The Death of Convivial Society

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:

For I suppose that in Canada there was a day, etched in her memory like 1 July 2007 is etched in mine, when convivial Canadian civil society also died, as suddenly as it died in Britain.

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?

About Frank Davis

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20 Responses to The Death of Convivial Society

  1. Rose says:

    Convivial society was created by people, government isn’t a person and can’t understand the consequences of its actions. Blundering hither and thither due to a multitude of conflicting views it eventually tramples on good things and bad things alike.

    Talking of which, I hear that they want to reopen the railway lines Dr. Beeching closed. Which could be difficult, I seem to remember that in his enthusiasm for road transport, he had wanted them built over so they could never be opened again.

    Rail routes axed under 1960s Beeching cuts could reopen to ease overcrowding
    29 November 2017

    “Thousands of stations and hundreds of branch lines were closed between 1964 and 1970 in the wake of a report by British Railways chairman Dr Richard Beeching.”
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/11/29/rail-routes-axed-1960s-beeching-cuts-could-reopen-ease-overcrowding/

    • Frank Davis says:

      in his enthusiasm for road transport

      I seem to vaguely remember Beeching was sometime around 1964. I think we still had steam trains back then. He probably hated all the smoke and steam that came out of them.

      • Rose says:

        I’ve always loved steam trains.

        Britain’s most hated civil servant
        2008

        “With a business background at ICI and no experience in the rail industry, Beeching was appointed in 1961 by Harold MacMillan’s government to take charge of an ailing network, in decline since the early 20th Century and indebted to the tune of £136m.

        His £24,000 salary was attacked on newspaper front pages but he confidently claimed he could make the railways pay for themselves.

        Two years later he published his report, The Reshaping of British Railways. It called for the closure of more than a third of the country’s 7,000 railway stations and the uprooting of 5,000 miles of track, saving £18m a year.

        An outcry followed, with demonstrations, petitions and protests at Downing Street, with poet John Betjeman at the vanguard of opposition. Beeching was lampooned in Private Eye with his arms and legs cut off. But Transport Minister Ernest Marples, himself a road builder, remained unmoved.”
        http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7644630.stm

        I believe they ran passenger trains in the middle of the night to “prove” that they were unprofitable, but that may be hearsay.

      • nisakiman says:

        I used to travel to school by train in the early ’60s, and they were mostly those terribly uninteresting electric trains that just looked like a decapitated proper train – just a line of self-propelled carriages. But occasionally, for what reason I know not, it would be a proper steam train that came huffing and puffing into the station. I loved those. All us ‘lads’ would lean out of the window (above the sign which said ‘DO NOT LEAN OUT OF THE WINDOW’) as far as we could so we could catch a glimpse of the engine as we were rounding a curve, and enjoying the full experience of getting smuts in our eyes and a sooty demeanor.

        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.

        Yes, we’ve actually got two or three of those days here. I believe the first tentative partial ban happened in about 2003, then a full ban was introduced in around 2009, and then a beefed up version of the full ban was introduced in 2013.

        I was in a smart new coffee bar in the centre of town a couple of days ago (sitting inside – it’s getting cold now), and when the girl brought my coffee, I asked for an ashtray. ‘Amesos’ (right away) she replied, and scuttled off to bring one.

        So we don’t really remember those smoking ban dates here. They sort of disappear in a haze of cigarette smoke.

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  3. beobrigitte says:

    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.
    Pub landlords/landladies were not given a choice. That makes them being FORCED to be unpaid prison wardens.

    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.
    Perhaps society is no longer important; the new health god and “experts” prey on scared people for control. I’ve come across people who wanted “to-be-in-control” – having been labelled as “uncontrollable”, naturally these people were only brief encounters. What I can do to one person is what we all can do to antismokers. And there is a lot more of us than there is 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.
    Worse even, I will have to answer the same question I asked my parents, albeit in different context: HOW come you followed this idiocy propaganda?

    Their authors – the Deborah Arnotts of the world – will be unrepentant, of course.
    All 11 of them?

    But more pragmatic politicians will come to agree that the effects of them were almost entirely deleterious.
    They will repeal the smoking ban. And rebuild a cohesive society. I hope I see that day.

  4. Monty says:

    Monty (the vaper) here.
    I take on board your comments about the depletion of conviviality in our lives Frank. About half a century ago I was a barmaid in the college holidays, and I well recall the cosiness of the pub I worked in all those years ago. The public bar was the second home of a solid core of regulars, who would drink their beer, smoke their pipes, and occasionally pat or stroke one of the several dogs who would sleep serenely under the tables while their masters played dominoes. We fundraised for the local lifeboat. Every pub in town had their own pet fundraising cause, one was devoted to the allotment society and flower and produce show, another fundraised for the scouts, yet another for the amateur dramatic and operatic society, another was devoted to the Mission to Seamen, and so on and so forth. Despite that, the Salvation Army never went away empty handed from any of our pubs when they came in selling the War Cry. On a Saturday night we would all (including the staff and landlord) have chips ordered from the nearby chippy.
    Those dog-friendly bars full of old codgers with their pipes of baccy had a reliable substrate of regular business. All gone now- together with a lot of the licensed trade and the jobs, and the social cohesion it provided.

    I’m still vaping (gave up smoking on Ash Wednesday…), so I’m still unwelcome everywhere, and yet I feel quite comfortable with that. I got used to the isolation, so I will probably always be a bit reclusive now, and I never describe myself as a non-smoker.

  5. Clicky says:

  6. jaxthefirst says:

    It’s something I’ve often wondered about – this loss of conviviality in the wake of the smoking ban. And it was in the wake of the smoking ban, literally, to the day. At first I thought it was just me and I put it down to my personal dislike of going anywhere where I felt treated less well than anyone else. It was, after all, understandable for me as a smoker – nobody likes to feel that they are less welcome than someone else, particularly when they are nonetheless still paying the same money for the same things (drinks, tickets, entry fees etc) as the “more favoured” ones.

    In those early days, I assumed that many smokers probably felt the same, but that most non-smokers weren’t that bothered either way, which, in my experience was, and still is, most non-smokers’ view of the ban generally. So whilst it might be expected that smoking customers might not bother with the pub any more, or might not stay for as long as they used to, there was no reason at all why non-smokers would stop going or not stay as long.

    But then the pubs started to close – and how! Not gradually, in line with the Chancellors’ increases in tax, as postulated as the main reason by many ban adherents, but suddenly and in great numbers. As everyone on here knows, the promised non-smokers who had never visited pubs before because they hated the smoke failed to materialise – if they had the closures wouldn’t have been at such a massive and rapid rate – but, more importantly, even as increasing numbers of smokers have given up smoking over the last 10 years, very few of them have returned to the pub even though now as non-smokers, they no longer have to go and stand outside for a cigarette. And I’ve often wondered why, as the number of smokers has fallen, pub numbers haven’t started to recover from that initial, hard and heavy first “hit.”

    But I’ve noticed more and more of my non-smoking friends making vague comments about things “not being so much fun” any more and stopping doing things that they used to do, and I started wondering why the smoking ban – which I personally despised so much, for obvious reasons, as a smoker – seemed to be affecting all these non-smokers in the same way. Why would it affect them? They didn’t have to go and stand outside in the cold. They didn’t have to sit feeling uncomfortable and miserable if they wanted to stay inside in the warm and dry. There was, on the surface of it, no reason at all why their pub-visiting behaviour should have changed in any way at all. Why would they stop going down the pub in their droves, as they did? Smokers had a good reason not to go, but non-smokers? That big majority that the anti-smokers had so carefully nurtured over the previous few decades? There was no reason at all that I could see. The pubs were still there on 2nd July 2007, the same landlords were still behind the bar, most of the same people were there – apart perhaps from a few smokers – and beer prices (the most oft-quoted “other” reason given by ban adherents for the almost-overnight disappearance of so many pubs) hadn’t made a sudden jump on that day to suddenly render a few pints which had been affordable on 30th June suddenly out of their financial reach by 2nd July. So why did they stop going?

    And yet, when asked, pretty much all the non-smokers I know these days admit that, like me, they can’t be bothered with going out any more, all of them alluding to a vague feeling that they just “don’t enjoy going out like they used to” and confessing that (again, like me), they’re always privately quite pleased when some previously-arranged social event is cancelled or when some excuse comes up which is good enough for them to make a “sorry – we can’t make it after all,”-type call. Now, why would that be?

    It’s a serious question and one which I’ve never quite been able to come up with an answer for. Why would so many people, unaffected by a particular piece of legislation, react to it as if they were? It just doesn’t make sense. It’s tempting to say that perhaps the hard fact is that the smokers were the best company in the pub, the ones who got the good conversations going or the started the fun happening and, without them (or with them vanishing outside every so often) it’s a bit like turning the music down at a party. In theory, it’s still possible to have a good time, but …

    Or maybe it’s because there is now a sort of “them and us” divide between the staff and the customers that just wasn’t there before. Previously, the pub regulars and the landlord of their local were equals. Landlords set their own rules – no swearing, no fighting, no spitting, no kids, no dogs, or whatever – and regulars chose their pubs accordingly. If a punter didn’t like the rules of one pub, they simply chose another with rules that they did like. There was no animosity in this, it was just a matter of mutual respect between equal parties, a bit like choosing which shop to buy things from – if one shop doesn’t sell the things you like, then you find a shop that does. But there’s something different about this rule, isn’t there? It’s decided by the Government and landlords have to enforce it. And that gives them an authority over their own customers that doesn’t sit comfortably with the old relationship. Perhaps even non-smokers can feel this at a subconscious level, because the newly-acquired authority of landlords applies as much to non-smokers as it does to smokers, and their continued custom in their local is as dependent upon them continuing to “obey the rules” every bit as much as it applies to smokers having to start to do so. It’s easier for non-smokers to comply, of course, because they don’t have to change their behaviour, but comply they still must, just as every smoker has to. And perhaps it’s this very vague feeling of knowing that the “authority figure” is there in the background watching them just as much as they are watching the smokers that is discouraging non-smokers from patronising their local. Authority figures, whether willing or not, are never good at encouraging “conviviality.” How “convivial” was school when the teachers were present? How “convivial” is the army when the Sergeant-Major is inspecting the troops? I’ll tell you how “convivial” they are – not at all, until the “authority figure” in question leaves! While the cat’s away and all that. No wonder pubs aren’t “convivial” any more. They couldn’t be less convivial if they had a policeman behind the bar serving the drinks and keeping a careful note of which of the customers might be driving home!

    And “will they be too late?” Well, yes, I think they already are. It’s many a long year since I’ve been in a pub which still has the atmosphere that real pubs used to have, and I’m not just talking about the air quality, either. The majority which are still going are now nothing short of glorified restaurants which keep a pubby name as a nod to their origins, but where the idea of simply spending an evening drinking and chatting and laughing with friends and acquaintances is as incongruous as the idea of sitting for a whole evening at that little bar in your local Indian takeaway. The few wet-led pubs remaining are joyless, largely empty places where the chances of getting into a conversation involving anything more than polite small-talk is vanishingly small. The smoking ban, quite simply, sucked the heart and soul out of the local pub, and pubs – real pubs, that is – have now been in the deadspace for so long that the chances of resuscitating a tradition that had taken hundreds of years to gradually develop into a part of our national culture is, to be honest, practically zero. Which is, probably, precisely what the Healthists intended.

    • Rose says:

      Very well put, Jax, I left my seat in the pub for all those non-smokers who were going to fill the pubs when the smoke disappeared.
      Before the ban nobody minded, but my self esteem must have suffered a blow from all those NHS variants of “if you smoke, you stink” adverts because after the ban I was even worried about going to the supermarket incase people pointed me out, or the person on the check out wrinkled their nose when I came close.
      The rules of good manners had been legislated away and it took a few days before I realised that nobody could tell that I was one one of those newly created social outcasts and nobody cared anyway.

    • Rose says:

      Good grief, reading that post back again, I’ve just realised how similar the behaviour of successive governments,TC and Public Health has been to the new offence of coercive control.

      The validation of the Checklist of Controlling Behaviors (CCB): assessing coercive control in abusive relationships.

      (4)isolation, (5) minimizing and denying, (6) blaming, (7) intimidation, (8) threats, (9) emotional abuse, and (10) economic abuse.

    • RdM says:

      Thanks for that extensive essay Jax which has poked at so much so eloquently.

  7. I like to call them Carerorists.
    https://zillatron.quora.com/The-Carerorist
    Their “Care” wreaks more havoc on society and individual lifes than all possible terror acts from terrorists combined. And the incremental prohibition on smoking is just the most shiny turd from this cesspit. Just think about all the arbitrary inconveniences, indignities, intrusions, and infringements we are increasingly forced to endure in the dubious name of “Security”. Yes, there may be a few measures among all the crap they subject us to that actually could prevent a tiny number of actual harm. But is this minuscule gain realy worth all the daily hustle? Do we really want to live in a society based on “Fear Thy Neighbour”?

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  9. Margaret Hermon says:

    I never seem to see any evidence that the smoking ban has resulted in any drop in the stats relating to COPD or any form of lung disease. Anyone help on this?

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