It’s become something of a commonplace these days to remark that Tobacco Control is not engaged in improving public health. In the first place, once smokers were “exiled to the outdoors”, it became more likely that they would die of exposure or injuries sustained in the outdoor environment. And in the second place, once smokers were driven into exile, they no longer had a community of helping hands surrounding them, to catch them when they fell. And in the third place, when medical assistance was withheld from them, they very likely died much more quickly than their more fortunate non-smoking compatriots. Add up all the increased dangers, over and above those – if any – of simply smoking, and one should expect to find that “smokers die younger”. The prophecy is self-fulfilling: it is the inevitable consequence of expulsion from society.
But if Tobacco Control isn’t trying to improve public health, what on earth is it really trying to do?
I can think of a number of different possibilities, all of which I have considered at one time or other:
- They are engaged in an eugenic social programme, whose goal is to “improve” the human race, by culling unwanted human types. In the past of the Nazi era (and quite possibly still today) these included Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and such like. And at present the unwanted human types have come to include smokers, drinkers, and fat people. In future, unwanted human types might include chess-players, dog-owners, and statisticians.
- They are engaged not so much in an eugenic programme as a programme of top-down social control in which all behaviour is centrally governed in the most minute detail. Their goal is to organise the whole of humanity into an obedient army of slaves.
- They are cultural Marxists who have set out to infiltrate all the institutions of Western society, and subvert them from within, before they inaugurate their impending Glorious Revolution.
- They are moralists who see certain behaviours – e.g. smoking and drinking – as ethically reprehensible, and have set out to stamp them out in the same way that other ethically unacceptable behaviours – e.g. theft, murder, rape – are suppressed.
- They have got rich on the highly successful Tobacco Control Industry, by taxing smokers and drinkers and fat people, and they have no wish to ever get poor.
Of these various different possibilities, the first is perhaps the most likely, and the last the least likely. The first is most likely because there has already been a long history of eugenic programmes throughout the 20th century, and what we are seeing is their continuation in the guise of “Public Health”, after eugenics fell into disrepute after the Nazi era. And the last is least likely because it has only been in the past 20 years or so that Tobacco Control Industry has become a real money-spinner in which people can make lifetime careers: there had to be other motivations other than pecuniary reward that drove the early Tobacco Controllers.
The aim of the second suggestion of Control, purely for its own sake, is one that is implicit in the name of Tobacco Control. One of the central political conflicts of our time is between grass-root, bottom-up populism and planned, top-down administration (in, for example, the EU). The Controllers see freedom as antithetical to any sort of ordered, efficient, planned, administered society. So freedom, in all its forms, will have to go.
Cultural Marxism is, like eugenics, the continuation of one of the major political creeds of the 20th century: Communism or socialism. The aim here is to subvert free-market capitalism, and replace it with a centrally-planned, regulated economy along the lines of the old Soviet Union. Come the Revolution, we will all be equal comrades in a socialist paradise.
But at the moment it’s the fourth suggestion – that the war on smoking is a moral campaign, of good against evil – that seems most plausible, because it has far more ancient historical and religious roots than any of the others. After all, both eugenics and Marxism are relative newcomers on the scene, with barely 100 years of shared history to their names. They’re both thoroughly modern ideas.
If we are to appreciate the immense significance of the invisible moral theology which still underlies the thought of many of the most influential secular thinkers in the twentieth century, then we must first reconstruct that theology in its original form.
He goes on:
Right at the very heart of Christian psychology there lies the issue of the relationship between the flesh and the spirit – between the animal body of men and women and their supposedly immortal and non-animal soul. In view of the nature of Christian doctrine, this relationship could not be seen as anything other than a profoundly moral one. In one succinct formulation of Christian orthodoxy the function of the ‘mind’ or ‘soul’ was to act as ‘God’s viceroy’ in man. By disciplining and subjugating the unruly desires and appetites of the flesh, it would, in an ideal world, force man to behave in a way that constantly reflected his inward spiritual nature. Reason would play its proper role of chastising concupiscence, and by chastising it, would make men and women chaste.
Here “concupiscence” doesn’t merely mean sexual desire, but also includes gluttony, sloth, and sinfulness in general. And concupiscence now of course also includes smoking, drinking, and eating cheeseburgers as “unruly desires and appetites of the flesh” to be “disciplined and subjugated”. The Tobacco Controllers are some species of Jesuits, or perhaps Calvinists. A mere 100 years ago, the war on alcohol and tobacco was launched by the Christian Temperance movement, using overtly religious justifications. That those religious justifications are no longer overt, and are disguised behind “Public Health” and epidemiological statistics, does not mean that the underlying religious impulse has evaporated. The real complaint of the moral taskmasters in Tobacco Control is that we smokers and drinkers and cheeseburger-eaters are failing to discipline and subjugate our unruly desires and appetites in conformity with our inward spiritual nature. We are, they frequently complain, failing to exert “self-control” over ourselves every time we light up, and accordingly failing to measure up to our divine inward nature.
I put up all these various suggestions because I feel that one or other of them must explain the true motivations behind Tobacco Control. Although it may well be that Tobacco Control consists of a confection of eugenicists, control freaks, cultural Marxists, Christian fundamentalists, and ordinary garden gold-diggers, and that all the motivations I have suggested are in play in one degree or other. And it may also be that the Tobacco Controllers have no real understanding of their own motivations in pursuing their war on tobacco. For I have yet to read any Tobacco Control document that sets out any coherent moral or political or economic justification of that war, and so it’s perfectly possible that there isn’t one – and that it is the job of moral archaeologists to unearth and explain it to them.