This post started as a response to one of Jax’s always-interesting comments, this time about how, however diligent they may be about standing up for the rights of blacks/gays/muslims/women/etc, nobody ever notices the discrimination being practised against smokers, nobody stands up for the rights of smokers.
smoking remains the “blind spot” … smokers are the useful, but nonetheless unspoken, “exceptions” to every rule.
I agree that it’s an enormous blind spot. We have all these laws that were introduced to prevent discrimination against a wide range of people. But smokers fall straight through the net. Why?
Jax’s suggestion is that it’s that it’s ‘useful’ for the government to be able to turn a blind eye to their own antismoking excesses. Smokers, she might have said (but didn’t), are a useful cash cow: if money is to be ostentatiously given to one or other deserving social group, then it must be first be surreptitiously stolen from some other social group. The government wishes to draw attention to its benevolence to the deserving, and distract attention from its maltreatment of the undeserving.
But this suggests that, in a moment of candour, perhaps over a drink in some pub or club, some government minister might admit that smokers were being royally screwed. “But,” he (or she) might add, “We have to get the money from somewhere to fund all our various enlightened progressive social programmes.”
It is perhaps that – if society is always stratified, with some people on top, and some people at the bottom – it just so happens that smokers are now right at the bottom in exactly the same way as blacks and women and gays and disabled people once used to be. Some day the plight of the smokers will be acknowledged, and they will be rehabilitated with great fanfare, possibly with a Statue of the Unknown Smoker erected in some square. It will then be some other social group’s (taxi drivers, accountants, hair stylists?) turn to be at the bottom of the heap, and subjected to relentless abuse. For there is always somebody at the bottom.
But I suspect that, in a moment of candour, over a drink in some pub or club, the government minister wouldn’t make any such admission, but would instead recite the Antismoking Credo that all government ministers (and all politicians) have learned by heart, and can recite without any trace of hesitation.
For I’m more inclined to think that it’s a blind spot because we have all been subjected to about 70 years – maybe even 100+ years – of intense antismoking propaganda to the point that we’ve all been driven round the bend. It’s been hammered into our heads so hard and for so long that we all have nine inch nails sticking out of our heads. And those nine inch nails scramble our thinking. We can’t think rationally about smoking. And that includes politicians, ministers, courts, the EU, everybody. When we try to think about smoking, we just short out through the nine inch nail that we’ve all got in our head. It has become impossible for anyone to think straight, to weigh things up in any sort of sane, balanced manner. People have been told for so long that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer that it has become impossible for them to even begin to imagine that it might not. And now they’ve been told for long enough that Carbon Dioxide Causes Global Warming that it’s become impossible for them to think that it might not (so maybe we’ve now all got at least two nine inch nails in our heads).
I started thinking this way when I first began thinking about smoking, some 12 or 13 years ago, and noticed that I was finding it very, very difficult to question my belief that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer. It was as difficult to question as it had been for me to question, at age 20 or so, the Roman Catholic religious beliefs with which I had been raised, and which had been hammered into my head by an army of Benedictine monks.
It’s very difficult to question some things. In fact, it’s almost unthinkable to question some things. And yet it’s very easy to question lots of other things. Nobody much has any strong opinions about how best to build sandcastles on a beach, for example. It’s not a matter of contention. There are no books with titles like The One, True, And Only Way To Build Sandcastles written by illustrious sandcastle builders in the 14th Century, and kept in the British Museum behind armoured glass. Nobody cares how sandcastles are built. There’s no right or wrong way.
But in a great many matters, there is a great deal of contention. And people take up rigid positions, like soldiers facing each other in a trench war, and desertion from whichever trench you happen to find yourself in will result in your being placed before a firing squad. You’re on Our Side, and you’re going to stay on our side. People are placed under extreme pressure to conform to one opinion or other. One doctrine or other becomes an unquestionable dogma, re-enforced by endless repetitive recital.
I was really only subjected to an intensive Roman Catholic religious education for a period of about 10 years. But antismoking indoctrination has been going on for my entire life. It never stops. It never stops for me, or for anybody else living anywhere in the world. And it only ever gets more intensive.
We’ve all been being blitzed all our lives. And as the years go by, the bombs being dropped on us get heavier and heavier. And nobody escapes. Barack Obama famously never escaped from is antismoking zealot wife. Nor did Bill Clinton ever escape his. And Donald Trump was so traumatised that he won’t even touch coffee, never mind beer or cigarettes. Theresa May must have been placed under extreme pressure over the past 10 years if she stopped smoking. If many ex-smokers are peculiarly twisted people, it’s probably because they’ve been subjected to torture. And isn’t someone like Deborah Arnott also one of the casualties? In fact, aren’t all the antismokers walking wounded of one sort or other? My Dr W – the first antismoker I ever encountered – was himself a psychological casualty, who was incapable of laughter, yet he got right to the top of the BMA.
No, these people are not cynical puppeteers, robbing Peter to pay Paul. They are no different from us. They are people who have been bombed and blitzed and bullied and badgered and berated all their lives just as much as we have, and they have the wounds to prove it.
I often think that what my Catholic education gave me was excellent experience in how to escape from dogmatic belief systems. I was a veteran already when the antismoking religious crusade started intensifying. I knew the ropes already. It wasn’t my first baptism of fire. I knew how to keep my head down, and my wits constantly about me. I had learned to disbelieve. And I had learned to above all disbelieve what I was being most sternly told I must believe.
The blind spot is always what you’re not allowed to believe, or are not permitted to disbelieve, or cannot question in any way. Our politicians and pundits and propagandists all have the same blind spot. They’ve spent their lives blinding each other. The only people who can see – or who can begin to be able to see – are those who realise that they have been blinded.