Time was, 50 years ago, when everyone smoked pretty much everywhere. And nobody was in the least bit bothered about it. Or nobody I knew.
The restrictions on smoking came in slowly, like a tide gradually and unnoticeably rising up a beach. The first bans I noticed were on the railways, as some carriages started to become non-smoking, with discreet little no smoking signs, not much bigger than an old penny, appearing on their window frames.
Over time, the numbers of non-smoking carriages began to multiply, and the number of smoking carriages began to steadily dwindle, until there were just one or two to each train. And then one day they were none. I was a bit shocked by that. Why couldn’t there be just one or two?
One day smoking was banned in shops as well. I was rather shocked by that too.
But for the most part it seemed the right thing to do. If people had to take trains and buses to work – which is what most people used them to do – then why should they have to endure any more discomfort than they had to? Why should they have to inhale other people’s smoke, or listen to their transistor radios, or their mobile phone conversations for an hour or more while the train slowly wended its way towards its destination. It wasn’t a health risk. It was just a nuisance.
Same applied to shops, libraries, and all those places where people had to go and spend time in the daily grind of earning a living. Why make life harder than it already was? I thought the smoking restrictions were getting a bit too much. But I still broadly approved of them.
And then they banned smoking in pubs.
And that was too much.
But why was it too much? Well, because a pub is somewhere where people go of their own free choice. Nobody has to go into a pub and sink a few beers, and smoke a few cigarettes, and chat to the guys sitting at the bar, or play music on the juke box. Pub-going is a leisure activity. It’s what people do in their free time. In their idle time. And in their idle time people should be allowed to do whatever the hell they want. Because that’s what idle time is. It’s time in which people can do anything they want to do.
When people are busy at work, they’re not doing what they want to do, but what they have to do. They’re doing what their boss has told them to do, or what some customer is asking them to do. But in their leisure hours they’re doing what they themselves want to do, and not what somebody else wants them to do. And they should be free to do that. Because if they can’t, then it’s not leisure.
Work and play, business and pleasure, are two quite different things. They are in fact opposite things. And the morality that applies to each are the opposites of each other. We set out to minimize work, but to maximize leisure. We prefer long idle weekends to busy working weekdays. Or most of us do. We expedite our necessary work with tools that enable it to be done faster – saws, hammers, lathes, computers -, but we don’t set out to expedite our leisure. We like to linger over the our coffees and mints at restaurants, and slowly savour the brandy and the cigar. We don’t bolt it all down as fast as possible. We don’t really want it to ever end.
Smoking bans in leisurely pubs are a restriction of freedom, in ways that smoking bans in work places are not. Smoking bans in pubs reduce people’s leisure, while smoking bans at work – if they expedite work -increase people’s leisure. Banning smoking bans in pubs converts them into places of work, no different from offices or factories or other workplaces. Ubiquitous smoking bans in effect make the world into one vast labour camp.
Smoking should not be banned by law in pubs. Or in recreational clubs. Or anywhere where people go out of their own free choice. Such as casinos. Or cinemas. Or those kinds of restaurants where people go out of choice rather than necessity. Or holiday cruise ships. Or golf clubs and football stadiums. And perhaps maybe even churches too.
Work and play. Business and pleasure. These are black and white distinctions. They are perhaps things that should be kept well apart, just like we keep supplies of pure clean fresh mains water completely separate from the sewage pipes that take away our soil and waste. Perhaps we should not mix business with pleasure, but keep them strictly separated. Because real problems start when we blur the distinction, or fail to make the distinction at all, and allow them to mix, and start drinking polluted water.
This distinction between work and play, between business and pleasure, is one that I’ve been slowly exploring for many years in my highly abstract and mathematical Idle Theory. Maybe I’ll write about that too some day, now that I’m beginning to use its conceptual framework and its logic in anger.