A year or two back, I found out that sunlight exerts a small force on everything it strikes. It’s called radiation pressure. I built it into my orbital simulation model, and using asteroids that weighed one kilogram and were 200 km in diameter, found that the sunlight blew them all out of the solar system at very high speeds. Sunlight does the same thing with very small particles of dust: it blows them out of the solar system. Perhaps that’s why the night skies are clear, and we can see the stars.
There are a lot of these small forces around. Wind and rain and snow exert small forces. So do tides and currents and waves.
And so do words.
And words are formed of tiny waves in the air, much like waves on the sea.
And some words exert more force than other words. Shouted words. Strong words. Curse words. There’s a saying that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But it isn’t really true: a well-aimed word can be as effective as a cannon ball at stopping people in their tracks.
And all spoken and written words exert a slight force on those who hear them. And the force they exert is always pushing them in one direction or other. Read something that’s pro-Donald, and the words push you in one direction. Read something anti-Donald, and they push you in the opposite direction. Same if you read anti-EU stuff, and pro-EU stuff.
And if you live in an anti-Donald environment – for example, you read the New York Times and watch CNN -, the words will be pushing you strongly in one direction. And if you listen online to Michael Savage or Alex Jones, the words will be pushing you strongly in the opposite direction. You can almost feel the pressure on your skin.
And if the word-wind blows strongly enough in one direction for long enough, it can blow entire populations in one direction or other. And the antismoking word-wind has been blowing – at first very gently, and now very strongly – for 70 years or more. And it’s moved everybody, just as surely as waves pounding on a pebble beach gradually reduce it to sand.
I first came across the antismoking wind in Reader’s Digest. They used to have regular articles, back in the early 1960s, highlighting the dangers of smoking. They weren’t scaremongering, but they were gently suggesting that smoking might be harmful, and “cutting down” on smoking from 30 a day to 20 a day was probably a good idea. There were never any articles about the pleasures of smoking. And so the wind was blowing in one direction. And it had already been blowing in that direction for twenty years or more. And for the next 50 years the wind only got stronger and stronger. Now we have cigarette packs which shout “Smoking Kills” in large bold black letters on a white background. It’s almost become a storm wind.
And so now we have entire populations – and their governments – that are running before the wind, like sailing ships in a storm. Some of them, like me, have taken down their sails, and lowered kedge anchors into the sea to slow their motion. But many remain under full sail, and run before the wind faster and faster.
But the storm may be abating slightly. Or changing direction. Because there are more and more counter-winds blowing. There are more and more articles and videos which either blow across the prevailing antismoking wind, or counter to it. Because in the internet era, with lots of people talking, it’s no longer possible to control the message, the overall direction of the wind. And so in the USA there’s the curious situation that the mainstream media are blowing hard in one anti-Donald direction, while large parts of the online internet media are blowing in the opposite pro-Donald direction. If you have a TV set, you get the mainstream wind, and if you have a computer, you’ll be able to catch the counter-wind.
And these winds and counter-winds collide and form spinning vortices, much like hurricanes. And so right now in the USA there’s a swirling, spinning hurricane of words blowing, some in one direction, some in the other.
It’s not really that much different in Europe. There are strong, gusting winds blowing there too. The pro-EU wind and the anti-EU wind circle around each other in a growing storm.
The whole world is getting stormier.
And if the wind keeps rising, the words will start to be exchanged for cannon balls. It won’t just be loud, angry, curse words that people will be firing at each other, but bullets and bombs and missiles. And that’s already started in some places. In many previously placid Islamic countries, it is the mosques and madrassas – the places of words – where fundamentalists are first radicalised and energised, and sent out to bomb and kill and maim. Some sort of religious war – a war of words – seems to have broken out. And it only ever seems to be getting deeper.
For the past 10 years I’ve been fighting against the antismoking wind. Because that’s been the strongest wind blowing in my life. It has scattered all my friends. It has shattered entire communities, and set up little whirling tornadoes of smokers and antismokers (with non-smokers in the placid eye of the storm).
But I’m beginning to think that these relatively light antismoking winds (and they’re still just words, after all) are going to be overtaken by far stronger winds, blowing in different directions. National winds. Religious winds. Scientific winds. Blowing us helplessly every which way.
The future looks very stormy.