While sitting in a dentist’s chair some 5 years ago, I was being lectured about smoking by a dental hygienist who ended up telling me, in all seriousness, that “It’s naughty to smoke.” And I burst out laughing. There was I, a man of 65 years of age, being told that I was a naughty boy, and how very naughty it was of me to have smoked cigarettes for the past 45 years of my life. It was utterly laughable. And what was even more laughable was that this moral instruction was being provided by, of all things, a dental hygienist. A look of dismay and confusion passed over her face when I laughed. I can only suppose that most people hadn’t laughed when she’d delivered her stern lecture before. What kind of fool argues with a dental hygienist who is about to attack his teeth with some sharp implement?
I could have asked her, “Why is it naughty to smoke?” But I doubted that she had ever asked herself such a question. She’d probably been taught as a little girl that it was naughty to smoke. She’d probably been taught that any number of things were naughty. She probably had a very long list of naughty things you shouldn’t do, which probably included picking your nose, and holding knives and forks in the wrong hands, and running in corridors. There wasn’t any why about any of it. It was just so. There were things that were right, and there were things that were wrong. And people needed to be taught what was right and wrong, just like they were taught cooking or reading or anything else. And they particularly needed to be taught even if they were 65 years old, and obviously had never been taught right from wrong.
Perhaps the antismokers are all simply people who were taught, sometime in their childhood, that “smoking is naughty”, and took the lesson to heart. Perhaps they’re people who carry around with them a long list of things that are naughty, and whenever they do anything, they first look through their list of naughty things you shouldn’t do, and if the behaviour in question doesn’t appear on the list, then they conclude that it’s okay to do it. And most likely the camp guards at Auschwitz looked through their own naughty lists, and didn’t find any mention of gas chambers in them, and so decided that it must be perfectly okay to bundle people into gas chambers. The same camp guards probably had perfect table manners, and always washed diligently behind their ears, and never strolled around with their hands in their pockets, because those things were on the naughty list of things you mustn’t do.
And it must come as a shock to all the people with such naughty lists when they enter a world in which people are doing any number of naughty things all the time. They’re smoking and drinking and eating cheeseburgers with one hand. Or they’re standing around with their hands in their pockets, telling dirty jokes, and laughing uproariously. They break every rule. How terrible!
And after a while, after seeing everybody behaving so badly for so long, they all bring out their naughty lists, and tell people to stop being so naughty. And that’s when you start seeing dental hygienists lecturing dental patients. They read out their naughty lists. Because that’s how their morality works. It’s a list-morality. It’s a list of things you shouldn’t do. Or maybe it’s a list of things you should and shouldn’t do, much like the 10 Commandments are a list of things you should and shouldn’t do. And if they’re all so sanctimonious, holier-than-thou, it’s because for them holiness means knowing your naughty list, and being able to recite it from memory.
There are lots of different naughty lists. Eating pork is on the naughty list of Jews and Muslims, but it’s not on the naughty list of Christians. Drinking alcohol is on the naughty list of Muslims, but not Jews or Christians. This shouldn’t be too surprising, because neither pork nor alcohol are mentioned in the original 10 Commandments naughty list that they all share. And if there is a strong affinity between Western antismokers and radical Islamists, it’s probably because they both include tobacco in their naughty lists, even though radical Islam doesn’t seem to include rape in its particular naughty list.
The naughty lists are always being revised and re-written. It used to be very, very naughty for men to have sex with each other. But that’s been revised, and it’s been removed from the naughty list. And it used to be that black people and women were treated much less deferentially than white males, but now it’s naughty to treat them any differently. And it used to be that smoking was perfectly normal, but now it’s regarded as being very, very naughty. And so on.
And they don’t call it “naughty” any more: they call it “unacceptable”. And what’s acceptable or unacceptable is a consensus view that is decided in closed conferences of self-styled moral experts. The World Health Organisation regularly holds such conferences. The last one was in New Delhi. The one before that was in Moscow. They are like the early Christian Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, which met to determine the true nature of God, and to discuss the Arian heresy, and which produced the Nicene creed, which is a long list of things the experts decided that they all believed, or should all believe. One might think of the WHO conferences in New Delhi and Moscow as being filled with dental hygienists from every country in the world, earnestly discussing whether e-cigarettes (the contemporary equivalent of the Arian heresy?) should be added to the naughty list.
Political Correctness is another naughty list morality. It has lists of PC-approved people, and disapproved naughty people. Approved people include gays, lesbians, blacks, and women. Disapproved people include whites, men, smokers, drinkers, and fat people. They even have long lists of PC-approved words and disapproved naughty words. The Politically Correct are just as holier-than-thou as any Christian or Muslim fundamentalist, perhaps more so. Social Justice Warriors set out to impose the PC naughty list morality on everybody else.
Naughty list morality is the morality of moral simpletons. It does not have any underlying rationality. And what passes for moral debate really boils down to comparing lists, and trying to produce one list – a new Credo – from many over-lapping lists. And what comes out of that isn’t really any morality at all.
What they all need to be asked is: “Why is one thing better than another?” And if they can’t answer that simple question, then all of their moral imperatives should be dispensed with out of hand, and all their naughty lists torn up and burned.