Freedom

My objection to the smoking ban ultimately arises from seeing it as a gross restriction of freedom. People should be able to meet up and have a few beers and smoke a few cigarettes and talk about this and that. If you can’t do that, you can’t do anything. On the day the smoking ban came into force, a complete stranger came up to me and said, “It’s not a free country any more”. And he was right.

One of the surprises that came in the wake of the smoking ban was for me to discover that most of the people I knew, and whom I’d known for over 30 years in some cases, really weren’t in the least bit bothered about this monstrous restriction on freedom. Mostly it was because many were non-smokers, and the law didn’t directly affect them. Many of them had also fully absorbed all the antismoking doctrines – that smoking caused lung cancer, that secondhand smoke posed a health threat, etc, etc -. And most of them weren’t in the least bit bothered that smokers had been driven out of the pubs they’d inhabited for centuries.

But more than that, I was surprised that the government cared so little about freedom. And that all the political parties cared nothing about freedom, including the Liberal party whose very name contained the idea of freedom (‘libertas’). Somehow or other, something called ‘health’ had become more important than freedom.

But above all, I was astonished at how much I had suddenly started caring about freedom. I’d not been much bothered about it before. But then, up until 1 July 2007, Britain had been a free country, more or less. It’s maybe only when you’ve lost something that you realise how valuable it was. Up until that point, you take it for granted.

Freedom doesn’t seem to matter at all to the authoritarian antismokers. In fact, they don’t seem to know what it is at all. And when they write about it, they very often put it double quotes, as “freedom”. Like it’s “God” or something really totally abstruse, to have a quiet titter about. Tee hee.

If we are to take the new primacy of ‘health’ seriously (and I suppose we must, given that it – along with its wife, ‘safety’ – underpins more and more legislation) we must learn that what matters most is how long you live. Because the aim of ‘health and safety’ laws is to help people live long lives. And the trouble with smoking is that it shortens people’s lives. As also does alcohol. And over-eating. And more or less anything else you care to mention.

In the healthist credo, the sole purpose of human life is to live as long as possible. Nothing else matters. Particularly not this “freedom” thing, whatever it is. In fact, “freedom” poses a grave threat to longevity. Free people, choosing to do whatever they like, are liable to make the wrong choices. And drive too fast. And eat too much. And put their lives in danger by going drinking/swimming/climbing/dancing/motor racing/yachting. All of which are ‘health threats’.

It’s a grim and dwindled creed, this healthist doctrine. It has an attenuated idea of success in life – which is the number of years you managed to live. Want to know, when you’re leafing through the obituaries columns, whether someone lived a successful life or not? Simple. Just count the years in their life. Never mind whether they won a Nobel prize, or were the King of Denmark, or made a few million dollars, or scored 374 runs at the Oval. That doesn’t matter. All that matters is how long they lived. The number. And, rather like Olympic records, the record is always being broken.

It’s quite simple. If someone dies before the age of 50, then their life was a failure. You have to make it to 70 at least before you begin to get up even into the bronze medal category. Make 80, and you’re a silver medalist. The gold medals are reserved for the centenarians. They get a congratulatory email from the Queen.

In a few decades time, you’ll be a total failure if you don’t live past 100. You’ll only get the Queen’s congratulations if you make it to 200. Or maybe 300. You’ll be lying in a vast bed of cotton wool, warmed and cooled by air conditioning systems, and drip-fed exactly the right mix of organically-grown mung beans, when the Queen’s message is relayed to you (in stages, so that the shock doesn’t kill you). You will never do anything, because doing anything poses a health risk. Even solving a crossword puzzle carries health risks, after all, as your blood pressure and internal body temperature rises when you can’t think of the letter that represents the Gravitational Constant.*

Why did ‘health’ (which is equal to longevity) come to be the measure of everything? Simple. Because it can be measured. It’s possible to work out how long somebody has lived by subtracting the date of their birth from the date of their death. How “free” they were, or how “happy” they were, or how “honourable” they were cannot be measured. And that’s why they don’t count. Because counting is everything these days. Because number is everything. If you can’t give it a number, it doesn’t exist. And that’s why “freedom” doesn’t exist. Or “happiness”. Or “honour”. Or “God”. They have no numbers. They can’t be measured. So they don’t exist. Obviously.

Ours is now a world in which everything is measured with meters of some sort or other. It’s measured with rulers or tape measures to find the length of it. And with scales to find the weight of it. And clocks to measure the duration of it. And voltmeters to measure the voltage of it. We don’t have any ‘happiness meters’, or ‘freedom meters’, or ‘god meters’. So, sorry, but these things simply can’t be measured, and so don’t exist. Or will not exist until somebody provides the requisite meters to measure them. Complete with nice dials and pointers with numbers round the edge. Which nobody has done so far.

But, hey, we can measure how long somebody lives. In fact, that’s pretty much all we can measure about them. And because that’s the only thing we can measure, that is all that really matters.

* The letter used for the Gravitational Constant is G. No, don’t thank me. No sweat. Just didn’t want you to die prematurely (i.e. before the age of 250), that’s all.

About Frank Davis

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13 Responses to Freedom

  1. Tim says:

    From The Sound of Music, a lilting little tune about California’s smoking ban.

    “I am sixteen, going on seventeen, la-la, la-la-lah”

    Freedom? What’s that?

  2. smoker says:

    Frank, no sooner said than done. Meet the Healthways Well-Being Index replete with its own Well-Being Scientific Council made up of ‘a select group of scientists from the fields of behavioral and health economics, health and social policy, epidemiology, behavioral and psychological sciences, health promotion, and disease prevention’ Obviously it’s patterned after your basic Tobacco Control command structure.

    You guessed it, among it’s components are :

    * Life Evaluation – Smiling or laughter, Being treated with respect
    Enjoyment, Happiness, Worry, Sadness, Anger and Stress, etc.
    * Emotional Health – Blah, Blah, Blah
    * Physical Health – Sick days in the past month, Disease burden, Obesity and Health problems that get in the in the way of normal activities, etc.
    * Healthy Behavior – Smoking, Eating Healthy, Weekly consumption of fruits and vegetables and Weekly exercise frequency
    * Work Environment – Blah, Blah, Blah
    * Basic Access – Safe place to exercise, Affordable fruits and vegetables, etc.

    Anyone want to guess how they weigh the Smoking factor? I wonder if it would be possible to score high with a Smoking demerit loading your score down, regardless of your Smiling or laughter.

    Freedom? Nowhere to be found. God?, nope. Honour?, nope.

    How would I score Healthways Inc? The absolute Zenith of Pretension. Totally off the charts.

    I stumbled on this by way of an internet buzz article making the rounds skewering Michelle Obama because her hometown scored dead last. For the first time ever, I felt sorry for her. Of course you might say she’s been hoisted on her own petard.

    Here’s the link: Complete with nice dials and pointers with numbers round the edge

    • Jax says:

      Conspicuous by their absence from all of these “classifications” is any ability for people to give a score regarding the effect on their happiness and well-being of the powers-that-be who perhaps instigated, or at least encouraged, this study.

      Which is a bit of a glaring (deliberate?) omission really, isn’t it, being as “the law” is the one thing which affects everybody in a society, all the time, whereas other things, (like having a nice job or a good boss) simply won’t apply at all to many people, and other things, like being treated with respect or eating healthily or having enough money are unlikely to be constant in most people’s life in all situations, all the time, except for the few at the very top or very bottom level of the scales.

      But then probably, as Frank says here, that’s precisely why things like “happiness” or “well being” are simply ignored as factors most of the time by governments around the world, because they are so incredibly hard to measure. And, of course, because to become truly meaningful they would have to include the effect on people’s lives of state intrusion (or the lack of it) – and they wouldn’t want that harsh little reality in their faces, would they?

  3. The Man With Many Chins says:

    My well being would be considerably higher if I were not being constantly advised, nannied, prodded, measured, weighed, evaluated, tested, taxed, bombarded with propaganda.

    I wish they would all just fuck off and leaved me alone!

    Awesome post as always Frank

  4. Jax says:

    “I’d not been much bothered about [freedom] before. But then, up until 1 July 2007, Britain had been a free country, more or less.”

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there, Frank. And that’s the cunning part about all these little “salami slices” of freedom – they only ever target them at people who are in a minority in society, like the smoking community, in order to (a) claim “overwhelming public support” (when in fact what they’re actually seeing is “overwhelming public apathy”) and (b) ensure that most people aren’t bothered about the “slice” they are currently looking at, because it doesn’t affect them personally. They’re past masters at utilising man’s inherently self-interested nature in order to achieve their aims. Hence the reason why the smoking ban was preceded by a lengthy, but nonetheless extremely successful, campaign to bring the number of smokers down to a “manageable” level, and why they are now approaching drinking and obesity using exactly the same tactics.

    We won’t see for a few years yet the kind of legislation which obliges publicans to ensure that no adult has more than two drinks at a sitting, or food retailers prohibited from selling “bad” foods to anyone who they deem to be a little too tubby. But it will come, just like the smoking ban that everyone scoffed at 10 years ago did. And it’ll come a lot quicker than the smoking ban, because they have a ready-made team of “teachers” in the anti-smoking movement who have been there and done it from the grassroots upwards. Hence the big conference recently between anti-alcohol and anti-smoking groups, ostensibly to “see what they could learn from each other.” Learn from each other? Don’t make me laugh! The anti-smoking movement is so much further down the road than the anti-alcohol movement is, that this can have been no more and no less than a “tutoring” session.

    But then, of course, as you say:

    “It’s maybe only when you’ve lost something that you realise how valuable it was. Up until that point, you take it for granted.”

    And that, of course, is precisely what they are relying on.

    Which is why it irritates the life out of me that non-smoking drinkers countrywide are even now denying the connection and the scary similarities between anti-smoking and anti-drinking and failing to realise that in order to fight stringent future restrictions on drinking they must swallow their pride, admit that they were wrong about the smoking ban and that the anti-banners were right all along, and put their weight behind the smoking community’s campaigns and protests to amend or repeal the smoking ban. If they don’t, then the principle still stands, the same methods will be applied for the same “reasons,” and the prospects of their own chosen pleasure remaining as freely available to them as it is now, are slim indeed.

  5. Gary K. says:

    “In the healthist credo, the sole purpose of human life is to live as long as possible. Nothing else matters.”

    Most certainly not happiness; especially, the happiness of others.

    It must gall these people a great deal; that no matter what they do, 50% of the people will die prematurely(before the average age of death) and they may be among that 50%.

    Obviously, the long-life nuts have never spent any time in a nursing home where most of the residents wish that their life had ended sooner.

    My Mother spent the last 6 years of her life in such a place. She was healthy; but, suffered dementia and knew it. Her despair at being mentally incompetent was heartbreaking.

  6. Gary K. says:

    ” Free people, choosing to do whatever they like, are liable to make the wrong choices. ”

    I guess they have never heard of Australia.

    The Aussies are in the top ten for smoking and drinking and the top five for being overweight; but, they are number 3 in number of years lived!!!

    As I understand it, they are a rather rowdy group too.

  7. Eddie Douthwaite says:

    JACKIE BAILLIE, the former Shadow Health Secretary at the Scottish Parliament took nearly 3 months NOT to reply to e-mails that she said she would reply to.

    She was running scared and just waited until the Scottish Parliament was dissolved prior to the election on 5th May.

    http://f2cscotland.blogspot.com/2011/03/scottish-labour-endorses-smoking-ban.html

  8. Eddie Douthwaite says:

    One Coalition that should be treated like the plague.

    http://f2cscotland.blogspot.com/2011/04/work-together-says-scottish-coalition.html

  9. Junican says:

    I wonder if my comment is off topic?

    There was a small item in the Daily Telegraph today entitled: ‘Tobacco Threat To Fish’. “Scientists (otherwise described as ‘researchers at San Diego Uni ‘- probably students) claim that fag ends are wiping out fish by leaking poisonous chemicals. A single butt with a tiny remnant of tobacco turned a litre of water toxic and killed 50% of species swimming in it” [I have paraphrased] This report was published in ‘Tobacco Control’ journal.

    When I had stopped laughing, I had a little think. It struck me that Tobacco Control is really, really scraping the bottom of the barrel, looking for a means to justify its continuing existence. The question thus arises: “Has Tobacco Control run out of steam?”

    Consider this. From the point of view of a PET (a Person who Enjoys Tobacco), the display ban is irrelevant, as is plain packaging. These things may matter to shopkeepers but not to PETs. What is important to PETs is THE BAN – on the grounds that it is an infringement of our reasonable right to associate together on our own terms.

    Philip Morris have set up a website in Australia. Here is the URL:

    https://www.ideservetobeheard.com.au/home.php

    This is a brand new site. It invites comments from people who have ‘suffered’ from the outdoor ban and taxes. I have read the comments (only 50 or so, so far). What struck me quite forcibly was the acceptance by commenters that smoking kills, and that indoor bans are ok [I paraphrase]. As I read the comments, I became suspicious – too many were basically in favour of the bans, and were not very happy about plain packaging. Some said that they understood that other people might be upset by people smoking in their vicinity, but they could not agree with plain packaging. the thought crossed my mind that a few people commenting on this site who are ASH people could very easily direct attention away from the real problem (freedom) into irrelevant areas.

    We must be aware that the main objection to the ban is the removal of our freedom to associate together on our own terms. I believe that this idea is critical. It is not for the Government to dictate the terms upon which people meet together. That idea may be the missing ingredient in the anti-ban movement. It is a crucial idea. If PETs wish to meet and engage with each other, indoors and smoking, then they can do. It is fundemental to our freedom. It has nothing whatsoever to do with health. And so, it is quite reasonable and acceptable that publicans, for example, should describe their ‘terms of reference’ to would-be customers.

    I think that the logic is nearly complete.

    SHS is almost totally harmless – the statistics are clear.
    Freedom of Association requires that people can associate upon their own terms.
    Government is short term – taxes can be increased.
    Politicians know nothing.
    Tobacco Control is a self-serving, self-perpetuating organisation.

    And so on.

    I have come to the conclusion that this matter is a long term engagement, but it need not be so.

    Let us suppose that a wealthy person (who does not care about fines) opens a simple bar. He hires one bar staff. The bar staff person signs an affidavite before a solicitor that he is happy to work in a tobacco fumes environment. A huge notice is in place saying that smoking is allowed and that it is a place for smokers to assemble on their own terms. Let us then assume that this matter goes to court. Upon what grounds could a judge deny the freedom of people to assemble ON THEIR OWN TERMS?

    The serious point is that Parliament has no right to dictate the terms upon which people can meet together – none whatsoever at all. It has nothing whatsoever to do with health.

  10. George Speller says:

    Orwell commented on the word “free” in his essay about Newspeak. Basically the word had been hijacked from its original meaning of “freedom to” and turned into “freedom from”. A fundamental difference. This is happening to our entire language even as we speak (it).

  11. Pingback: I Deserve To Be Heard | Frank Davis

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