I’m always puzzled that, in the public discourse of important matters, nobody ever mentions smoking bans. It’s not just that they never get mentioned on BBC or ITV or Channel 4, but they never get mentioned by anyone else either. Alex Jones doesn’t talk about smoking bans. Michael Savage doesn’t talk about smoking bans. Jordan Peterson never talks about smoking bans. Thomas Sowell doesn’t talk about smoking bans. Victor Davis Hanson doesn’t talk about smoking bans. Roger Scruton doesn’t talk about smoking bans. The list goes on and on and on. Nobody talks about them.
There are of course occasional exceptions. Nigel Farage has campaigned against smoking bans, most notably in Stony Stratford. But he has very little to say about them. I’ve never seen him talk at length about them in the same way that he will speak at great length about the EU or Brexit and the like.
But I wake up every day thinking about smoking bans. For to me the UK public smoking ban of 1 July 2007 was, I now think, the most significant event in my life. It was the day on which I was “exiled to the outdoors”, the day on which I was expelled from society. So I’m always trying to explore that deep injury, like probing a bullet hole in my chest with a finger.
And yesterday, by chance, I was watching a documentary about Ludwig Wittgenstein (a philosopher in whom I’m not much interested), at the end of which the last words in his Tractatus were shown:
“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”
And, recalling these words this morning, I thought that they might explain why nobody talks about smoking bans: they can’t speak about them, and so perforce they remain silent.
It’s my opinion that the mounting wave of populism in Europe is driven in part by resentful smokers from all over Europe, because there are now smoking bans nearly everywhere in Europe. But none of the populists ever say this, even if their leaders are very often smokers (Farage, Le Pen, Salvini). They invariably talk about something else instead.
So the cause of the French Gilets Jaunes protests is given as fuel tax hikes by Emmanuel Macron’s government. Is that really all it is? The Gilets Jaunes seem to all share a deep hatred of Macron himself. Why is that? They say he is “arrogant.” But is mere arrogance sufficient cause to wish to overthrow him? Might it not also be that Macron happens to be a virulent antismoker who is trying to make the French people stop smoking? Might that not be a small part of French animosity against him?
If you cut my finger, I can show you the blood trickling down it. If you rob me, I can show you my empty wallet. But to what can I point when you expel me from society? For the deepest injuries are the least apparent: there’s no bullet hole. So the Gilets Jaunes instead point to what is visible: the fuel taxes and Macron’s arrogance. They leave out all the invisible injuries they have suffered, because they have no words to describe them.
In this era of smoking bans, what smokers suffer is something inexpressible. And that’s why they never talk about it. Or that’s why they fall silent whenever smoking bans get mentioned. And why smoking bans are unmentionable.
And we leave it to musicians and singers to try to express the inexpressible. They alone can sing about heartbreak and loneliness and desire.
Nobody may talk about them, but I think that the smoking bans that have swept the world, exiling smokers to the outdoor nearly everywhere, will yet prove to have been a social and political catastrophe of the first magnitude. It will be an apocalypse: the unmentionable and unspeakable smoking bans may for now be something hidden from sight, but they will in time break surface, and get talked about, like some shipwreck whose treasures are eventually recovered.
In the mean time, I will continue to wake every day thinking about smoking bans, and will continue trying to put into words just what it is about them that is so terrible, and will continue to fail to ever manage to do that, for reasons that Wittgenstein perhaps saw.