I spent much of yesterday following up my not-so-new idea that social idleness correlated with (and caused?) increased longevity of life. It led me into reading about the condition of the working classes in England during the last few centuries, the Factory Acts, the Education Acts, and the introduction of old age State Pensions.
At some point in it I came across the depiction of a bare-chested girl dragging a truck full of coal along a narrow tunnel in a mine, and wondered what outrage it must have caused in England a century or two ago. She may as well have been a human cart-horse. And she probably didn’t live very long.
And it did cause outrage. For that sort of thing led to the growth of the trade union movement in Britain. And it also saw Karl Marx, then living in London, write Das Kapital. And, from these small beginnings, both evolved over the next century into powerful political movements, the latter one dominating half the world, and resulting in a Cold War in the latter half of the 20th century which still hasn’t quite completely died out.
There seems to be a natural cycle to the growth of these movements. They begin with outrage at something, and swell into political movements, and in the process gradually mutate from being benign into being malignant. The Trade Union movement in Britain had become a threat to the power of the British state by 1980. And Communism had brought the Gulag Archipelago.
The Factory Acts of the 19th century were accompanied by numerous Health and Safety measures. And Health and Safety started out as something benign, and now in its turn it has become something malignant.
Initially Health and Safety concerned itself with the safety of workers using powerful machines which could (and did) periodically kill them. And then Health and Safety extended itself to entire cities, bringing clean water supplies, sewerage systems, street lighting, and Clean Air Acts.
During this period Health and Safety was almost entirely benign. It helped people. But in the latter half of the 20th century, it began to be increasingly malignant. And the malignancy grew out of the application of a concern for health and safety into ever more minute details of everyday life. What had started out as a Good Thing gradually became Too Much Of A Good Thing, as the inner logic was applied relentlessly to everything.
And so the Clean Air Acts that were used to clean up the smoke from factory chimneys and then the smoke from house chimneys began to applied to cigarettes and cigars and pipes. There was No Safe Level of any sort of smoke at all. It’s surprising that candles and incense haven’t been banned. It’s surprising that the antismokers haven’t marched into churches and ripped candles from the altars, and emptied the thuribles.
It helps people walking up and down stairs, or across bridges, to have handrails to prevent them falling off, and badly injuring themselves. But after a while, as the handrails multiply, they gradually become prison bars. What was once preventing people from being badly injured is now preventing them from doing anything at all. What started out as a way of liberating people has ended up as a way of constraining them, as the logic of prevention has been rigorously played out, one logical step after another to the point of absurdity.
Multiplying smoking bans, alcohol restrictions, food warnings, etc, are not helping people in their everyday lives: they’re hindering them. They’re gradually turning people into slaves. Instead of making life easier, they’re making it harder.
But the sanctimonious, holier-than-thou, health and safety zealots can’t see it. They press on regardless.
And most likely the rich mine and factory owners of 19th century England were equally as sanctimonious, self-satisfied, and holier-than-thou as any of today’s health and safety zealots. They probably saw themselves as providing the world with cheap, high quality, manufactured goods. They probably never stepped inside their factories or mines. They probably never saw 14-year-old girls dragging coal-laden trucks. They were probably as shocked as anyone else when they learned about them, and offered scant resistance to the government inspectors sent to oversee them. 150 years later it’s those government inspectors who’ve stepped into their shoes, and become the new tyrants and oppressors and enslavers.
And so now we are seeing a new social movement starting. This time it’s not a revolt against greedy factory owners, but against greedy government regulators and inspectors interfering in people’s everyday lives in ever-multiplying numbers of ways. And smokers are in the vanguard of this nascent social movement. They’re the modern equivalent of oppressed workers in 19th century factories. And in 150 years time, when they’ve not only stripped all the bars from their prison windows, but also stripped them from staircases and bridges, this movement will in its turn become malignant.
But it might not take as long as 150 years. For the speed of communications has vastly increased over the past 150 years. Back then you only communicated ideas through printed pamphletss and town hall rallies. But now it’s possible for oppressed smokers to talk face to face with other oppressed smokers anywhere in the world. It’s what I’ve been doing regularly in the Smoky Drinky Bar, where everyone is some sort of oppressed smoker or drinker or vaper. There’s a nascent social movement forming – swarming -, everywhere in the world.
And they’re being united by their shared outraged experience of exclusion and persecution, much like the trade union movement or the Communist party was united by its members’ shared outraged experience of toil and hardship. They recognise each other by the cigarettes or pipes or cigars in their mouths. And what they can’t stand is Big Government, much like the trade union movement couldn’t stand Big Business. And they are all natural conservatives who wish to conserve a smoky drinky culture which Big Government – in the form of Tobacco Control – wishes to control and restrict and suppress.
In this respect Paul Joseph Watson’s new slogan – “Conservatism is the New Counterculture” (see right) – is almost exactly right. The only pity is that he and Alex Jones and Roger Stone and Steve Pieczenik and all the rest of the crew of InfoWars.com aren’t puffing away on cigarettes and cigars while they speak, and aren’t declaring – what seems blindingly obvious to this Englishman – that anti-smoking is anti-American. Because America’s wealth was originally founded upon the tobacco it exported to the rest of the world. And no American should ever forget it any more than no Englishman should ever forget that England’s greatest export to the world has above all else been the English language.