“It’s not about health.”
I think I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read those words in describing the reasons for the smoking ban.
After all, if you push people out into the cold and wet, you’re not improving their health. Same if you destroy their supportive communities and networks of friends. All supposedly to reduce the non-existent ‘health threat’ posed by secondhand smoke.
No, it’s certainly not about health. So what is it about?
A few days back I found myself imagining I was the owner of a quarry in southern Italy, sometime around 50 BC. I had a gang of several hundred slaves working from dawn to dusk breaking rocks to be shipped up the coast to Rome and other towns. And I’d got talking with the overseer about how the slaves should be treated.
Should they be allowed tea or coffee breaks? Certainly not. A 10 minute tea break means 10 minutes less rock-breaking, fewer rocks sold, and proportionally fewer denarii in the till at the end of the day.
Should they be allowed beer and wine? Absolutely not. This was even worse than tea or coffee. Because not only would they they waste precious time drinking the stuff, but they’d quite likely be drunk and incapable of work when they’d finished.
How about cigarettes? Not them either. A man smoking a cigarette has to take the time to light it, puff on it, and stub it out. Those precious seconds all add up. A man with a cigarette or a pipe in his mouth isn’t working as hard as he could be. So it can’t be allowed.
No, they’ll just have to do with a few swigs of plain water every hour or two. Nothing more.
What about food? Shouldn’t they be well fed, given all the work they’re doing? Certainly they must have adequate food, but it should be the cheapest food. Bread, vegetables, fruit, that sort of thing. And preferably food that doesn’t need cooking. Certainly they can’t be fed with caviare and larks’ tongues in aspic. Those are expensive foods. And they shouldn’t eat meat either, because that’s more expensive than wheat and barley and vegetables too. No cream cakes either.
They must be given just enough, and no more. We don’t want overweight, fat slaves. Nor do we want underweight thin ones. We want well-muscled slaves who aren’t carrying any fat at all.
As for breeding them, we want to just keep up the numbers. And we only want the best specimens breeding. We don’t want the lame and the sick and the malformed breeding.
And the old? We’ll do what we usually do. Drop them into the river at ebb tide, and let them be washed out to sea. There are plenty of hungry sharks out there that rely on a regular supply of food.
This struck me as a far more rational explanation of alcohol and tobacco bans, and of dietary restrictions on meat, sugar, fat, etc, and of injunctions to ‘keep fit’, and be neither too thin nor too fat.
And none of it had anything to do with health.
But then, reasons of this sort can hardly be given to justify smoking and alcohol bans, diet restrictions, keep-fit advice, and so on. You can’t tell people that you really just want to screw as much work out of them as you possibly can.
No. Instead you invent all sorts of spurious ‘health’ reasons to justify them. You tell them that the new rules are all for their own good. You produce ‘studies’ which show that smokers, drinkers, and fat people die 10 years younger than other people. You do want to live 10 years longer, don’t you? Well, don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t eat meat or fat or sugar or tasty fast food. Eat turnips and onions and bread instead. And drink water. It’s much better for you.
Of course, if anyone looks closely at these ‘studies’, they’ll find that they’re complete tripe, and not in the least bit scientific. But if you have them presented by authorities – like senior doctors called Sir Charles This or Sir Liam That – most people will believe every word they say.
And so at the end of my imaginary conversation with the quarry overseer, I asked:
Do I have to do this too? Do I have to eat bread and drink water and all that?
Of course not, he replied, with a broad grin. You aren’t the one who’s breaking rocks. Yours is a life of leisure. You can eat as much as you like, and drink as much as you like, and get as fat as you wish, and have as much sex as you can too. Here, I’ve brought some of your favourite Capuan cream cakes that arrived on the boat this morning. The rest are in the frigidarium, along with the beer and the quails’ eggs.