In sketching out yesterday the Manichaean Universe of Tobacco Control, I ended up with their bizarre economic model of the world, in which everything that was on sale was both addictive and poisonous. It was a world in which consumers flocked to department stores to buy lethal kettles, poisonous soaps, and toxic carpets. It was a world in which everyone was killing themselves in one way or other. It wasn’t just cigarettes. It was alcohol, sugar, milk, bread, salt, bacon, fat. And it was oil, coal, and uranium. And it was cars and trains and planes. Roads and bridges and tunnels. Name anything, and I will show you the horrible and lingering death that attends it. And all of them sold by grinning, cackling merchants of death.
Into this world the Controllers had now arrived, like missionaries stepping onto some savage shore, and preaching a message of universal self-denial. Stop smoking. Stop drinking. Stop eating. Stop driving cars. Stop flying jets. Stop going on holiday. Stop buying things. Stop buying everything. It’s killing you. It’s all killing you. That carpet will kill you. So will this armchair. And that lawnmower. And that hosepipe. This necktie. These shoes. Once you’ve started buying shoes, you’ll never stop. You will go through your life addicted to shoes (and socks), the slave of cobblers and shoemakers. And they are just millstones around your feet. You might as well have bought yourself a ball and ankle chain.
Implicit in this is the dream that, if you could just summon up the strength of character to stop buying all these lethal products, you would extend your lifetime by decades, perhaps even centuries. Indeed, you might never die.
This isn’t a vision that is restricted to Tobacco Control. It’s widely shared throughout the Green movement and beyond. And while most conventional economists want to boost economic activity, and manufacture and sell more and more goods, the Controllers want to strangle economic activity, and stop people buying and selling goods (which might better be called ‘bads’) as far as possible. George Monbiot, Green activist, was praying not long ago for an economic depression.
Where has this strange economic vision come from? It’s a vision of a world that is a playground, in which everyone amuses themselves making and selling each other an immense variety of lethal toys and games and pastimes.
It’s a vision of economic life which would seem to be particular to people who have spent their entire lives in such a vast emporium, and who may have been attracted by it once, but who now see its wares as being at best unnecessary, and at worst toxic. It’s a world that is a vast funfair, or fun palace, from whose whirling rides people, once strapped, are never able to escape. If the old Soviet Union’s dystopian department stores were almost completely empty, the Western world’s were completely full, and thus offered a counter-dystopia of super-abundance. It’s a consumerist dystopia.
And who in the First World hasn’t had the experience of being carried around a department store by a tide of shoppers, along aisles and up stairs, before being flushed down into a metro system and hurled out of the whirling maelstrom, gasping for breath?
The Greens and the Controllers aren’t people who’ve had too little in life, but who’ve had too much. They have been crushed by surfeit rather than shortage. They’re like bloated diners who can’t eat past the fifteenth course of a banquet, can’t touch another drop of champagne, can’t nibble even one more Chocolate Mint Thin, can’t face a Chocolate Fudge Sundae. And they never want any more champagne or chocolate or fudge or smoked salmon or cigars ever again in their lives. They have become utterly revolted by all of it. And they want everybody else to be revolted too.
Elsewhere, Velvet Glove Iron Fist:
…the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking has been sending e-mails to the Department of Health at a rate of one e-mail every three days for the last five years. This is appalling on a number of levels. ASH—an ostensibly private pressure group—is the secretariat of this APPG, ie. it is run by ASH.
Which reminds that I’ve been toying with ideas for cartoons featuring antismoking zealots with enormous, prehensile noses. Why? Firstly they’re all interfering prod-noses, so must have long sharp noses. And secondly these people all seem to be super-sensitive to tobacco smoke at the most minute concentrations, so they must be given huge nostrils. And thirdly they’re all serial liars. Here’s a sketch prototype for Deborah Arnott.