I was thinking this morning about the NYC HUD smoking ban I mentioned yesterday.
Smoking will be prohibited in public housing residences nationwide under a federal rule announced on Wednesday.
I don’t think anyone who lives in public housing has been consulted about this. I don’t think that the ban is something that they voted for. I think that someone in the federal government just signed it into law with a stroke of a pen one day, who knows when.
It’s smoking that’s being prohibited. But it could have been cats. Or 100 watt light bulbs. Or chess. Or using the words “he” and “she”.
The people who sign these regulations into law always seem to be completely nameless and faceless. I still have no idea who signed up to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control on behalf of the UK. Who was he? Or she? Was he a government minister, or a civil servant? Or maybe just a parking warden?
Who are they? Who are these people who propose and frame and enact these prohibitions? Do they have families? Do they have children? Do they have pets? Do they go on holidays? Do they play golf? Do they read books? Are they like normal people? Or do they belong to some secret society or sect in which they’ve gone through initiation rites involving candles and chanting and blood?
I like to think of them as fanatical zealots pursuing some singular mad cause. But I doubt they are.
They are all people who work in government. They are people who’ve spent their lives slowly climbing the hierarchy inside the federal government or the local town hall, slowly being promoted from sub-under-secretary to sub-secretary to secretary of this or secretary of that. It’s a little subculture all of its own.
The nearest I got to it was when I worked as an architectural assistant in Westminster City for about a year back in 1971 or thereabouts, and spent my time subverting its informal dress codes. They all wore suits and ties, but I soon dispensed with firstly the tie, and then the accompanying shirt (T shirt instead), and then the shiny brown shoes (sneakers), finally replacing the grey trousers with something I might have bought on Carnaby Street, but which I’d actually run up on a sewing machine using loud blue and white striped denim, and which looked a lot like pyjama bottoms. It was a process that I undertook gradually, week by week, month by month. Nobody commented. Nobody seemed to notice. But after a while one of the girls working in my department, who always wore sober grey twin sets, arrived at work one day in a rather daring purple trouser suit. And within a few weeks of that happening, all the girls in the entire office block were wearing trouser suits or miniskirts or whatever the heck they wanted.
No, those people weren’t zealots. They didn’t conduct blood rites with candles and chanting. But they were part of a culture, and a culture that could be subverted. Cultures are always changing. Dress codes are a part of a culture. But there’s also a deep culture, of what everyone (or almost everyone) believes they are doing, or trying to do. And we were building the UK council house equivalent of of HUD dwellings. My boss was an award-winning architect. In time, I think the lifts stopped working in the housing blocks we were designing, and their ill-lit corridors were to become haunted by drug dealers and muggers. And then the architectural culture shifted towards trying to recreate the small terraces that had been demolished to make way for our award-winning blocks.
The deep culture back then was (supposed to be) one of service to the community. And I suspect that that deep culture has gone now, and the people in government no longer see themselves as servants, but as masters. It was a change in culture first suggested by Tony Blair, when he began arguing for government to become “pro-active”, to take a lead. And all you need is a few people in government with a different set of values for those values to gradually permeate the entire culture – just like purple trouser suits oust grey twin sets. If you’re in government now, you probably believe that your job isn’t merely one of “serving the people”, but instead shaping and defining and leading the people. And what better way to do that than with smoking bans and numerous other environmental rules and regulations.
Governments make rules. And anyone who works in government must be someone who wants to make rules, or change rules. And if you’re going to be “pro-active” in government, that’s going to mean making or changing lots of rules. If you’re going to take a “hands-on” attitude to government rather than a “hands-off” attitude, you’re going to make lots and lots of new rules and regulations. It’s your job, just like it’s the job of clothes designers in Carnaby Street to make lots and lots of new clothes, rather than stick to tried and tested grey suits. And Tony Blair did exactly that. There’s been a tidal wave of new laws and regulations in recent years.
But because there is always a culture of government, and it’s always changing, as new ideas and new beliefs come sweeping in, there’s always the likelihood that the culture of government becomes detached from the wider culture, and people in government come to have beliefs and values that nobody else does.
Not just government. Here’s Nigel Farage lecturing the mainstream media:
“What I’m going to say is this is an industry in very deep crisis,” Farage said. “It’s so detached from the way ordinary people are increasingly thinking that it has left a huge gaping hole in the market which the Internet is filling—Breitbart being a phenomenal example of that…”
He’s quite right, of course. The MSM has its own internal culture and its own hierarchies. And in recent years, in tandem with government, the MSM has taken it upon itself to be be as “pro-active” as government in changing the way its readers and viewers think. The MSM see themselves as cultural leaders and opinion-shapers, not mere reporters and critics. And so of course they’ve become detached from the way ordinary people think.
And when they have become sufficiently detached – be they government or media or medics or Popes – from the way ordinary people think, then ordinary people start asking: Who are they? Who are these people? Where did they come from? How did they start to believe the crazy crap they’re spouting?
Which is right where we are now.