Activism And Inactivism

In a comment some days ago, Walt wrote:

But again, to repeat my point from yesterday– as with all “movements” most joiners aren’t activists. They do, however, represent the power of numbers behind what the few leading activists do. And the members count on the activists to act on their behalf. Though again, without the activists, all you’ve got is a club.

And yesterday I wrote:

And nobody would have to do anything much more than they already do. They’d mostly just be sending emails and letters, or making phone calls. No need to actually go anywhere. No need to do what I did at Stony Stratford, which was to drive across England and hold up a placard, and then drive all the way back.

I’m not really any sort of activist. I’m an inactivist. I like minimal action. I always look for minimal ways to do anything. I don’t regard writing my blog as any sort of activism: I think it’s a form of inactivism, because I write all the time anyway. I don’t think the Smoky Drinky Bar is activism either: all I need do is sit and smoke cigarettes and drink beers, and I do that all the time anyway. Even the ISIS survey was inactivism: I just sat in pub gardens like I always did anyway, and occasionally wandered over to talk to people I saw smoking.

This is relevant to something I’ve been thinking about recently, which is: Why do some people become activists in some cause, and others don’t?

Or, to put it in a smoking context, why do some smokers become active supporters of smoking, and others don’t?

My guess is that it’s purely a function of how much anyone has been personally injured by smoking bans. If you’ve been hit hard by smoking bans, you’ll respond in the same way that a ball responds to be being hit hard by a bat: you’ll start moving at high speed. And if you haven’t been hit by anything, you’ll do what balls do when they haven’t been hit: you’ll keep still.

And I was someone who was hit hard by the UK smoking ban. It put me, as a smoker, in collision with a lot of my former (usually non-smoking) friends. And collisions between people aren’t actually very much different than collisions between bats and balls: I found myself retreating from those friends, sometimes at high speed.

So I got energised. I acquired a bit of kinetic energy, so to speak. And that’s the energy that powers this blog. Writing it isn’t a big effort for me, because if I wasn’t writing about smoking bans in my blog, I’d be writing about it my private diary/journal. It takes no effort for me to redirect my words from private to public consumption. I only have to throw a switch.

For me, the UK smoking ban of 1 July 2007 was, I now think, the most singular event in my life. Up until then I’d thought that living through the turbulent 1960s was the most singular event in my life. But back in the 60s, although I was caught up in the tide of events, I wasn’t any sort of prime mover in them. I was a follower. Furthermore I was a rather distant and laggardly follower. I wasn’t moving as fast as a lot of other people were. And people were moving very fast back then, and changing very fast. And within a few short years I’d grown tired of a social movement which wasn’t going anywhere, and had become increasingly dark and self-destructive (something that found its expression in the music of the time, from the cheerful early Beatles of the early 1960s to the dark despair of Ten Years After and Black Sabbath in the late 1960s).

The 1960s, I now think, picked me up and spun me around, and left me a bit giddy thereafter. But 1 July 2007 was like being hit by a truck. And the image at right, which I created for the ISIS survey, captures it quite well: I’m one of the “very isolated smokers” – but I’m also one of the most energised smokers, because I had to be hit very hard to be thrown so far, and so fast.

There are lots of reasons why other smokers might not have been affected very much by smoking bans. They might have been people who never went to pubs or restaurants (which is where the main force of the ban fell). Or they were people who always entertained at home, because they were rich enough to do that. Or they only smoked about one cigarette a week. There are any number of reasons why people might not be affected much. I was very strongly affected because I ran my entire social life through pubs and cafes and restaurants: I never entertained at home, and I smoked a lot more than one cigarette a week (and still do).

And it might be said that that the street smoking ban that Councillor Peter Koo wants to introduce onto the streets of New York City is going to be one that is going to drive smokers even further out of society than they already are. But, if enacted, it will also energise a lot more smokers.

Because smoking bans, in themselves, as a result of their exclusionary nature, act to physically expel smokers from one location or other. The bans act just like nightclub bouncers to physically prevent people from entering, or to throw them out. And, as such they also act exactly like bats on balls: they energise those that they strike.

The pub and cafe and restaurant smoking bans only affected people who frequented those places. But street smoking bans are likely to affect (i.e. energise) far more people. They affect those smokers who use streets. And since many smokers are only out on the streets because  smoking bans pushed them there, a street smoking ban will come as a second blow to them. And since pubs and cafes are only dotted around here and there, while there are roads and streets everywhere, street smoking bans will amount to the total exclusion of smokers from everywhere other than their own homes (if they have not already been banned from smoking in their own homes). A street smoking ban is going to hit smokers far harder than any pub smoking ban. For pub smoking bans merely pushed smokers onto the streets outside the pubs. But street smoking bans will expel smokers from towns and cities. They’ll drive them much further. And it will energise them much more. Street smoking bans are likely to produce a new wave of angry (i.e. energised) smokers, and produce far more of them then the original pub smoking bans.

But of course, as ever, some smokers won’t be affected. If you never set foot on any streets, but are always conveyed from place to place in limousines with tinted windows, and all your shopping is done for you by servants, you won’t be affected at all. In short, the rich won’t be affected. So it’ll be on the poor, and the not-so-poor, who’ll feel the weight of the law.

But my underlying point is simply this: people only ever do what they are impelled to do, or energised to do. And once they have become energised, what they do is effortless. And they can do things that it would take a big effort for somebody else to do. It takes a big effort to get to be moving at 100 mph or 1000 mph if you’re only moving at 5 mph, but once you’ve got up to 100 mph or 1000 mph, it takes little effort or no effort to stay at that speed.

One person who seems to me to be very highly energised is Donald Trump. He has, at the age of over 70, a quite extraordinary amount of energy. For while Hillary Clinton would give a speech once every few days during the presidential campaign, Donald Trump would give three or four speeches per day, in different cities. Where did he get all that energy from (and he seems to be as energetic a president as he was a candidate)? I think Trump must’ve been hit very, very hard by something, a long time ago. And I have no idea what hit him.

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8 Responses to Activism And Inactivism

  1. Tony says:

    Hitting people hard will drive some to fight back but others will be beaten into submission. Particularly if they see no way to fight.

    In my experience, many smokers hate the ban and the persecution in general. If they even think about it, let alone talk about it, some become overwhelmed with a fury that can take hours or even days to subside.

    When pressed to discuss the issue, a few literally turned crimson and shouted at me:
    “There’s nothing you can do about it so shut the f***k up”.

    Fortunately most are more civil but are still reluctant as they know it will make them angry or depressed. Maintaining a ‘stiff upper lip’ allows them to retain control.

    God help the anti-smokers when the tide finally turns.

    • Frank Davis says:

      When pressed to discuss the issue, a few literally turned crimson and shouted at me:
      “There’s nothing you can do about it so shut the f***k up”.

      Yes. I’ve had that reaction too, back when I was suggesting to a few people that they just write to their MP (like I did) immediately after the ban was imposed. “It’s pointless,” they’d say. And get angry if I pressed them on it.

      But I felt that they hated the ban about as much as I did. I never heard anyone saying how great the ban was, how it helped them to cut down, which I heard before the ban.

      • Tony says:

        I reworded my comment above a few times. Unfortunately I left it as “many smokers hate the ban”, which should really have read “virtually all smokers hate the ban” it’s just that some hate it more than others.

        I too have never encountered any smoker who actually thought the ban was a good thing even though a very few thought they’d cut down as a result. One in particular referred to his cigarette as a fix.

  2. waltc says:

    I mentioned the proposed ban to a woman I know who pretty much chain smokes. She hadn’t heard about it, but her reaction: “oh, well. I rarely smoke on the street anyway

    Frank, if you’ve still got a gmail acct, I sent you an email:

  3. smokingscot says:

    Found it very interesting that the study conducted recently by that contentious outfit funded by Philip Morris found that in the UK about 20% of people who describe themselves as smokers actually do so less than once a day. (And just for info, less than 75% of “smokers” in NZ do so daily).

    Also a fair proportion of those completing the survey said that seeing other people smoking did not make them want to smoke (so debasing the claim by TC that smoking in moving pictures stimulates that reaction).

    Elsewhere the study uncovered the fact that very few people smoke more than one pack a day, with the average at about 12 (but that’s my recollection – just can’t find the sodding graph).

    So it seems to me that a fairly high percentage of smokers in the UK probably don’t give a damn about restrictions – and people who only puff once or twice a week, probably don’t even care about price increases.

    To my mind that explains why TC has seemed to be so successful – and I’d be inclined to think it explains why there’s been such a dramatic reduction in the number of “smokers”, yet no corresponding reduction in the number of cigarettes sold. Yes the numbers have gone down, but nowhere near the figure I’d expect for the reduction TC claim of 40% to 19%.

    So we’re really talking to a fairly hard core number of people who smoke a pack or more each day.

    The rest, the 5 fags or less a day are least likely to want to get involved in anything.

  4. smokingscot says:

    Re Trump.

    For what it’s worth, I do genuinely believe Trump was sick fed up with the American Administration and felt he would make a far better job of it than Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton – oh and all the rest of the hopefuls.

    I honestly believe he wants to “Make America Great Again”.

    His vision is workable, perhaps not that easy for everyone to grasp, but it is workable. His problem is that to make this happen then an enormous amount of unproductive dead wood needs to be removed. Unfortunately these are not inanimate objects, they’re entire departments within government – and they’ll oppose him every step of the way.

    It’s a very similar situation as we have with Brexit.

    Trump’s problem – certainly the way I see it – is many of his supporters want to remain anonymous, while others do not have internet access. He pulls them in big time when he’s out on the stump, but they (his natural audience) simply do not bother fighting in his corner on the comments section of “classy” newspapers.

    “I think Trump must’ve been hit very, very hard by something, a long time ago. And I have no idea what hit him.”

    Incompetence and waste may be some of many things that motivated him, for which I am truly thankful.

  5. Pingback: Se Deus Quiser | Frank Davis

  6. margo says:

    For me, the anti-smoking campaign has destroyed social life, travelling and holidays, but the part that makes me most angry is the ever-increasing cost. Over the years it’s driven me down through the brands, onto rollies, and now I’m looking for a smuggler. I think we should focus our fight on the terribly unfair taxation.

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