I’m to be a guest once again tonight on The Smoking Section in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Last time Emily Wieja told me what questions she wanted to ask me. This time we’re just going to wing it. We’re quite used to just talking to each other conversationally now.
But she did say that Stephen Helfer was going to be on the show this time, and he’d probably want to ask me how to “organise smokers” and how to get smokers to “engage in political activity”. So I was thinking about that yesterday, sat out in a sunny English pub garden with a beer and a cigarette.
And what I thought was that it’ll only become possible to organise smokers when they’ve formed a political entity. The analogy I had in mind was that of an army. It’s really only possible to “organise soldiers” and get them to “engage in soldiering activity” once they’ve joined an army. They must first be recruited into an army before they can be organised and engaged. And if they’re going to be recruited into an army, they’re going to have to want to join the army. They’re going to have to want to do something. They’re going to have to want to fight some enemy. So the first thing to do is to “build an army”. Only when you’ve got an army of willing volunteers does it become possible for them to be organised and engaged.
In this I was reminded of my late fighter pilot uncle who volunteered to join the Royal Air Force shortly before the outbreak of WW2. He’d been talking with friends of his in school in England, and they could see that war was coming, and they wanted to do something. And so, without telling his parents, he went and joined the RAF. He wanted to do something. I imagine that several of his friends also wanted to do something, and they probably joined some military outfit or other too.
The situation today for smokers is somewhat similar. Except this time the war on smokers has already started, and smokers have been roundly defeated, but there’s no RAF for them to join. They might want to do something, but they can’t see what they can do.
But they can always do what my uncle did, and start talking to people. For before he joined the RAF, he was talking to his friends. In fact, he was probably talking to as many people as he possibly could (although not to his mother or his father, who had been a late conscript into WW1, arriving at the front line the day the war ended).
In fact, I think that before any army or other political organisation forms, I think people have to be talking to each other, and wondering what they can do. And maybe, all too often, they simply don’t know what they can do. And maybe some of them will believe that there is nothing that can be done, and that they are completely powerless, and that resistance is useless. Powerful armies, it might even be said, are always formed from powerless individuals who are all facing the same threat. At the outset, nobody ever knows what needs to be done. But what needs to be done will gradually emerge out of prolonged thought and debate and discussion.
So I think that the first thing that must be done is to get smokers to talk to each other, and to form a community of like-minded people, with a shared common experience. And there are now hundreds of millions of people, all over the world, who have the same shared experience of being demonised and excluded and robbed. I estimate that there are at least 1.5 billion of them. And of those there will be some – maybe only one person in 100, or one person in a thousand – who will want to do something about what is happening to them. And if such people can be brought in contact with each other, they will have a lot to talk about, even if it is only to tell each other that they don’t know what to do. And one hundredth of 1.5 billion people is 15 million people who begin to form a political entity, who begin to form an army.
So I’m much more interested in”building an army” than I am in “organising smokers” or getting them to “engage the enemy politically”. I think that building an army is an indispensable prelude to any sort of organisation or engagement. It’s only when there exists a body of like-minded people, all of whom want to do something, that it becomes possible to organise them and engage them.
And I think that the internet offers an excellent way for the persecuted smokers scattered all over the world to come together with each other. And it will only be out of the internal discussions of this company of like-minded people that there will emerge suggestions (lots of them) of how they might be organised, and how they might engage the enemy.
And that’s why I’m more than happy to be talking this evening, from my home in Herefordshire, England, to a couple of smokers in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 5000 km away. That’s what the internet allows people to do, almost entirely effortlessly. And later on this year I hope to be talking to a bunch of like-minded smokers in Germany. I hope to be talking to lots of people. And the more that this happens, the more that invisible ties will begin to bind together the scattered smokers all around the world, and their army will begin to emerge.
And I think that the next time I come across Vince, the retired paratrooper, in one of my local pubs, I’m going to ask him why he joined the British Army all those years ago, and how old he was, and what had happened with him before he decided he wanted to enlist. I’m sure he’ll have a lot to say. And the pubs round here seem to be full of Vinces.