A thought experiment.
Imagine you are holding a ball. It could be a football or a baseball or a beach ball or a tennis ball or a golf ball. Even a balloon would do. It can also be any colour you like. (I’m imagining holding a two foot diameter beach ball, with pink and yellow stripes. These things are as light as a feather.)
Now gently place the ball on the floor. Any floor. The main thing about the floor is that it should be flat, and have a firm hard horizontal surface. It could be a car park or a road or even a flat roof. Maybe even a table would do.
The ball just sits on the floor. It doesn’t roll away. If you examine the ball closely, you may find that it’s slightly compressed on the underside. Unless something disturbs it, the ball will just sit there all day, for days and days and days. It might even sit there for ever.
Right. Now that you’ve performed that experiment. Pick up the ball again, and hold it at arm’s length away from you, and this time drop it onto the floor.
Quite a lot happens. And keeps on happening.
The ball falls to the floor, and then bounces back up off it. It may even bounce all the way back up to your outstretched hand, although usually they don’t bounce quite that high.
And then after it’s bounced back up it’ll fall back down onto the floor. And it’ll keep bouncing up and down, with the height of the bounce getting smaller and smaller and smaller until it doesn’t look like it’s bouncing at all.
And that’s a non-equilibrium system, in which all the forces aren’t exactly cancelling each other out. A swinging pendulum is a non-equilibrium system. The equilibrium state for a pendulum is hanging straight down, motionless. But when it’s swinging from side to side, the forces pushing one way get gradually overcome by the forces pushing the other way.
Now I’d like to suggest that we live in an non-equilibrium world. As I see it, we’re living on a little spinning planet, that goes round the Sun once every year. It’s a non-equilibrium system. It’s an oscillating system. And we’re being whirled around in this oscillating system, like clothes in a spin-drier.
A Flat Earth is an equilibrium system. It’s a world in which nothing happens. And everything remains the same all the time. It doesn’t spin at all, and it doesn’t orbit around the sun, and it doesn’t wobble or bounce either. It just is.
And we’re all of us either equilibrium thinkers or non-equilibrium thinkers. That’s to say that we either see the world and everything in it as an unchanging place where nothing ever happens, or we see it as something in which things are always being spun and bounced and vibrated and shaken first one way and then another.
And, just as I think of the Earth going round the Sun as a non-equilibrium system, I also see all the things that happen on the surface of the Earth as also not being in an equilibrium state. So we have the seasons of the year, and daily tides, and clouds and wind and rain, and heat waves and cold snaps. And we humans are always having to respond to what’s happening to us. We’re having to put on more clothes, or take them off. We’re having to carry umbrellas, or put on sunglasses and sun hats and sunscreens. We’re being jostled and shaken and spun, all day, every day.
So we’re part of the non-equilibrium system too. We’re not above it or outside it. And just as the world exerts forces on us, we also exert forces on each other. Forces of attraction and repulsion, of love and hate. When we fight battles with each other (as we frequently do) the clash of arms is a physical clash of swords against shields, or bullets against helmets.
We describe almost everything in physical terms: I fell in love. My heart sank. Our spirits rose. I was completely bowled over. The government was toppled. The king was overthrown. The coalition disintegrated. The people united. The company went bust. For the most part no actual falling or sinking or rising or toppling or throwing or disintegrating or uniting visibly happened. But we all know when we’re falling or rising or being bowled over.
And human societies are also subject to the same forces: Empires rise and fall. Businesses expand and contract.
These also are non-equilibrium systems. They’re always changing. They never stop changing.
I’m a non-equilibrium thinker. I see everything as a process rather than a stable equilibrium state. My orbital simulation model is a model of a non-equilibrium system. The dirty snowballs I’ve been modelling recently are also non-equilibrium systems. I see around me a world that is happening, not a world that simply is. And I am myself a non-equilibrium system as well. I’m always changing.
But the antismokers in Tobacco Control are equilibrium thinkers. They want to create a new “smoke-free” equilibrium state, in which nobody ever smokes anything ever again. They think they’ve almost managed it, given their current “endgame” scenarios. They see themselves as replacing one smoky equilibrium state with another “smoke-free” equilibrium state. Just like holding a ball in your hand, and then putting it on the floor.
Most people are equilibrium thinkers. They see the world as essentially unchanging. If they want to change the world, it’s always from one equilibrium state to another. When equilibrium thinkers become political revolutionaries, they always imagine themselves as replacing one equilibrium state with another. And so if they see societies as masters oppressing slaves, or capitalists exploiting workers, they always imagine a revolution which is a simple inversion of the present equilibrium state, so that slaves take control of masters, or workers oust capitalists. And they then expect nothing else to ever happen again.
The antismokers are revolutionaries of exactly this sort. They have set out to inaugurate a “tobacco-free” world which will be a new unchanging equilibrium state of affairs, much like a workers’ paradise, or an egalitarian society. And their new world is really just an inversion of the old world.
The antismokers will never succeed in creating any “smoke-free” society. And they will never succeed because human beings and human societies are non-equilibrium systems. They never come to rest.
For instead we ought to see the imposition of smoking bans on any society as being just like dropping a ball on it.
It will bounce off.
It will bounce off just like the ball you imagined dropping bounced off the floor.
It may take a long time for it to bounce off, but it will.
It may look to you like nothing is changing, and nothing will ever change. But that’s just the equilibrium illusion again: the illusion that nothing ever changes.
For smokers have been compressed by the smoking bans that have been dropped on them. They feel crushed. And they are crushed. But being crushed is just always what happens to anything before it bounces back. And the more crushed that smokers might feel is really only an indicator of how strongly they’re going to bounce back.
It’s not just that Tobacco Control must be destroyed, but that Tobacco Control will be destroyed. And it’s absolutely inevitable that it will be destroyed. It’ll cease to exist.
And what will follow will not be the return of a smoky world. There will be no return to any pre-existing equilibrium state, because there never was any equilibrium state, and there never will be one. It’ll just continue to be a ding-dong battle between smokers and antismokers, just like it always has been – an endless cycle of action and reaction.
The crushing smoking bans that have been imposed all over the world are going to be followed by an equally powerful rebound that will throw them all off again. Because the smoking bans have been imposed too suddenly, and too quickly. The antismokers might have succeeded if they had put the ball gently on the ground. And for a long time with their piecemeal smoking bans they were trying to do exactly that. But then they dropped the ball. In fact they threw the ball hard against the floor. And when they dropped/threw it they ensured that there’d be a rebound. The rebound won’t happen immediately. It never does. Even when you drop a beach ball on the ground, there’s a delay before it comes back up.
All the equilibrium thinkers reading this will say: “Nah! Nothing ever changes! Nothing is going to change! The smoking bans are here to stay, and there’s nothing that anyone can do about it.”
But you’ll see. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.