One day in about 1963, somewhere in Brazil, as my father’s green DKW reached the top of a hill, we saw stretched out below us an industrial park, filled with tanks and vats and steaming chimneys, and not a tree in sight.
“Industry!” my father cried out. “That’s what I like to see!”
I did not share my father’s enthusiasm. Industry was not something that I liked to see. For industry was always ugly and dirty, and usually teaming with workers. I would have far preferred to have been looking down on a forest, perhaps with a river or two flowing out through it into a blue sea over the golden sands of a long, sweeping beach.
For back then I was something of an environmentalist who saw industry as something rather poisonous, perhaps even rather satanic (as in Blake’s “dark, satanic mills”). My father had been an electrical engineer on cable ships. And I fancied myself to be something of an artist like Blake. And therein lay a divide opening up between us, and perhaps between one generation and another.
It was to be another 10 – 15 years before I started to change my mind about industry, and to begin to see it as good and useful rather than poisonous and satanic. And I only did so under the influence of Idle Theory, which was changing the way I thought about work and industry and industrial society. For in Idle Theory I began to see industry as something that produced useful tools which served to increase social idleness. There was a Cost to making some tool, which entailed a temporary decrease in idleness, before the greater Value of the tool was realised as an increase in idleness over the lifetime of the tool:
So, if the tool was a primitive stone axe, it would take maybe an afternoon for someone to chip it out of a piece of rock, after which they would be able to use it to do all sorts of things (like chop down trees) more quickly than they could without it. And what applied to axes applied equally to scissors and hammers and saws and pliers, and also to houses and boats and engines and cars and roads and railways and radios and televisions and computers. Each one of these countless numbers of tools served to fractionally increase the idleness of society, and slightly relieve people of toil. And humanity, as I saw it, was on a long, slow and painful journey from a circumstance of unremitting toil and suffering towards one of idleness and freedom and ease.
So industry was a good thing. Yes, there were heaps of spoil and broken rock around the quarries where the stone axes were made, and perhaps the air was filled with dust, and the din of hammers breaking stones – but it was all worth it in the end, if it lifted humanity out of toil and suffering.
But Idle Theory was my own personal heresy, and while it was changing the way that I looked at the world, my environmentalist friends (who numbered most of the people I knew) were becoming more and more anti-industry. They were the kind of people who would protest against the siting of a new power station in a marsh, simply to preserve the yellow-spotted gerbils whose habitat it was. And it was not out of any great love of gerbils that they protested, but out of a loathing of dirty, poisonous industry.
And this hatred of industry would seem to be something that animates Tobacco Control, which in its hatred of smoke of any sort, would seem to be as thoroughly environmentalist in outlook as any other form of environmentalism. For they are always at pains to refer to “the Tobacco Industry”, or very often simply “the Industry”, and quite often simply “industry”, as if the principal crime of tobacco companies was not merely to sell tobacco, but to be an industry which made and sold a product just like any other industry, with all these industries being just as bad as each other. For they were all ugly and poisonous and murderous, and they all filled the air and rivers and land with toxins that would render it uninhabitable for centuries. For them, the Industrial Revolution that began in Britain in the 18th century had done nothing more than fill the air with smoke and soot for a century or two, covering every house in England with soot which only began to slowly be washed off in the late 20th century (it was for many years a common sight to see buildings being slowly washed with streams of water for weeks on end before the golden sandstones of which they had been built gradually emerged from under the layers of soot and grime in which they had been encased for centuries).
It may well be that the capnophobia (smokophobia) of the antismokers is not purely a revulsion for tobacco smoke, but is actually a revulsion at smoke-generating industry of any kind at all. The smoker’s pipe or cigar or cigarette is just another industrial chimney, and it would kill off the smokers just as certainly as the chimneys of the mills and factories and steelworks of Manchester and Sheffield and Hudderfield had slain countless millions of English men and women (and chiiiildren) in preceding centuries. And the Industrial Revolution that had taken place there was now something to be as ashamed of as the gulags of Siberia, or the death camps of Poland.
And perhaps it is ever thus, throughout human history, that one generation comes to be ashamed of what previous generations did – and proudly did – centuries before them. For, after their ancestors had erected two or three colossal pyramids at Giza in Egypt, it may well have been that their Egyptian descendants became ashamed at such a vain and ostentatious exercise, and determined never to do it again. And the same may have been true of the Roman Empire, which expanded to encompass so much of Europe and the Mediterranean littoral that subsequent Roman citizens may have became deeply ashamed at such a naked exercise of military power and domination.
Tobacco Control always sets out to capture and maintain control of the moral high ground. In this respect they need a satanic tobacco industry against whom they can portray themselves as angels by comparison, saving countless numbers of lives that the tobacco industry would otherwise take. And tobacco and the tobacco industry never have any saving graces whatsoever. There is nothing good about tobacco. And also there is nothing evil about Tobacco Control. Everything they do is for the good, even as they are exiling millions of people to the outdoors, and bankrupting thousands of pubs (another industry for which they have the most complete and perfect contempt).
The defeat of Tobacco Control will only come when they have been swept off the moral high ground they now occupy, and become widely seen to be as bad as (and indeed far worse than) the tobacco companies they have been vilifying.
And this may not be very hard to do. The tobacco companies are at least selling a product that its customers wish to buy. What is Tobacco Control selling? Nothing at all. They have no product whatsoever. All that they ever bring are more and more hampering and restricting rules and regulations, and ever-mounting taxes. Tobacco Control is entirely parasitic. It does no good whatsoever, apart from fictional improvements in public heath (due to reduced smoking) that are immediately negated by corresponding declines in public health (due to increased obesity).
Tobacco Control, as it does more and more damage to the culture and social fabric of society, would seem to be occupying increasingly untenable moral high ground. And it would seem to be doing so purely by trumpeting Health, and Health alone, as the only good that matters. For they are in effect saying that any amount of damage to communities or friendships or families, or to pubs and restaurants and cafes and clubs, is perfectly acceptable so long the people concerned can simply be shown to live a few weeks longer. And this healthist ethos seems to even pervade the UK Ministry of Justice, which now argues for prison smoking bans purely on health grounds, with all considerations of justice or compassion or fairness set aside. How much longer are they going to be able to set aside all other considerations except those of health, before people begin to see them for being the dishonest, nasty, greedy, poisonous, and unscrupulous bullies that they actually are? For if Health is the only thing that matters, then there can be no harm in dishonesty or greed or bullying, and no need for any scruple whatsoever. The cult of health brings with it a moral decay in which everything aside from all-important Health (such as consideration or compassion or mercy) must atrophy and be discarded.
And maybe Idle Theory is a piece of artillery which could help to demolish the fortress that Tobacco Control has erected on their healthy high ground. For Idle Theory has a different (and equally singular) measure of the value of things. What if Idleness were pitted against Health? If Idleness prevailed, would we then be subjected to a tyranny of Idleness as bad as the current tyranny of health?
Whichever way, the collapse of Tobacco Control (and its complete destruction) will be accompanied by the recognition by all concerned of its complete moral vacuity. Almost overnight, long-demonised tobacco companies will start to be seen as benign by comparison to the unfettered and limitless malignancy of Tobacco Control.