Manifesto of a Busybody

Written in gold on the base of Karl Marx’s gravestone in London’s Highgate cemetery:

The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.

marx-gravestone

Reading these words today, not for the first time, they struck me as being the manifesto of a busybody, and the manifesto of every single busybody that came after him.

No sooner had Marx set foot in the world, than he wanted to change it. And the same is true of every other busybody, whether Marxist or otherwise.

I can’t say that it has ever been the aim of my life to change the world. I think that if one is to change the world, one first has to understand it. And I can’t say that I even begin understand the world well enough to try to change it, or improve it.

For me the world is a most mysterious place. I find everything mysterious. I find trees and flowers and birds and clouds mysterious things. I find rivers and beaches and waves and sand and pebbles mysterious too.

And it’s a world that is continually becoming ever more mysterious, with the addition of cars and planes and radios and TVs and computers and mobile phones.

And my response to all these mysteries has been to try to understand them, to make them a bit less mysterious. Idle Theory (now only available on the waybackmachine) was my attempt, using simple physics, to understand living things (perhaps the greatest mystery of all) in a slightly new way, and to take a new look at economics and ethics (both of them equally profound mysteries). I did not set out to change them or improve the world. Idle Theory offers no advice or recommendations or calls for action. It simply offers a slightly different way of thinking about these things.

For I think you can only repair something – like a motorcycle engine – if you understand how it works. If you don’t understand how it works, there can be no possibility of repairing it. If the problem is a broken piston ring, you can only know that this is a problem if you know what a piston ring does, and why it’s necessary for the operation of the engine, and where you can buy new ones, and how to take  out old broken piston rings and put in new ones.

The same goes for human economies and human societies. They also are like engines, with moving parts, that work in tandem together, each performing different tasks.

And I have no belief that Marx had any real understanding of the economies and societies that he wanted to change. I think he made a powerful attempt to understand them, but even he ended up offering little or no practical advice as to how they might be changed. And this more or less ensured that every subsequent Marxist attempt to change the world ended up making it very much worse. What else was ever going to happen, once ignorant, incompetent social engineers had set out to change it?

Furthermore, I think you have to have some understanding of how something works before you can know when it is not working properly. A radio set may be working perfectly well, but merely be lacking a battery or power supply. People may set out to repair things that are actually working perfectly well, and don’t need to be repaired. What made Marx think that the Victorian capitalist society he found himself in wasn’t working perfectly well, or as well as it possibly could?

Antismoking busybodies are ignorant and incompetent social engineers who have set out to make the engine of society produce less smoke – by blocking up its exhaust pipe. Well, I don’t know what happens with a motorcycle engine when you block its exhaust pipe, but I imagine that it won’t work very well, or even work at all. I’ll bet they don’t work better. And I think the same is true of the infinitely more complex engine of a human society when you remove what seems like the extraneous feature of smoke-filled pubs. They were perhaps performing an important role in the cycle of activities that take place in human societies. I read recently somewhere that the human appendix – long thought to be a useless residual organ – may in fact be store of useful bacteria that can be used to replenish – ‘re-boot’ – the intestinal system’s stock of bacteria in the event of an extinction event.

We may also know that antismoking busybodies have no idea what they are doing, because they never make any attempt to assess the wider effects of their smoking bans. They are like motorcycle mechanics who, having blocked the engine’s exhaust pipe, are only interested in whether it has ‘stopped smoking’. They are unconcerned whether the engine is still working or not. Their only interest is in the smoke.

I have, for example, never seen any survey like the one I helped conduct a few years ago. Nor, in all the years I have been writing about smoking bans, has any antismoking busybody ever attempted to contact me and ask me any questions about my experience as a smoker (although they know I exist). They are not interested. And therefore they remain ignorant. And they don’t know what they’re doing.

Unfortunately, the world is full of such busybodies who have no idea what they’re doing, but are quite sure that Something Must Be Done. It would have been better if they’d done nothing at all.

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About Frank Davis

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12 Responses to Manifesto of a Busybody

  1. beobrigitte says:

    Written in gold on the base of Karl Marx’s gravestone in London’s Highgate cemetery:

    The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.

    The desire to change the world may well result from personal unhappiness. However, it takes a great amount of megalomania to assume to be the person who can.
    It makes more sense to keep your feet on the ground and make the changes for you, as an INDIVIDUAL, within your own environment.
    We are adults and are expected to run our own lives, after all. And before I can change others’ worlds my own needs to be in order.
    In order to do that I settled for less money, more freedom, NO STRESS (which is something that the workforce nowadays has to learn to live with as if it is “normal”) and I find my now positive attitude benefits everyone around me. I enjoy life!!! (even though going out means to go to another person’s house that still has ashtrays on the tables.
    Talking about ashtrays…. Last week I totally revamped my downstairs. Floor and walls. I noticed that the sud from my ever burning candles were a far greater issue than my smoking. I expect to wipe off a lot of nicotine-yellow. Instead, I wiped off a lot of black sud from the walls before painting them.

    Shouldn’t we try and change the world by banning candles? And who says I want to ban them? Looks like I have to paint my walls more often….’

  2. jaxthefirst says:

    “It makes more sense to keep your feet on the ground and make the changes for you, as an INDIVIDUAL, within your own environment.”

    As the late, great Michael Jackson said: “I’m starting with the man in the mirror.” What a shame some of those health zealots can’t recognise that their bullying basically stems from a deep sense of inner dissatisfaction and unhappiness …

  3. waltc says:

    Reminds me of the Ray Bradbury story where guys go back to the past, accidentally crush a butterfly and it changes the course of the future. The wide-ranging unintended consequence of meddling with even the smallest thing.

    Marx wrote the Manifesto in the mid 19th c when labor was, in fact, egregiously exploited and continued to be so for much of the rest of the century. Something, indeed, Needed To Be Done but neither socialism nor communism was it.

    Speaking of fundamental mysteries, you can start with the human body. A machine so intricate and delicately balanced that the most advanced 21st c sciences still can’t fathom it.

    • We also don’t understand the unintended consequences of meddling with the human body, either. Or how what we think affects us. In this polluted age of over medication, over diagnosis, scans, MRI’s, XRays, household and cosmetic chemicals, plastics, nano-particles, electromagnetic smog, atheism, scientism, sportism, narcissim, feminism, propaganda, porn, and heavy drugs, Second Hand Smoke seems a non-issue, really. Other things are far more dangerous.

    • Frank Davis says:

      the Ray Bradbury story where guys go back to the past, accidentally crush a butterfly and it changes the course of the future

      A Sound of Thunder..

    • Marvin says:

      Indeed Waltc…
      In Das Kapitol, Marx described the case of a FIVE year old boy who worked in the potterys in the midlands. His job was to take the pots from the kiln and stack them up in a corner of the workshop. Marx calculated that in his fourteen hour working day, he had shifted TWO TONS of pottery!!! if that doesn’t want you to “change the world” then nothing will. The demonisation of Marx himself is uncalled for, he was motivated by a deep outrage at the exploitation of all the workers in his society, not just the children.

      • Frank Davis says:

        And in previous centuries the same 5-year-old boy would have been sent out into the fields by his parents to help gather the turnip harvest, maybe shifting 2 tons of turnips, because children were helping hands to be set to work. And they weren’t paid either.

        ‘Childhood’ as a specially privileged condition was a Victorian invention, as machines reduced the need for human labour.

        • Indeed, which is why School Holidays are when they are. The long summer holiday at least anyways. Children went to school in the winter when the back breaking farm work of the summer/harvest was done. Pass thur cider, Rosie, ‘hat’s a good mawther ..

  4. garyk30 says:

    These people are not trying to change things that are ‘broken’, they just want things to work in a manner that makes them happy.

    The claim of brokenness is just an excuse to justify their busybody meddling.

  5. busybody ever attempted to contact me and ask me any questions about my experience as a smoker
    A few months ago when the Scots were talking about minimum pricing for alcohol, I tweeted Nicky Fish an offer to chat, if she really wanted to understand alcoholism, and how to prevent it, she might like to talk to a “recovering alcoholic” (Yep I detest that label too as I don’t consider it to be a disease, it’s an addiction- unlike smoking I might add! Saying ‘recovering alcohol’ makes it sound like it a pathogen and absolves me of any responsibility for choices made ). There was, quelle surprise, no reply to my kind offer to spend time educating her and her ilk.

  6. jameshigham says:

    I think he made a powerful attempt to understand them, but even he ended up offering little or no practical advice as to how they might be changed.

    He descended into rhetoric and skipped over the difficult bits.

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