You’re in the army now.
You’re not behind the plough.
You can’t get rich
By digging a ditch.
You’re in the army now.
The words of this old song came to mind as I thought how we all seem to be in the army now. It’s an army in which we’re all supposed to obey orders, do what we’re told. And one of the orders we’ve been given is to stop smoking. Although there are lots of other orders on the way. Stop drinking. Stop eating. Do this. Do that. Salute officers.
But I never volunteered to join this army. I’ve been conscripted against my will. Until 1 July 2007 I was a free man. Ever since then I’ve been a conscript, sneaking smokes behind the toilets.
But many socialists seem to see society as an army, and members of society as no different from soldiers in an army. As they see it, we are born into the army of human society, and we remain in it all our lives, at the end of which with luck we will be given a decent military funeral. There’s no volunteering about it. Nor any conscription. You are a soldier member of society from the moment you’re born to the moment you die. And all Tobacco Control is doing is remind you of this. The smoking ban is a bit of square-bashing military drill, designed to boost morale and discipline. And as we all march around the barracks square, we’ll be singing the above-mentioned song.
Everyone is a soldier in this army. Not just men, but also women. Not just the healthy, but also the sick in hospitals. And the aged in nursing homes. The children in schools. And perhaps even the dead in their graves. The army No Smoking rule extends also to them. Discipline must be rigidly enforced everywhere. Everything must be kept spick and span, with boots polished, and brass buttons shining.
The socialists approve of armies because armies get things done. They like the idea of a disciplined army being sent in to build roads and bridges and hospitals and homes, all done with military efficiency – unlike the inefficient, haphazard way that things get done in civilian society where most people seem to spend their lives sitting in pubs, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes.
And armies have command structures, and a system of ranks. General. Major. Colonel. Captain. Lieutenant. There’s usually just one general or field-marshal at the top, who decides what the army is to do next, and whose orders propagate down the command chain to the infantrymen at the bottom.
Smoking bans militarise society. Or they are part of a process of militarising society, converting civilian society into military society by issuing orders, and court martialing anyone who disobeys orders.
Schools have always been militarised in this way. The soldier ‘pupils’ wear uniforms, and they do what teachers tell them to do, with no insubordinate answering back allowed. School rules have always been No Smoking, No Drinking, No Eating Chocolate and Fudge, No Talking, No Hands in Pockets, No Running (except during compulsory games). A classroom is a platoon of seated soldiers, paying close attention to what their superior officer is telling them. And the school headmaster is a general or field-marshal.
It’s essentially no different in industry. Many companies (another military term?) and corporations have dress codes, elaborate sets of rules, and command structures. The Managing Director, like the school headmaster, is a sort of general or field-marshal.
Even families – at least until recently – had the same command structure, with children subordinate to parents, and wives subordinate to husbands. Families also have their own rules and regulations (e.g. always say grace before meals, always wash your hands after using the toilets, hold your fork in your left hand, etc). They even have dress codes: at least wear something.
And perhaps discipline has been slipping in recent decades, what with long hair, pot, and Women’s Lib, and so on. It’s all been getting very, very lax. And Tobacco Control is like some martinet who arrives at the barracks one day, and gets everyone practising drills, polishing buttons, shining shoes, and severely punishing anyone who has even a hair out of place. They are not so much militarising society as re-militarising it. And stopping all the smoking and drinking.
And one reason why I don’t like this one bit is because I’ve never been a soldier in any army. I’ve spent very little time even as an employee in a company or corporation. I’ve spent much of my life as a free agent. I was for many years a self-employed, freelance computer programmer, with a very strong emphasis on the “free” bit of freelance. For me, self-employed meant that I told myself what to do, rather than have some superior officer bark out orders to me.
And also I don’t think that human society is some sort of army. I think that society can occasionally become as ordered and disciplined as an army, but only as a temporary measure. Society-as-an-army is one extreme state that a society may adopt. It’s not a permanent state of affairs. Society-as-army is a response to some threat or alarm. In peacetime the army is dissolved back into the civilian society from which it emerged. And in that civilian society there are no majors or colonels expecting to be saluted, nobody ordering people around, and the least number of rules and regulations possible. In civilian society, everyone does their own thing. Or at least they did until Tobacco Control showed up and began imposing military discipline.