than group rights.
Several years ago, I interviewed that great Southern Gentleman, Shelby Foote, the famed Civil War author. He invited me to his beautiful 1927 English Tudor cottage in Memphis, Tenn., to talk of things past.
During the rambling conversation, he said something that zipped by me at first, but then continued to buzz in my brain.
"Eventually," he said in that mellifluous and distinct soft Southern drawl so familiar to millions of PBS TV viewers, "we will lose all of our icons."
He meant, of course, most of those of the Civil War era and up to the present. They will be replaced with a type of toxic political correctness.
During our long afternoon talk—Shelby was generous with his time with me, for which I am forever grateful—he smoked a Dunhill billiard, about a Group 3.
Not being particularly careful with the pipe, when he completed a bowl, he dragged over his office trash can and banged the pipe on the insides of it, emptying the pipe of its ashes.
I cringed, of course. Not knowing the age of the pipe (Shelby was a World War II veteran, stationed at one point in Ireland), I could just see ancient briar splintering and shattering and being dashed to bits.
As for the icons, Shelby said he did not necessarily mean those few Southerners who reached high regard during the Civil War, such as Gen. Nathan Bedford Forest, a defensive genius, but also flawed in his concept of human rights.
No, Shelby said he meant all of America’s icons, the Washingtons, the Adamses, the Jeffersons, the Paines, the Eisenhowers, the Kennedys, etc.
He feared that they and their accomplishments would all be overtaken by some radical mutation of political rightness. He feared that fairness and freedom of rights, the very fabric our society depends upon to conduct its daily life, would erode. We tread a thin layer in the world of the rights of man.
My thoughts on individual rights and your thoughts on personal rights will, naturally, differ.
We come together under various banners and can come together under certain circumstances, such as the American Constitution. But as we have seen, even that hallowed document can be shaved to reflect a certain philosophy of rights: mine, yours, the community at large, a specific group, business enterprise, religious body, even the complicated matter of giving birth.
In the beginning, America’s Founding Fathers were loathe to tread heavily on individual rights, and indeed were willing to fight for freedom of states rights, as it meant in 1776.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," is the lead sentence in the second paragraph of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
How far we have come from those days in our treatment of each other and the respect we have for individual rights. It is absolutely appalling that as a pipe smoker I am considered a pariah in my community, state and nation. I am a social outcast.
Who or what gives you the right to infringe upon my right to enjoy a particular endeavor that will not harm you in any way?
I can hear it now: "Oh, but you are so wrong. It does harm me. Your second-hand and third-hand smoke damages me and infringes upon my rights not to smell the evil whiffs of tobacco."
Let’s see. Proof of second-and-third-hand smoke being of significant harm to others is not satisfactorily conclusive for starters. Third-hand smoke damage to others is much like a mirage—in the eye of the beholder.
Okay, so now I no longer am able to smoke in any public buildings or places. In some communities (and the list is growing as politicians glom to the controversy like glue and seek to be re-elected on the backs of smokers and those who enjoy tobacco) it is illegal to puff in many parks and public golf courses, where fresh air abounds!
Soon, I expect laws to change in a manner that disallows a smoker to light up in his own car, which will one day be traded in for a new set of wheels. The "third-hand" smoke zealots will see to it that a car that has been clouded with tobacco smoke will be unsafe for human habitation, claiming that the evil leaf has embedded in the seats, floors and roof of the car fabric.
Again, I expect the same attitude will transfer to home ownership: unlawful to smoke inside our outside the home due to third-hand smoke infestation in ceilings, floors, curtains, beds, decks, wood framework, basement walls. I can envision a required toxic inspection to go along with the structural inspection.
Laws enacted by Congress on the federal level and by legislatures on the state, will eventually overwhelm the tobacco industry, including pipe tobacco manufacturers. Maybe not in the near future, but certainly in that white dot on the horizon.
Laws are one way to take the handle off the pump of tobacco, or the source. Pricing is another. Collectively, laws and prices are powerful weapons in the hands of anti-tobacco lobby and anti-everything groups. They use their fight against tobacco and smoking to raise funds with which to foster their agendas. In reality, it is a smoke screen to raise money. And it must be remembered by those who support such groups, that although I am being gored now, they will come for you next!
At one time in the nation’s history, tobacco was not only a primary cash crop, but it was also a political tool. It helped to foster deals between the fledgling U.S. and other parts of the world, such as Europe.
We as a nation have much history with the green leaves of August. In the curing, leaves transform themselves from green to yellow to brown, a kind of mirror image of the nation as it began young and revolutionary, then matured.
To realize what our society has become is disturbing: individual rights, my rights to live as I please within established community laws and as long as my rights are not infringing upon another’s, are being diminished.
As long as I obey current smoking laws, I fail to understand why I must be punished further with even more draconian intentions adding more layers of legalese and pricing upon me in order to make me stop something that I very much enjoy, not only as a hobby in the collecting of beautiful briar and meerschaum pipes, but also various blends of tobaccos.
My hobby, my passion, may not be your passion. I don’t expect you to understand my feelings and thoughts about pipes and tobaccos, just as I don’t harbor the same feelings and passions you might have for, say, duck hunting, skiing, skydiving, or smoking marijuana.
Our Founding Fathers understood perfectly what could happen in the best of worlds:
A wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.
Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves are its only safe depositories.
All of the above was written by Thomas Jefferson, one of the best minds to hold public office. He understood the best and worst governments have to offer its people.
We can choose to be oppressed or we can stand up for our individual rights under the law.
This July 4, the nation’s Day of Independence, when the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress in 1776, give some thought to your rights as a person, and those of your neighbor.
Neither should be trampled upon in any way. We have come too far, paid too big a price to have our freedoms eroded by a toxic process called political correctness.
[Editor's note: You might also like to read "The Myth of the Greater Good"]