I suppose that if I carry around an idea of what human society is, it is that it’s a co-operative enterprise which aims to provide the greatest degree of personal freedom for its individual members. Very often I see such freedom as being exemplified by people sitting in a pub drinking beer and smoking cigarettes and talking about this and that. And, in this simple model of freedom, the greatest degree of freedom would be attained if you could spend all day sitting in such a pub, and life was just one long round of beers, maybe interspersed now and then with a game of pool or chess or darts, with people just doing more or less whatever they wanted.
A smoking ban is something that strikes directly at the heart of such a notion of freedom. For in removing the freedom to smoke tobacco (or anything else), it tramples upon any notion of individual personal autonomy. And it does so with the full force of the law. People can no longer do what they want in a place – a pub – which actually exists in order to let people do as they please. And quite obviously, once the freedom to smoke has been revoked, it’s quite easy to revoke any other freedom as well. Such as the freedom to drink beer, or munch peanuts, or play pool.
I’m not really interested here in the ostensible reason for the smoking ban, which is that people will be healthier if they don’t have to breathe tobacco smoke, and even healthier if they can be induced to give up smoking altogether. It would probably also be argued that people would be healthier if the gave up drinking beer, and eating peanuts, and sitting around on chairs all day. And in fact all these things are being mooted by the same authorities who banned smoking. So it’s very likely that they will ban alcohol and peanuts and armchairs. And they’ll maybe even end up banning pubs.
It seems that these people think that health is more important than freedom, and that a healthy society is better than a free society. So what sort of society are they aiming to create? Because it certainly doesn’t seem to be the sort of free society that I want, and which until recently I used to enjoy.
It’s kind of hard to burrow into other people’s heads, but as best I can make out they have a completely different idea of society than mine. In their idea of society, it’s a sort of organic whole in which the individual – and with him, individual freedom – has been submerged into the greater whole. And perhaps the best example of this happening is the way that the individual cells in a human body merge together to serve the overall purposes of the greater whole to which they belong, losing their individuality in the process. In what sense do the cells in my arms and legs have any freedom or autonomy or individuality? In no sense that I can see. My arms and legs take their orders from me, their guiding political authority.
Once you start seeing society in this way, then you are likely to set out to cure the ills of the body of society just like you set out to cure the ills of the individual human body. You set out to reform society in precisely the same way as you set out to cure individual people (with diets, exercise, drugs, etc). As a doctor, you cease to to treat individual patients in a hospital or surgery; instead you treat the whole of society as if it were a patient.
In fact, this was precisely the attitude of Gro Harlem Brundtland, doctor and one time prime minister of Norway, and prime mover in the 1990s in the WHO in formulating its new emphasis on public health (and banning smoking).
Although her time as a clinician was meager, Gro’s experience in the field of medicine provided her the analytical tools with which to approach a life in politics. In 1989 she was quoted in Time as saying, “There is a very close connection between being a doctor and a politician. The doctor tries to prevent illness, then tries to treat it if it comes. It’s exactly the same as what you try to do as a politician, but with regard to society.”
And in this ‘organic’ notion of society, it is the political leaders of society who must decide and direct – just like the human brain within the human – what the rest of society (i.e. its arms and legs) should do.
Furthermore, using this notion of society, there’s no real need for representative democracy. The appropriate authorities – political, medical, industrial, etc – should decide among themselves what the appropriate course of action should be. After all, I don’t consult my arms or legs about anything much. So equally there is little or no need to consult ordinary people about anything.
There follow, once the various authorities have consulted each other, things like smoking bans, which aim to improve the overall health of society. In due course there are also alcohol bans and sugar bans and salt bans and so on. The whole of society will be improved, and made leaner and fitter.
It’s not just health either. One might see the EU project as one of creating a whole new European society in which local identity (French, German, Spanish, British, etc) is erased, and people are merged into a new European collective. Overseeing this is the political nerve centre in which all the decisions are taken in consultation with the relevant experts. The only ‘democratic’ component of this central government is a parliament which can only veto proposals by the executive, but which can normally be expected to rubber-stamp all its proposals (such as the European smoking ban which the EU parliament has duly rubberstamped).
The concentration of all power into the hands of the political elite also requires that more or less everything must be planned. And so, in response to a threat like, say, global warming, the state must consult its experts, and decide on some course of action – e.g. reducing CO2 production, subsidising windmills, etc -.
Furthermore, once the decisions have been taken – about smoking, alcohol, global warming, and so on – the only job for the mass media is that of persuading the mass of the people of the merits of the chosen policy, in order to gain their acceptance and compliance. This is not a job of informing the people. Quite the opposite. It is a matter of pulling the wool over their eyes in every possible way, by presenting only one side of the argument, and making sure any dissent is suppressed, and even manufacturing the appearance of public acceptance (e.g. everybody loves smoking bans).
It’s perhaps not very surprising if doctors like Brundtland have readily adopted this idea of society, and have stepped easily upward from treating individual people to treating the whole of society. They know better than anyone that human bodies are composed of trillions of cells, and it’s probably very easy for them to see the whole of human society as composed of millions of human ‘cells’. It’s rather harder to understand how this distinctly authoritarian model of society seems to have been adopted by all the political elites throughout Europe. For all of them seem to have bought into the idea of a central EU government with only residual or token democratic features, into the primacy of public health, and into state intervention to combat global warming, and any number of other state interventions.
I’m not going to rehearse here my usual objections to this idea of society, except to say that in the Anglo-saxon countries it’s shouldering aside a long-established culture of individual freedom. I’m instead going to ask where this model of society has come from, and why it is so powerful, and whether it is a true reflection of the nature of human society.
Where does it come from? I suspect that I may have answered this question already. It’s an idea of society which grows out of biology, and in particular the discovery a couple of centuries ago that plants and animals were composed of tiny cells, each one a living thing, and invisible to the naked eye. Plants and animals were societies of cells, in which every single cell worked on behalf of the society to which it belonged. Nature itself showed how societies should be ordered, and how they should behave. And this provided an entirely new model of political society. And a ‘scientific’ biological model. It was an idea as powerful as the idea of evolution a century later, which also transformed the way people looked upon the world around them. ‘Scientific socialism’ became the new biological way of thinking about society.
If it’s a powerful idea, it’s because it’s rational and scientific, and nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time has come. It’s the idea, it would seem, that underpinned not only ‘scientific’ Socialism, but also Nazism, and eugenics, and very much else. Older political ideas, such as liberalism, and representative democracy, began to look like unscientific and archaic and irrational. In time even Conservatives like David Cameron (he of the ‘Big Society’) have succumbed to it.
But is it a true reflection of human society? If it is, it will be a great success, and Europe will be the forerunner of many such new political unions, and smoking bans, and wind farms.
But I suspect that it will prove to be a disaster. For almost all the ‘science’ that underpins it isn’t science at all. The antismoking ‘science’ on which smoking bans have been based is a joke of a science. And increasingly so also is the climate ‘science’ on which the global warming scare has been erected. Furthermore ‘scientific socialism’ was always more an aspiration than a reality, as also was Nazi racial ‘science’. And so also, needless to say, is any sort biological model of society. None of it is science at all. And if it isn’t real science, it won’t work, any more than a ship will float or a plane will fly if it hasn’t been designed using sound scientific principles.
So what we’re going to get is a train wreck, when the new ‘scientific’ biological idea of society, and of social health, and social planning, proves to be a complete disaster. No other outcome is possible. And in the aftermath, what will happen will be that people will go back to doing things the way they did before, and which actually worked tolerably well, even if it hadn’t been designed by experts and centrally planned and administered by legions of bureaucrats. In the aftermath, people will wonder why on earth they ever tried to put together a European superstate, instead of continuing with a little flock of bickering nation states. Or why they ever attempted to control and direct ‘public health’, instead of simply treating individual sick people. Or ever came to believe that a trace gas like carbon dioxide could have dramatic impacts on the global climate.
I won’t say that nothing will end up being learned. Us humans are always learning. And maybe one or two key insights will emerge from the rain wreck.
We just have to hope that as few people as possible are killed or grievously injured in the train wreck before the whole botched and futile experiment is abandoned.