Brendan O’Neil, writing in Spiked about the populist revolt:
Leftist observers, when they can bring themselves to confront the revolting moment, have tried to reduce the populist uprising to a cry for help by the ‘left behind’.
Implicit in that idea of ‘left behind’ there is one of ‘progress’, and perhaps inevitable progress, in some direction or other.
And smoking bans are seen as ‘progressive’ in this sense. The future, we are told, is going to be smoke-free. And also fat-free and salt-free and sugar-free.
If that’s the future, I want no part of it. I would rather be ‘left behind’. That’s not ‘a cry for help’ on my part: it’s a ‘fuck off the lot of you’.
In Barcelona some 10 or 15 years ago, I used to spend the days wandering from bar to cafe to restaurant, buying coffees and beers, sitting and smoking, inside and out, going nowhere in particular. I ended up surveying the area where I was staying, to discover every single one of them.
Back then there were only a handful of non-smoking cafes. They were all hyper-modern, bland, anodyne, and clean. I went into one by accident, and asked for an ashtray to accompany my coffee, and was met with a shocked look, and a finger pointed to a discreet No Smoking sign. I drank my coffee rapidly, and left.
The non-smoking bars were usually empty or near-empty. But there were plenty of other bars with ashtrays on the tables. And some of them were tiny. These ones had one little room with a counter and display cabinet, and very often only one or two tables inside, and one or two outside. And very often the single inside table was surrounded by people talking animatedly to each other. I used to wonder how a cafe could survive with just a couple of tables, and in retrospect I’ve thought that perhaps these tiny cafes were actually the front parlours of the owners’ homes, and they kept an open house into which anyone could enter, and the people talking animatedly around the tables were their own families and next door neighbours.
And some of the other bars were equally homely, with an assortment of old wooden tables and chairs, uneven stone floors strewn with rugs, paintings rather than posters on the walls, and even bookcases filled with old books.
The old bars were warm and homely and personal. The modern, ‘progressive’, non-smoking bars were all coldly impersonal. ‘Progress’ these days (and perhaps for the past century) seems to always be away from the personal and towards the impersonal, away from warmth and towards cold, away from the heartfelt and towards the heartless.
Smoking is something as personal as conversation. Antismokers don’t want to inhale other people’s smoke. They also don’t want to listen to their conversation. Or smell their perfume. All these things are intrusions. They would prefer it if there was nobody else at all in the cafes they frequent. They don’t like other people, and they don’t want to be with them.
The EU is another bland, impersonal political edifice managed by bland, interchangeable bureaucrats. National identity is regarded as another kind of personal intrusion, much like smoking or talking. ‘Progressive’ Europe is denationalised, depersonalised Europe, in which everyone is the same, and every place is the same, and where one size fits all.
It’s the same with the attempt to eradicate personal sexual identity. We are to be no longer allowed to be men and women, but must blend into a transgendered uniformity.
Smoking bans are heartless and cruel. But antismokers are heartless and cruel people, or else they are people who believe that smoking bans are a necessary part of ‘progress’ towards a general condition of bland, impersonal unobtrusiveness.
The growing modern revolt is a revolt of the personal against the impersonal, the colourful against the colourless, warmth against coldness. And maybe one day the current idea of ‘progress’ towards bland uniformity will be seen as no kind of genuine progress at all, and a ‘progress’ that was never worth having.