The Necessary and the Unnecessary

I rather had the feeling with yesterday’s post that history had come to life a bit. I suddenly understood, or felt that I understood, what had been happening in 1630, nearly 400 years ago.

And it was that the newly arrived English colonists in Jamestown had learned the custom of smoking tobacco from the native American Indians (as had the Spanish before them in the Caribbean). And they had exported the custom back to England, where it had caught on like wildfire with the English middle classes (who were engaged in trade, and who could afford to buy it even when it was still relatively expensive).

It seems that for the native Indians, tobacco was regarded as a medicine. And as a medicine it was probably used fairly infrequently. And when it arrived in Europe, it was as a medicine to be used only occasionally. And European physicians adopted it as a new and useful medicine.

However, somehow or other, the practice of smoking tobacco seems to have lost its medicinal character, and become something that people simply enjoyed doing. We have this experience in the modern era with drugs like heroin, which also started life as pain-killing medicines, but were soon being used for pleasure. The same thing might be said of that other modern invention, the motor car, which originally had the purpose of carrying people from one place to another a little faster than in a horse and carriage, but was soon being used by people who were hooked on speed, and drove round and round in circles on racetracks at the highest speeds they possibly could. It may even be that musical instruments (e.g. drums) started out as useful devices (to synchronise the beat of the oars aboard triremes?), but soon started being used by people who simply enjoyed beating out increasingly complex rhythms on them, in the company of other drummers. It may also be that when potters started covering their wares with useful glazes (that prevented the pots absorbing liquids), some of them noticed that different coloured glazes could be used to create first patterns on them, and then entire pictures, and in this manner the graphic arts were created.

Whichever way, just like heroin or speed or drums or glazed pottery, tobacco rapidly acquired its own devotees. But not everybody liked it, just like not everybody likes speed or drums or pottery. For every devotee of tobacco, there was probably another who saw no value in it at all. Why should you want to drive round and round in circles as fast as you possible can? You don’t need to do that! It’s a complete waste of time and money.

But once, circa 1610, the custom of smoking tobacco had caught on among the English middle classes , the American colonists could barely keep up with the demand for tobacco. They grew more and more of it. Their tobacco plantations became larger and larger. And because it seems that tobacco crops exhaust the soil within a few years, they had to keep creating new plantations, further and further from their original colonies. The colonies along the coast expanded. And in this manner the colonists found themselves in increasing collision with the local native Indian settlements.

And because tobacco farming was labour-intensive, the colonists needed labourers. And soon the small stream of voluntary new migrants from Europe proved insufficient. And so they resorted to the use of the cheapest of cheap labour: African slaves.

And soon many of the colonists had become very rich, growing and selling tobacco for the almost insatiable European markets. And as they imported not just European manufactures – cloth, pottery, tools, machines – but European manufacturing tools, they began to create an industrial base. The first steam engines began appearing in England in 1698, with Thomas Newcomen’s atmospheric engine in 1712. And most likely these engines started appearing in the American colonies a few years later. Is it very surprising that these rich new colonies had become entirely self-sufficient in every way by about 1750, and began to increasingly assert their independence in ways that would have been inconceivable a century earlier. The arrival of contingents of Cromwell’s New Model Army in the colonies in 1650, to suppress Indian (or French) or pirate raids was probably welcomed with relief. But a 100 years later, their redcoat descendants were no longer needed, and no longer welcome.

I’d been told that America’s wealth was first built upon tobacco. And now I can believe it.

Meanwhile, back in England, the new craze for smoking tobacco was being greeted with dismay among the ruling classes. With what horror they must have beheld farmers in their fields with corncob pipes clenched between their teeth as they ploughed their fields or gathered their produce. Or young men and old men, and women and children too, gathering in taverns to not just drink cider, but also to smoke! And all so utterly unnecessary. Wasn’t God’s own English air sufficient for them to breathe?

I think that the deepest objection of antismokers to smoking is that it is a completely unnecessary pastime. Their forebears had got by for millennia without smoking: why start now? The same objection can be raised to drinking alcohol (even though even Jesus did that). Or banging drums. Or painting pictures. Or dancing. Or staging plays. It’s all completely unnecessary. And the puritans of that time might be thought of as people who objected to the unnecessary. They objected to tobacco and alcohol and music and dancing and theatres. They fought against it not just in their everyday lives, but in their churches from which they had stripped all the unnecessary art and sculpture and music. They lived minimal, sober lives. They spent nothing on these fripperies. And because they spent little money, they saved it. And they became rich.

Nothing has really changed in 400 years. The antismoking zealots of today are the same ones there were 400 years ago. And they will be no more successful today than they were then. There are some slight differences. The religious trappings have largely fallen away. And while tobacco was regarded as a medicine in 1600, it’s now regarded as a poison.

Some day, this matter of what is necessary and unnecessary will come to a head. Do we want to live in a barren world from which everything unnecessary has been stripped away, or do we want one in which they are retained and encouraged – and in which people smoke and drink and dance and play music, and drive around in fast cars?

I know which I will prefer.


About Frank Davis

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14 Responses to The Necessary and the Unnecessary

  1. garyk30 says:

    Of concern is who gets to decide what is necessary for whom.

    I prefer to make my own choices for myself.

    • nisakiman says:

      That, Gary, is the most pertinent point. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    • Frank Davis says:

      I prefer to make my own choices for myself.

      But in matters of morality, should people make their own choices for themselves? If something (e.g. theft or murder) is deemed morally reprehensible, should people be allowed to make up their own minds for themselves about it?

      • garyk30 says:

        One has to be prepared to deal with the legal aspects of action or beliefs.

      • narbanor says:

        Garyk30 be prepared to deal with the legal aspects of action or beliefs.
        Frank: If something (e.g. theft or murder) is deemed morally reprehensible, should people be allowed to make up their own minds for themselves about it?

        In the case of the ANTZ’s global brainwashing drive, the problem is that they’ve managed to add smoking to the list of ‘morally reprehensible behaviours’, and the success of the ETS harm scam has precisely enabled them to play the ‘murder’ card for the last 4 decades!
        Now that they’ve effectively created the perception in the general public that SHS (i.e. smoking publicly or in company) is some sort of ‘murder on the installment plan’, in order to finally be shot of the whole bunch of unholy bastards for good. it’s up to us to prove that all their ‘science’ is nothing else but pure, unadulterated junk. Might I add that the best way to go at it is not to attack just the second-hand smoking myth, but to attack the *very* vulnerable “first-hand smoking = early death” one frontally?

  2. smokingscot says:

    Yo Mike or Harley, or any American.

    Any information on Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price. And his record on smoking, smoking bans and such?

    • mikef317 says:

      I skimmed the above link but didn’t find anything of interest.

      Price is a doctor, so that’s one strike against him. He’ll probably spend most of his time trying to repeal Obamacare. For retired folks like me, he wants to eliminate government funded health insurance (Medicare) which I began “paying into” when I was seventeen years old. Perhaps needless to say, I don’t like this bastard.

      Don’t look for “smoker’s friends” in the U. S. national government (or for that matter, most state and city governments) – there aren’t any.

      Donald Trump’s hotels (at least in the U. S.) are all non-smoking. Of the two previous Republican candidates for President, Mitt Romney signed a smoking ban when he was Governor of Massachusetts, and John McCain proposed draconian anti-tobacco legislation in the Senate. George Bush did veto a tobacco tax increase, but that’s not much in eight years (and Republicans are generally opposed to tax increases).

      Sorry that I can’t be more optimistic.

      • Frank Davis says:

        ‎From Facebook today:

        Audrey Silk‎ to NYC Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (C.L.A.S.H.)
        1 hr · New York, NY, United States ·
        So word is that Rep. Tom Price has been tapped to be the next secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS). A quick look now (so maybe more to come) at his history brings us this:
        He voted against giving FDA authority over tobacco.
        He voted against expanding SCHIP.

        • mikef317 says:

          As I recall, both FDA regulation and the SCHIP tax increase passed when Democrats had control of Congress and the Presidency. I think this was a “party line” vote – most Democrats in favor, most Republicans opposed.

          Did Price vote no because he is a “friend” of smokers, or was it just a typical (and easy) Republican anti-regulation / anti-tax vote?

          I’m still not optimistic, but if Price gets appointed, time will tell.

          P. S. One Congressman is questioning FDA rules – about VAPING, not about smoking.

        • Roobeedoo2 says:

          Because the TC-lite lobby is working it’s little socks off presenting their product as a ‘safer’ alternative to smoking. Utter bollocks of course, but their Righteous indignation has managed to get some traction with politicians.

          I’ve had threats of violence and been blocked by vaperers on Twitter for pointing out that the ‘science’ that underpins their arguments comes from the exact same source Tobacco Control guzzled so deeply from:

          Question their ‘One Billion Lives’ figure/film and they go ape shit on you. Exactly like the global warming true believers, convinced by ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, do. Shit, at least the latter got an Oscar to it’s name.

      • smokingscot says:

        Thanks for your help Mike.

  3. petesquiz says:

    Another interesting post – it has certainly taught me a few things about how tobacco shaped the early United States.

    The two words lacking from the vocabulary of the puritan kind are ‘balance’ and ‘moderation’. They want everything to be done in one way – their’s – and anything else is just wrong!

    Most reasonable people are happy to live and let live as long as it doesn’t harm or inconvenience them too much. As you know I’m a non-smoker, but I’ve never had a problem with smoking – sure my clothes used to smell of smoke, it may have made me cough a bit more (although that cough still hasn’t gone away!), but I’m the only person I know who was happy for other people to smoke at the table whilst I was eating – never an issue for me.

    What these puritans fail to understand is that music, dancing, cinema, drinking, smoking, gambling and the myriad of other ‘sins’ distract so many people from the realisation of how shitty life really is. Once these distractions are taken away people realise how bad life can be and then they are so much more likely to rebel! Hopefully it will be against the killjoys and hopefully it will be soon! Vive la revolution!!

  4. Manfred says:

    “The British government tried a number of times to stop the flow of gin. The Gin Act 1736 taxed retail sales at a rate of 20 shillings a gallon on spirits and required licensees to take out a £50 annual licence to sell gin, a fee equivalent to about £7,000 today. The aim was to effectively prohibit the trade by making it economically unfeasible. Only two licences were ever taken out. The trade became illegal, consumption dipped but then continued to rise and the law was effectively repealed in 1743 following mass law-breaking and violence (particularly towards informers who were paid £5 to reveal the whereabouts of illegal gin shops). The illegally distilled gin which was produced following the 1736 Act was less reliable and more likely to result in poisoning. By 1743, England was drinking 2.2 gallons (10 litres) of gin per person per year.”

    Folk have sought to smoke and to drink fermented products since time began. It is as ingrained and genetic. Seeking to transcend present moment threats, unhappiness and misery is the focus. The health totalitarians totally miss this point entirely at their peril.

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