Perhaps it’s because I build orbital simulation models in which planets and asteroids go round and round, or because I’m currently thinking about repetitive ice ages, but I tend to see everything as a cyclical process of change rather than something frozen in one state, or going forever in one direction.
And I think about human affairs in the same way, if only because we humans are caught up in cycles of of day and night, and of summer and winter. And we react to nightfall by falling asleep, and to daybreak by waking up, and to winter by putting on more clothes, and to summer by taking them off again. Even something as simple as hammering a nail into a piece of wood is a cyclical process of raising the hammer and then bringing it down sharply onto the head of the nail. Stirring a cup of tea entails moving a spoon round and round in the cup. Even smoking is a cyclical process of raising and lowering the pipe or cigar or cigarette to the lips. All our habits and customs are cyclical processes. The habitual is the cyclical.
So also with smoking and smoking bans. These also are cyclical processes. We recently passed the centenary of the end of WW1, and WW1 and WW2 were the occasion when the prevalence of smoking greatly increased, probably because soldiers are placed under considerable stress, and smoking relieves stress. But this upsurge in smoking prevalence generated its own reaction. The antismoking movement was a unsurprising response to an excess of smoking, And so after a century during which smoking prevalence first rose and then fell, we have seen a century in which antismoking prevalence has also risen in response to smoking prevalence. So if peak smoking prevalence in the West was in about 1960, peak antismoking prevalence seems to have been reached circa 2010.
But because this is a cyclical process, we’re now seeing the start of a third wave which is an inevitable gathering reaction to the current excessively high prevalence of antismoking. I am myself part of that gathering third wave, which I expect to bring a new peak in smoking prevalence sometime around 2060, a little too late for me to enjoy.
And that’s why I’m an optimist. I’m an optimist because I see everything as cyclical. If you’re in a trough right now, all you need do is wait for the next wave. And the waves come with monotonous regularity. By contrast pessimists (and a great many of my readers seem to be pessimists) believe that the current high tide of antismoking will never ebb away, and things will just get worse and worse and worse for smokers. They’re like lost lovers who think that they’ll never fall in love again, ever. Theirs is a world in which time has stopped.
But nothing works that way. The wheel of fortune is always spinning, even if it spins very slowly. Nothing is forever. Time never stops.
The same cyclical processes are at work in politics. Empires rise, and empires fall. And the current new European empire of the EU is just one in a long succession of empires. It’s an empire that has gradually expanded over a period of about 60 years, but is now beginning to show signs of incipient disintegration (e.g. Brexit). One hundred years ago, Europe was also at the peak of empire, and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914 marked the point when its catastrophic disintegration began. The principal task of European politicians is now not so much to further expand the empire, but to prevent it from disintegrating, and from disintegrating suddenly and catastrophically.
The same cyclicity is found in religion, as beliefs wax and wane. After 2000 years of Christian belief, we’re now living in a period of disbelief. But this is just where we all our in the current belief cycle. Because disbelief always follows belief, and belief always follows disbelief. It’s just that what we believe at any one time isn’t the same as what we believed in a former time.
The antismokers have now become as oppressive as smokers ever were, particularly now when there are armies of public health activists set upon banning alcohol, sugar, salt, fast food, obesity, and so on. Even people who don’t smoke are beginning to get thoroughly sick of all these nannying tyrants. Reaction is inevitable. And it will be reaction on a global scale to what has been a global assault on the customs and habits of millions upon millions of people. And the longer that inevitable reaction is delayed, the more explosive it is likely to be.