A Conversation With Myself

Fred Brown
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.

Shelby Foote (L), Fred Brown (R)

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"]



Fred Brown
is a journalist who lives in Knoxville, TN. He will write this column for PipesMagazine.com monthly. He can be contacted at


13 Responses

  • I mourn his passing and wise thoughts, one of the best voices ever, calm, soothing. As our Freedoms are eroded the younger Gen has no idea because they were raised in the present. I was born during WWII and can see the magnitude of erosion. Pity my Grandchildren. Rest In Peace Shelby.

  • It will happen. The mass of the people are inured by their X boxes and other devices. The idea of individual sacrifice does not appear in the lexicon of the ‘me’ generation and as such we are condemned to become another Spain. This country was not built by flaccid individuals sitting in Starbucks thinking of things they personally dislike, it was built by those who went out and just got on with it. When a vocal minority, be it in the media or finance enslaves the majority in conjunction with a professional political class you have the end my friends.

  • It is the result of what I see as “vilification” advocacy: vilify those that do what you disagree with and ostracize them. Then take away their rights. Problem is, if you do it in one sphere it makes it easier to do it in others. Well said.

  • I find myself more libertarian aligned: do as you please as long as you aren’t hurting anyone else,respect property rights, limited/small government, non-intervention, etc.
    The problem we have in this country is that both parties and their supporters love to trample on personal rights in the interest of personal rights and advancing agendas. They pick and choose which rights are more important than others and trample over the ones they care not for.
    What drives me nuts is that both of these parties pay lip service to protecting the rights of others while dealing blows right and left to personal rights. Democrats trumpet freedom of speech yet are constantly fighting people over their use of their 1st Amendment rights. Republicans claim to be the party of personal liberty and “the government can’t tell me what to do,” while being on the forefront standing in the way of equal rights for homosexuals who are not harming anyone.
    Nothing will get solved until everyone learns that personal rights are just that: personal. They differ from person to person and family to community. If no one is harmed and nothing illegal is happening, then butt out and mind your own business. Period.
    If gays want to get married, then let them get married. They sign the same papers and get the same rights as married folks. They can also suffer the same way as a straight couple and get divorced all the same.
    Back to the origin of this entire conversation: smokers need to be left alone. Let em smoke. Especially on private property. I can sympathize with the whole public smoking ban, but I believe the owner of an establishment should have final say over their premises. Thankfully cigar bars exist so there is somewhere to have drinks and smoke indoors with others. The only other agreement I can have with the anti-smoker brigade is about cost of care. I am ok with insurance premiums being higher for smokers because it is a personal choice, the cigarette/dip/pipe/cigar didn’t leap into your lips by force. You pay for your own choices and take responsibility.
    That is what liberty is about: owning your choices and actions.

  • I don’t want to get off on a rant here, as I generally agree that rights are being eroded. Not just in good ol’ U.S.A., but in other so called “democratic” nations. I am always warmed when I see the spark of realization light up in people who genuinely believed that they are free. Freedom has been a myth that has been propagated ever since those founding fathers many americans love to quote so often declared independence.
    “Thomas Jefferson, one of the best minds to hold public office.” was also a slaver, so the contents of his mind are definitely in question. Many other people were alive at the same time who held quite different thoughts on the issue. His thoughts on freedom were mixed, at best, and his mind was a rotten cesspool that unfortunately, had much influence in his day. Perhaps that’s too polite, but what is really on my mind would have this deleted, no doubt.
    Another founding father, James Madison, “was concerned that if voters could determine policy, it would challenge the privileged.”
    That whole declaration of independence thing wasn’t for the people. It’s not a part of the traditional american textbook, as any american can no doubt attest to, but it is a part of the history all the same. They sure as hell weren’t looking out for the average american, and those foundations are still strong today.
    My only criticism is that it’s probably best to leave these “founding fathers” out of these types of debates and not use them in support for arguments. Generally, they were a bunch of capitalist jerk-off’s who had no intention of empowering the average american individual. They were looking out for their own, and their own kind. So perhaps it is better to focus on the American spirit, which comes from the regular american you’re apt to meet on the street rather than these crusty old buggers who are best forgotten.
    Their legacy is still ringing out through time, so it’s no surprise that your rights are being trampled on today. It’s been that way since these folks got together so long ago.
    Where is the american spirit, in the face of all of these changes? The average american likely has a wildly different view from all of the policy and carnage being churned out of your halls of “justice”. It’s the privileged, elite few, entrenched into this terrible mixed up system by those founding fathers that are trampling all over your rights. Or well, the few scraps of rights you have left. Better to look at your neighbours, friends, and family members and ask where it all went wrong and what can be done to make it right. You’re probably not going to find the answer in a dusty old document written for privileged whitey with a few thousand acres of plantations…

  • You bring up and make some very valid points about the Founding Fathers. Yes, there track record on human rights has been embellished amongst the layman, a lot of that blame can be laid at the feet of public schools, especially at the elementary level.
    In order to discover true American history, you have to go further than public schooling by taking college courses or picking up a book that was written by a vetted expert on the topic and not a blowhard with an agenda.
    The Founding Fathers wrote all of our documents with the common man in mind, but much more so the land owning adult male in mind. Also, there has to be some context applied to the times in which these documents were drafted and passed. Slavery was common all over the world and was more or less a necessary evil. When the 3/5 Compromise was involved with the question to allow slavery or not, it was ultimately decided in order to maintain “a more perfect union” it would be imperfect, but would be a topic to revisit down the road.Except that topic was revisitied and was given a formal conclusion before the turn of the 19th century with the Civil War.
    Our country is absolutely not perfect, but this is as good as it gets believe it or not, depending on your view of society. Go visit Central or South America, the Middle East, Africa or Asia and tell me the USA stinks. The only debate would be between Democratic socialized Europe/Canada, Australia and America.
    I am a strong advocate of fixing things at the local level because ultimately it is about the only place where a community of individuals can affect change that is meaningful. The federal level is not run by the everyday man, so it has to begin at the local level first. Plant the roots of true liberty there by pushing back against the DC status quo and its influence and overreach to the local level.

  • Unadoptedlamp, I respectively disagree with your remarks concerning the founding fathers. I’ll leave it at that for this forum. Enjoy the 4th of July.

  • Fred, very well spoken.
    “Freedom has been a myth that has been propagated ever since those founding fathers many americans love to quote so often declared independence.”
    This is such pure, unmitigated BS that I find it difficult to respond to in a civil manner.
    Freedom is never absolute, my freedoms end where yours begin except where they overlap by mutual consent. With the exception of a few absolute rulers, everyone throughout history has had to make compromises with their neighbors in order to coexist.
    The United States is not and never has been a perfect society. It is, however, a society that has provided a larger percentage of its population the ability to live life as they choose than any other in history. There have certainly been segments of our population that have been less fairly treated than they should have been. Welcome to the real world. I have been in combat. I have risked my life so that others could have the freedom that I took for granted. I have been shot while doing so. I would do it again. This doesn’t make me a hero in any sense of the word. It makes me an individual who knows the cost of freedom and firmly believes that it is worth the cost.

  • That was a great piece by Fred Brown, like the proverbial frog in the slowly heated pot, many cannot see the loss of freedoms, because it has been implemented so incrementally. It would have been unthinkable in the lives of the founders for someone to be offended by the simple act of a man smoking his pipe, and the government rushing to the collective rescue of the population by passing legislation for our greater good.
    In a conversation with an Arizona state senator, he talked to me about how the collective mindset now is all about accommodating everyone’s lifestyle preferences instead of respecting individual rights…that strikes at the heart of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…and continuing down that road will eventually herd us towards being loyal subjects…those that refuse to be “loyal”, will not be tolerated.

  • I am glad that the comments have remained civilized, kcvet. My comments are not engineered to inflame american sentiments. To the contrary. I am merely suggesting that perhaps if people did seriously study this historical record and make an attempt to understand the perspective, they may begin to see that the “problems of today” are in fact deeply rooted in the past. Perhaps the american people can rise up with another revolution, led by the people, for the people. They are certainly capable. With the constant bombardment on your personal rights and freedoms, it seems essential. Blind patriotism will not solve any of the current problems, and in fact, it can only make it worse. There is nothing wrong with taking a hard, honest, and critical look at the things we value. Therein lies the truth, and sometimes, the truth hurts. Pick up the pieces and look for a way to move forward.
    For the record, I have been living in foreign countries for quite some time now. From north america to south america, europe and beyond. There are many “free” countries, and america does not particularly stand out among them. It’s just the way it is and these places are all more or less the same, if you group similar “free” nations, of which there are many. Perhaps one difference is that americans may be coaxed into standing up for their rights. It has yet to be seen.
    So rather than clinging to a mostly distorted version of the past, perhaps it is time for americans to look toward the future and decide what that should look like. I’ll be cheering you on.

  • Tobacco legislation is the least of your worries. The US Constitution sounds great, but it has been meaningless, except as a propaganda tool. America gained it’s wealth from slavery, drug dealing (tobacco) and genocide. It has recently been the victim of a coup and since the end of the second world war has been meddling in the world to a degree only The USSR did, for one aim; Freedom wasn’t it.
    Yes, tobacco legislation is getting pretty horrific. But to pretend that this is some Holy War for Freedom is ludicrous.