I usually think of myself as a night owl. For example, I usually write this blog after midnight. Right now it’s just after midnight.
But in recent times I’ve been finding myself waking up in the morning with an idea about something, very often something to do with smoking bans. And a couple of days back I woke up with an idea which I’d like to reconstruct before I forget it:
I’m very much an individualist. I see the world as made up of individual people. And I see ‘society’ as being all the connections between those people, like a big web, almost like an internet. Society, in my view, is made up of people. They’re the bricks, and they’re bound together by the mortar of friendship, family, creed, nationality, and so on.
But the tobacco controllers (and all the other controllers) seem to see things a bit differently. They seem to see ‘society’ as a kind of separate entity, like a house or something. And they see people as primarily members of society, like people who live in houses. So ‘society’ is like a huge building that everyone lives inside.
For them this ‘society’ is the primary entity, and it is from this society that individuals learn everything they ever know, like their names and the language they speak and pretty much everything else they know about anything. The individual is the creation of society. And so the individual is secondary.
And just like engineers engage in large scale engineering projects, like building houses and cities and roads and railways and dams, the controllers see themselves as engineers engaged in another kind of large scale engineering project: they’re trying to re-engineer ‘society’. They’re engaged in a social engineering project just like other engineers are engaged in civil engineering projects. And specifically, they’re trying to make society ‘smoke-free’, and also ‘carbon-neutral’, and in Europe they’re trying to construct a European Union that is a new superstate. There are a whole bunch of social engineering projects under way at the moment. And the goal is to make the huge building called ‘society’ smoke-free and carbon-neutral and have a little circlet of stars as the flag on top of it.
I can sort of see what they’re trying to do. There’s this thing called ‘society’ and they’re trying to re-organise and re-engineer it just like civil engineers drive tunnels and canals through hills as they reshape geography. And just like civil engineers with mountains, they see society as something that can be chopped up and moved around and reshaped. So they bring in smoking bans and all sorts of other rules and regulations to bulldoze people into conformity with their plans, just like civil engineers blast and bulldoze the surface of the earth.
Underlying it all is the idea that ‘society’ exists unconditionally as a monolithic entity, however much it gets chopped up and bulldozed, just like the material world that the civil engineers are chopping up and bulldozing exists as part of a monolithic entity called the Earth, which is a 6000 km radius sphere of solid matter. More or less whatever you do to the Earth, it will remain. And society is the same. However much you chop it up and bulldoze it, there always be a society, just like there’ll always be an Earth.
Anyway, that’s how they seem to think. They see themselves as social engineers no different from civil engineers or mechanical or electrical engineers. And they see themselves as just as well-meaning and progressive and as scientific as any of those sorts of engineers. It’s just that they’re re-wiring and rebuilding ‘society’ rather than a city or a house or a ship.
But I don’t think the way they think. For while I think that there is such a thing as society, I don’t think it’s an indestructible monolithic entity-in-itself. That’s because I see society as made of bonds of one sort or other tying people together. And, the way I see it, when the ties binding people together are broken, society disintegrates. Because society is nothing but the ties binding people together.
If they’re right about the monolithic nature of society, it will endure more or less whatever is done to it. It can be chopped up and bulldozed and relocated and buried as much as the social engineers like, and there will still be the thing called ‘society’ at the end of it. People may not like the re-engineering work while it’s being done, just like they don’t like a new road or railway or canal being built a few hundred yards away. But they’ll get used to it in the end, And they’ll come to love the new smoke-free and carbon-neutral society with the EU flag fluttering over it, just like they soon get to like the new roads and railways even if they protested against them at first.
But if I’m right, all these utopian social engineering schemes are not ‘improving’ society at all: they are instead destroying society. It is, after all, my own experience of the social engineering project that is the smoking ban: it shattered the communities of which I was a member. In fact, I regard myself as having been expelled from society. And the same process is at work in all the other social engineering projects. The EU social engineering project is shattering the ties that bind nations and peoples together. And the dystopian future that beckons would seem to be one in which ‘society’, as a network of ties between individuals, has ceased to exist.
The contrast between the two ideas of society, mine and theirs, crystallised into the idea of a sculptor. The social engineers see themselves as being like sculptors who set out to give shape and form and meaning to a block of marble (i.e. unreconstructed ‘society’), and create something new and beautiful. But I think that, as they rain down their blows on society, chiselling holes in it, they’re just going shatter the whole block, and end up with a pile of rubble. Because societies are not like marble. If anything, they’re more like sand or water. Or flesh and blood. And so all their social engineering projects will end in disaster, because they are based upon radical misconceptions about the nature and durability of the thing called ‘society’.
Such was the thought I woke up with a day or so back,