In a time when most smokers seem quite apathetic and despairing in the face of their ever-mounting persecution, I was wondering this morning why I wasn’t. Smokers, I was thinking, are almost punch-drunk with the amount of punishment they’ve been taking. They’re swaying on their feet, their hands hanging limply by their side, waiting for the next hammer blow below the belt. In a boxing match, the referee would have stepped in and stopped the fight. But in this match there’s no referee. So it just goes on and on and on. So why am I still on my feet, moving and dodging, and optimistic that we smokers will win in the end?
The answer, I thought, most likely lay in my own personal history. In a world of incessant antismoking propaganda, I’ve been a lot less propagandised than most. For I spent most of the first formative seventeen years of my life outside the UK, in countries like Brazil or Libya or Eritrea or Gambia. And if I wasn’t in one or other of these unlikely places, I was locked inside a Benedictine monastery school somewhere deep in the English countryside. Most other Englishmen and women probably got the full propaganda dose during that time, from schoolteachers and clerics and family and friends, and of course the BBC. And I got next to none. Or I was indoctrinated in very different ways.
And I was always aware that I was being indoctrinated by my Benedictine teachers. We had Doctrine classes, after all. In one of these (I suddenly remembered this morning) I was told that: “Dialectical Materialism is a Sin.” It was a statement which was memorable for being almost completely meaningless, given that I had no idea whatsoever what Dialectical Materialism might be, and not much better idea what a Sin was, beyond being Something You Shouldn’t Do (and if you did do, you should confess to doing, whereupon you would be promptly forgiven for doing it). It was not very difficult to begin to unpick my acquired Roman Catholic ideology once I left school and started reading books like Objections To Roman Catholicism.
I was also instantly aware, when I first encountered the antismoking Dr W, shortly after leaving school, that I was in the presence of an ideologue as ferociously irrational as any Jesuit or Communist or Nazi. For all ideologies are irrational in one degree or other. They are belief systems which require an act of faith. They are acquired mindsets rather than logical constructions. And they are usually almost entirely incompatible with any other ideology or mindset, with which they are invariably at war. And they usually have some guru – Jesus, Mohammed, Marx, Hitler, Darwin – who is the infallible and unquestionable and usually long-dead founder.
I was also instantly aware, as soon as I encountered them, that most of the cults that came spinning out of India, like the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his Transcendental Meditation, were also irrational ideologies, usually with the difference that their gurus were still alive and driving around in Rolls Royces.
And I needed nobody to teach me that Maoism and Stalinism and Trotskyism were ideologies. Darwinism too.
More recently, Environmentalism, the Green movement, and Global Warming Alarmism were quite obviously irrational ideologies as well. All entail acts of faith. Their doctrines are as unquestionable as any other religious belief. They all have their Holy Books, and their Gurus, and their own unique brands of Mumbo Jumbo.
And having been held in the grip of one powerful ideology during my formative years, I had no wish to fall under the spell of any other ideology. Roman Catholicism was quite enough for one lifetime. And so I now respond to any new ideology I encounter with automatic scepticism. I don’t believe a word of any of them.
But very arguably I’ve fallen under the spell of the ideology of Science. Or the ideology of Mathematical Physics. But Science – good science – isn’t irrational. It’s deeply logical. It has its gurus – Newton, Einstein, etc – but they’re not regarded as unquestionable authorities. If Science has its problems, they mostly lie on the borders between Science – what is known and understood – and Nescience – what is unknown and not understood. The besetting sin of Science is for scientists to regularly pretend to know far more than they actually do know. A great deal of medicine – e.g. the causes of cancer – deals with matters that aren’t at all well understood. And it’s when scientists try to operate beyond the borders of established science that they’re in danger of becoming ideologues. This is what has happened with antismoking zealotry and also climate change alarmism. They may have started out as genuine scientific attempts to understand disease and climate, but they ended up as religious dogmas protected by a new priesthood, with heretics being expelled and silenced.
But it seems to me that it is the inevitable fate of any irrational ideology to sooner or later fall into decline, simply because there eventually cease to be enough True Believers. If Christianity is in decline, then so also is Darwinism, Maoism, Trotskyism, and all the rest. And the same will soon prove to be also true of the currently ascendant ideologies of antismoking and global warming. In fact, one might already say that the symptoms of disease are already evident in both, simply in their fevered stridency, much like the swollen buboes under the armpits of plague victims.
All smokers need to do is to remain stoically standing under the blows rained upon them, and keep on smoking, and the antismoking ideology will run its inevitable course to its extinction. And then future generations will wonder how such people ever managed to believe anything so manifestly nonsensical and irrational. And that’s why I’m an optimist.