The Darkening of the Light

Something caught my eye over at Leg-iron’s place.

The smoking ban, you see, is not about passive smoking. It’s not about health. It is not even about smoking.

It is about control…

These rules were not brought in for your benefit. They were brought in to make you do as you are told.

Why should the government want to control people? It didn’t used to be so controlling. Not even under past Labour governments of Wilson and Gallaghan.

Sitting by the river in the sun, with a pint of beer and a cigarette, I found myself entertaining a different hypothesis. Everything that is under attack by the government these days is a luxury of some sort or other. Smoking is one of life’s pleasures. So also is drinking. And so is flying off on holiday to Spain. Why is the government calling time on the pleasures of life? Why has the government become so puritanical?

The answer I found myself toying with was that, after a few centuries of unparalleled economic growth and prosperity, a government of politically-correct environmentalist pessimists now foresees a coming era of austerity, not just for Britain, but for the entire world, and wishes not to avoid it or escape it, but pre-emptively adapt to it. The reasoning is that, after a century of economic growth and rising prosperity powered by cheap oil, we’re going to be facing ever higher oil prices over the next 50 years. The result will be falling rather than rising living standards. Everyone, it has been decided, is going to have to tighten their belts, and live simpler and more frugal lives. They’re going to have live without many of the luxuries they’ve grown accustomed to. And rather than let this all happen suddenly, the government wishes to make sure that falling living standards are gradually introduced in a planned fashion. People are going to have to learn to live without luxuries. And cigarettes and tobacco are the first in line to be squeezed out. After that it’ll be alcohol. And chocolate. And meat. And cars. And holidays. A century from now, our descendants will look back on the late 20th century much like Romans during the fall of the Roman empire looked back at the imperial heyday of Rome.

The government also unsurprisingly foresees civil unrest during this period, and that is why civil liberties are being removed, and police forces strengthened, and surveillance intensified. The coming era will probably also see war over dwindling oil resources. This war has arguably already started. It began with the 1990 Gulf war, and continued with the Iraq war on the war in Afghanistan, where we are told our troops will remain for a generation. These wars weren’t about overthrowing dictatorships, or fighting terrorism, but were about securing a key strategic oil-rich region. The likely upcoming Iran war will be about oil too, and not about overthrowing nuclear-armed mullahs.

None of it is spoken about openly. Rather than saying we’re in Afghanistan and Iraq to secure oil supplies, we’re told that we’re fighting terrorism. And rather than saying that we’re going to have to do with less and less oil, we’re told that burning oil causes global warming, and we’re going to have reduce our carbon footprint. And rather than say that we’re going to have to do without luxuries, we’re offered instead the promise of a ‘smoke-free’ world (and after that an ‘alcohol-free’ and ‘chocolate-free’ and ‘car-free’ and ‘holiday-free’ world, as if each represented some sort of progress). We are being asked to welcome a world in which we live on a diet of bread and water, and cycle or walk everywhere. We are being re-introduced to poverty. But we are being told that poverty is wealth, so that we will welcome it with open arms. “Oh how much better it all is!” we will cry. “We used to have cigarettes and beer and chocolates and cars and holidays in Spain. Thank God we no longer have to endure those dreadful things, and have good plain bread and water instead”

It is as if, rather than waiting for the Second World War to start, the government had pre-emptively introduced rationing and blackouts and Dig For Victory in 1937 rather than in 1940, but disguising the real reasons for doing so by insisting that the reduced food allowance was ‘healthier’ and that.blackouts ‘improved night vision’ and home-grown cabbages and swedes were ‘tastier’ than imported food. Anything but the truth that Britain would soon have bombers swarming in its skies, and U-boats prowling in its seas. That sort of talk might cause alarm.

I have no idea whether the above hypothesis has any truth to it. It simply offers a not-totally-implausible explanation for government-funded puritanism. The passive smoking scare is a fraud. Global warming is another fraud. Both are funded by government. Why is the government funding fraud? In a climate of institutionalised mendacity, everyone is entitled to their own guess. In fact they are entitled to as many guesses as they like.

We live in a deeply pessimistic time. We see dangers and threats in all directions. From overpopulation. From resource depletion. From either global warming, or global cooling. From secondhand smoking as well as from firsthand smoking. Everything is dangerous. Everything is toxic. Everything is carcinogenic. An optimistic conviction that the world could be made a better place has been replaced by a glum certitude that it can only get worse. This pessimism, articulated by hundreds of doomsayers like Paul Ehrlich for the past half century, has now infected governments, and defines policy. The Greens are in charge, and they wish to undo the industrial revolution, and the Enlightenment, and return to a sustainable agrarian society, powered by oxen and windmills. We are all to become uneducated peasants again, subservient to the lord of the manor. History is to be put into reverse.

In some ways, nothing expresses this better than the replacing of filament light bulbs with dimlights. It is a darkening of the light. They are a half way stage in a return to candlelight, which is all there will be once the power stations cease functioning. Soon, no doubt, there will be TV programmes, fronted by celebrities, which will explain how to farm sustainably using oxen. And how to make wooden clogs. And build shacks with wattle and daub. And treat cancer with henbane and molasses.

Or maybe my hypothesis is too elaborate, and it’s much simpler than this. Leg-iron seemed to think so:

the smoking ban is simply a spite-filled oppressive bullying piece of thuggery implemented, enforced and supported by vicious filth who love nothing more than to watch someone else suffer.

About Frank Davis

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16 Responses to The Darkening of the Light

  1. Anonymous says:

    Got Carried Away
    I went off on a train of thought and ran long, Frank. I’ll email you what I wrote in case you’d like to read it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Excellent points and bravo – I believe you’re spot on. As an aside, I’ve enjoyed your blog for a while and never commented, till now. I’ve always wanted to thank you for your efforts and eloquent words.
    I believe your hypothesis is more correct than what Leg-iron writes – I don’t believe the war on smokers is an isolated piece of work to see a certain group suffer, but rather a means to a much worse, much more encompassing attempt at controlling and ‘guiding’ free peoples behaviors through coercion and thuggery. It’s only directed at smokers and smoking for the time being, but the precedent being set applies to anyone, anywhere. The government isn’t an extension of the people, as it should be; the people are an extension of the government.

  3. Frank Davis says:

    Re: Got Carried Away
    Sure, go ahead.

  4. Frank Davis says:

    Well, Leg-iron may be right, and they are just “vicious filth”. It’s how I feel about them some days.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I, too, think your hypothesis has a ring of truth. If resources are dwindling, whatever the reason, governments will have to control an unhappy population. It suits them very well to have the likes of the environmental and health lobbies behind whose skirts government can hide, so to speak.
    Slightly O/T but perhaps of interest: the radio today has been full of a report published by the Mental Health Foundation on loneliness (modern life=loneliness=health problems). No mention of the smoking ban greatly contributing (natch) but, interestingly, an interviewee was saying that not only does loneliness result only in depression but also that it seems to impact on the genetics of the individual.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Jay, I left a comment under the Times article but, as yet, they haven’t published it.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Ligt darkens
    What a gloomy prediction! I think that some people really do see the end not of civilisation but of civilised life, but others are simply power hungry, greedy or spiteful. What, for example, could be more spiteful than the fact that filament bulbs are freely available in shops _provided_ you don’t want pearl or opal. In other words you can have them but they must be ugly. You can have your tobacco but it must be plastered with hideous pornographic images or in a shameful plain wrapper. As the Catholics might have said “it’s OK as long as you don’t take any pleasure from it.”
    Many misguided people put ridiculous burdens on themselves such as vegetarianism, not out of taste, not really for reasons of health, but to punish themselves. And if you punish yourself you will need to punish others. It’s just that somehow, while we were relaxing and minding our own happy business they took over the asylum. Now we’re wise to it we can fix it. We really can.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Ian B
    I love your writing generally Frank, but I think you’re wrong on this one. There is no practical reason for it. They do it because they are puritans- literally, not figuratively or perjoratively. They hope the oil price will rise and force austerity, but they admire austerity regardless. It is because they believe, as puritans, that moralistic restraint is the foundation of society, and luxury and pleasure automatically resuult in ruin. It is because they measure the economy not in terms of economic inputa and outputs, but in terms of moral inputs and outputs. The free market satisfies the desires of people within it. To a puritan, that is a market failure.
    They do it because of their moralist heritage. Socialism in the UK and US has been puritan for a very long time. In England, starting with the Wesleyans and Quakers who were the direct inheritors of the Puritan ideology, and who founded the era of Victorian Values, which directly produced the authoritarian hellhole we live in today. The religious revivial spread acorss the Atlantic and reignited the fervour of the descendents of the Puritans there, in the North Eastern states, creating “Yankeeism”. The Yankees fought a great civil war, (just as the Puritans had done in England in the 17th Century) and thus achieved hegemony, making the USA a Puritan nation. Which is all, historically, why the US and UK are the two great generators of puritan statism.
    It isn’t a cunning plan, Frank, at least in my view. It’s just blind faith. They believe with all their heart that comfort and leisure corrupt the soul, and will not stop until comfort and leisure are utterly extinguished.

  9. Frank Davis says:

    Re: Ligt darkens
    Trouble is that there are an awful lot of these inmates that have taken over the asylum, and they all seem to hold high offices everywhere. It doesn’t look easy.

  10. Frank Davis says:

    Re: Ian B
    You’re probably right.
    But it was a nice sunny afternoon, and I had a cold beer and a cigar, and it was an entertaining thought that there might be a different explanation. For the most part I adopt much the same view as you do.
    What I don’t really understand though is where this puritanism comes from. It seems to have been born in the 16th century with Protestantism. Why should protestantism have been so puritanical in ways that its Catholic antecedents were not?
    One answer to my own question might be that there always were puritanical strands within the Catholic church, most notably within the orders of monks. With a Protestantism in which everyone became his own priest, very often this meant everyone becoming his own ascetic, self-denying monk.
    All of which begs the question of where the monks came from…

  11. Anonymous says:

    Re: Ian B
    Why should protestantism have been so puritanical in ways that its Catholic antecedents were not?
    As it goes, today I’ve been mentally preparing a big article on the history of puritanism for Counting Cats; I intend a series that’ll hopefully act as a kind of “Puritanism primer”. We need to get a proper handle on this angle, as I think it’s just been overlooked. Course, that’s just my view. Everybody else probably thinks I’m a nut. Heh.
    One way to look at it is I think that our own history has the narrative wrong. The Protestants were the same as the Islamist Fundies currently are in Islam; they were a fanatical movement determined to “purify” Christianity and take it back to its “pure state”; a state which had never existed in history and was instead a construct of the protestant imagination, just as the form of Islam desired by the Islamists is a modern invention which they transfer onto the past (Islam never *demanded* burkas etc). It’s a kind of fake past, a fake purity.
    So the zealous Protestants, the fanatics, the puritans wanted to be perfect Christians, with a perfect faith. What started with a desire for a pure faith rapidly became a desire for a pure person. It’s a natural step then to trying to eradicate anthing that distracts a person from God. Beer, sex, dancing, hvaing a laugh, all these things are obvious distractions. So you have to get rid of them.
    Actually, mentioning Islam, it’s intersting from this perspective to see what’s going on in the Mid East as not something alien, but something very familiar. It’s their Reformation and, like Europe’s, it’s a very violent affair. Like the Christian Puritans, the Muslim Puritans are trying to rid the Islamic culture of all “distractions”. Talibanic Afghanistan was just their version of Calvin’s Geneva or Cromwell’s England.
    So anyway, I think asceticism is simply explained. It’s just the case that when you are determined to be spiritually pure, you have to stop yourself being distracted by temptations like a nice pint of beer or a lusty barmaid. When you’re determined to make everybody else pure too, that means utterly eradicating those things from society.
    Just my tuppence in the old money…

  12. Anonymous says:

    Ah, Frank, and there was me thinking that we’d never make a conspiracy theorist of you – and here you are expounding, effectively, a pretty convincing conspiracy theory all of your very own! And, before your mental barriers go up and you start thinking; “Oh, no. I’m not a conspiracy theorist because I’m not talking about a One World Government or aliens disguised as humans or the slaughter and enslavement of huge swathes of the population,” remember that a conspiracy theory is just a theory that what we are presented with isn’t what actually motivates those in power into doing the things they do. Just as the Evangelical Bible-thumpers and the Militant Islamists are highly unrepresentative of the average Christian or Muslim person, the real “wacko” conspiracy theorists (who are, I’ll grant you, still out there) form a tiny proportion of the many thousands of people who, these days, are no longer prepared to unquestioningly accept the official explanations for seemingly-inexplicable actions given to them by politicians or the media.

  13. Frank Davis says:

    Re: Ian B
    they were a fanatical movement determined to “purify” Christianity and take it back to its “pure state”; a state which had never existed in history and was instead a construct of the protestant imagination,
    That’s a very interesting hypothesis. I look forward to reading your Puritanism Primer.
    I’m interested in Puritanism too. And, using Idle Theory, I can outline something of a rationale underlying a certain kind of puritanism, at least in the sense of foregoing luxuries and amusements. This wouldn’t offer an historical account of puritanism, of course. I won’t try and outline that rationale here. But I may blog about it some day or other.
    And I can well see the Taliban as Islamic puritans. Or, conversely, to see our puritans as a Taliban. Which makes the Afghan war a war between two Talibans, each as righteous as the other. And our Taliban is supposedly fighting to preserve our way of life, all the while that they are busily destroying it with things like smoking bans.

  14. Frank Davis says:

    remember that a conspiracy theory is just a theory that what we are presented with isn’t what actually motivates those in power into doing the things they do.
    Even by that measure, I’m not sure that my hypothesis counts as a conspiracy theory. The idea that we face Peak Oil is very public doctrine of the Green movement. And our Lib/Con/Lab government is openly Green these days. So it wouldn’t be too surprising if they’d taken on board the Peak Oil doctrine, and begun to think about what life might be like in that event.
    One of my usual objections to what I see as conspiracy theories is: “They’re Not That Clever!” Conspiracy theories always seem to ascribe perfect knowledge to the conspirators (usually the government) allied with perfect execution of the conspiracy. And this is usually the point where my disbelief kicks in.
    It’s one reason why I’m not a 9/11 Conspiracy Theorist who thinks that the US government blew up the twin towers so as to start a war of its own choice, while neatly blaming it all on Al Qaeda. To do this would seem to me to require a perfection of planning and execution and secrecy which is beyond the powers of anybody, let alone the US government. It’s seems much more plausible that Al Qaeda just did something so daring and unexpected that they caught the US government and USAF completely napping.
    It’s also why I think that JFK was shot from the School Book Depository and not the Grassy Knoll. It’s much simpler to shoot from the depository. And it was probably Lee Harvey Oswald.
    And it’s why I think that astronauts did actually land on the Moon. The alternative, that it was all shot on a movie set, would once again require supernatural feats of planning and execution and secrecy. Much easier to launch a rocket.

  15. Anonymous says:

    People have accused me of being a conspiracy theorist when I’ve tried to explain that smoking bans are coordinated globally. This is despite the fact that they can check on the FCTC themselves. They seem to think that calling something a conspiracy theory is a clever and winning repost.
    I agree that many conspiracy theories fall under the weight of their own complexity. I have no views on JFK but something about 9/11 stinks. It would not have to be a fully coordinated plan, just a blind eye here and a helping hand there.
    As to moon landings being faked, that is ridiculous. Landing a man on the moon uses the same technology as launching satellites into orbit. It is just vastly more expensive and dangerous. Do these people believe Uri Gagarin was a fake? And what about the subsequent moon landings or communications satellites. Are these fakes too?

  16. Anonymous says:

    And yet… they also want to remove religion (opiate of the masses) and even the comforts that that might afford. The point is that we render only unto Caesar and put no god before him, have no one to turn to except, of course,Them. (I say this as an agnostic with no dog in that fight.) So I tend to call it Statism rather than puritanism– a so-called “rational” sci-fi version along Soviet, if not exactly Maoist, lines. Fritz Lang in 3 D. If there’s a future in which pleasure’s going to be in short supply, then they’ll take it away from us to assure the supply to Them will be steady and uninterrupted. So, too, with the money expended on health care (the rationale for banning all of these of-the-flesh pleasures). You can bet that the rationing won’t ever apply to Them; they’ll reap every cent that the rest of contribute by dying without proper pharma and surgery. And behind their closed doors you can bet they’ll be eating steaks and smoking Cohibas and swilling single-malt. Surreptitiously, of course. The other side of even a secular puritanism is always a raging fear of– and desire for–license.
    Then, too, I believe they believe they’re elite, or that once they’re elected, they become The Elect, automatically Knowing Best how to organize the rabble in the interests of The State and their own bloated egos and entitlement to power. They’re clearly above us– enlightened and superior– and the rest of us need to be organized and boxed for their singular convenience and perpetual power. And they cannily know, too, that a demoralized, fractured, denormalized people will have learned futility and won’t have the spine or the muscle to fight back.

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