Society – convivial society – died in Britain on 1 July 2007. Since that day, Britain has been a sort of prison in which all pub landlords and bartenders have been co-opted to be unpaid prison wardens.
I came across a cartoon on Facebook, posted up by Iro Cyr in Canada, which captured the feeling very well:
There are such days everywhere all over the world. I happen to know that in Spain it was 2 January 2011, because I visited Barcelona for the very last time a few weeks before, perhaps knowing that I would never go back. There are similar dates in almost every country in Europe.
And I think that the smoking bans that have been spreading across Europe like poison gas are what has been killing the dream of Europe – Europe as a single convivial civil society stretching from the Atlantic to the Ukraine. For Europe has become a prison as well, just like Britain. The European Parliament voted for its abolition as a convivial civil society sometime late in 2009. Why should any of Europe’s 150 million smokers want to belong to a “union” that wants to exile them all to the outdoors?
European politicians seem to be puzzled at the decline of popular support for the EU. They shouldn’t be surprised, because they have been the principal causes of that decline. It is they, after all, who have been gaily introducing all these smoking bans. Many of them are very proud of what they did. They’d do it again without a second thought.
For them it was just another health measure, no different from installing sewers or water supplies. The smoking bans would bring an improvement in health. And what matters more than health?
I think they will gradually find out that there are things that matter more than health. Because all those smoky little bars and cafes and restaurants and clubs were the glue that was holding society together, and when many of their customers had been kicked out onto the street, and many of them closed down, the entire fabric of society was rent asunder. What had been a single convivial society was atomised. And it was atomised in the same way that a brick house would be atomised into its single component bricks as all the mortar that held them together was removed from between them in a single day.
Such a house is not going to remain standing for long. It’ll only take a strong wind to blow down its walls, and reduce it to a pile of bricks.
We’ll find out soon enough what happens when the glue – or mortar – that holds society together has gone. We’re going to see Europe fall apart. And we may also see many of the nations of Europe fall apart as well. Is it entirely accidental that many people in Catalonia, which was the last place in Spain I visited, now wish to secede from Spain? For I suspect that the Spanish smoking ban of 2 January 2011 was as destructive of convivial Spanish civil society as the British smoking ban of 1 July 2007.
It’s not just Britain and Spain and Europe where the same inexorable process is at work. Is it entirely accidental the USA has become almost as divided as Europe is rapidly becoming, at more or less the same time, as the same poisonous smoking bans have been slowly spreading piecemeal across it, first in a town and a city here and then a state there?
And will it be any different in Russia or China or Japan? Probably not.
I sometimes wonder whether it’s something that is all being done quite deliberately in order to atomise society everywhere, and make everyone more amenable to centralised state control. But in my own personal experience this is not what happens. I don’t listen more attentively to our politicians and pundits than I did before: I listen to them much less attentively. I don’t listen more to the BBC: I listen to it hardly at all. I don’t listen more closely to the pundits and experts and scientists and doctors: I listen to them hardly ever. And why should I? None of them speak for me. I have growing contempt for all of them.
The state and all its institutions are built upon society, and it can only be as strong as the society on which it is built. And when that society dissolves into quicksand, the state and all its institutions will simply subside into it, and dissolve in their turn.
So I think that if the top-down-controlling statists expected an atomised society to be more amenable to central state control, they will be disappointed as they find that people are paying less and less attention to them, and holding them in lower and lower esteem.
For that’s another thing that is happening in Britain and Europe and the USA: the political classes are becoming increasingly reviled. Should that be a surprise? The political class is in many ways its own closed and separate society. You don’t find MPs or ministers in little bars and cafes and clubs. They belong to a separate, elite society, with most of them above the laws they make for everybody else (as seems to be the case in the USA where more and more women seem to be coming forward with sexual harassment claims against Representatives and Senators and even Presidents).
I don’t expect any of our current crop of politicians to ever learn anything. They are all far too set in their ways and in their beliefs. I don’t think any of them will ever change their minds about the smoking bans they enacted. They will continue to claim that it improved people’s health. And they will all be swept away. May. Merkel. Macron. The skids are under all of them.
I think that one day the smoking bans that are currently sweeping the world are going to be recognised as one of the most catastrophic social interventions of all time. Their authors – the Deborah Arnotts of the world – will be unrepentant, of course. But more pragmatic politicians will come to agree that the effects of them were almost entirely deleterious. The smartest politicians in the world today will be the ones who start rolling back the bans, and attempt to revive the convivial society that was the principal casualty of them.
But will they be too late?