Antismoking Snobs

Still thinking about the antismoking mindset that antismokers like Ronald Bayer  reveal:

In 1939 Norbert Elias published The Civilizing Process ,  a history of manners in which he sought to explain how acceptable behavior becomes revolting. Drawing on Elias’s classic study, in 1993 Robert Kagan and Jerome Skolnick noted that “smoking has not yet, like blowing one’s nose in one’s hand, or spitting, or eating with the fingers, been stigmatized as ‘disgusting.’”  Since then, however, the increasing segregation of smokers has conveyed the message that, as Kagan and Skolnick put it, smoking is now viewed as “so harmful that it defiles others.”

What’s “revolting” or “disgusting” about eating with fingers? People do it all the time, when they eat a bar of chocolate or a slice of cake or pizza. Same if they eat a hot dog or a beefburger or a sandwich. Are we supposed to eat Mars bars with knives and forks?

If people don’t eat all food with their fingers, but instead employ knives and forks and spoons, it’s because these implements are useful food-manipulation tools, not essentially different from the tools employed by a carpenter. These tools can do things that fingers can’t do. A spoon allows people to pick up liquids that are not easily cupped in hand. A knife allows people to cut large pieces of food into smaller, bite-sized pieces. And a fork allows people to pick up solid pieces of food, or pinion it against a plate while cutting it up with a knife. These tools have entirely practical purposes, just like a carpenter’s hammers and saws and drills.

Another reason for using cutlery is because very often foods are hot, and using these tools protects delicate fingers.

A third reason for using cutlery is to prevent fingers from getting covered in gravies, sauces, and other liquids, and then being transferred onto other things, like books or computer keyboards. If you’re going to eat with your fingers, you’ll need to wash your hands the moment you finish eating. And also, you’ll need to wash your hands before you start eating, in order to prevent anything that’s on your hands (sawdust, oil, grease, ink) being transferred onto the food.

There are also hygienic considerations. One reason that people eat off separate plates is to ensure that saliva is not transferred from one person to another through shared food. That may also be why people eat at separate tables.

It’s not “good manners”: it’s highly practical.

There may be other highly practical considerations. But to regard eating with fingers as “revolting” and “disgusting” is to pass beyond practical considerations into making aesthetic or moral judgments.

Perhaps this is what underlies the abhorrence by some people for “fast food” or “junk food”? The disapproval is not perhaps for the food itself (which is perfectly good food), but for the way it’s eaten held in hand or fingers (beefburgers, hotdogs, sandwiches, chips, chocolates), and where it’s eaten: openly, casually, and very often out in the street. Eating in this way is regarded as “ill-mannered” or “improper.” The war on “fast food” and “junk food” is as much a cultural war as the war on smoking.

Perhaps what happens in this case is that the highly practical considerations that underlie eating using cutlery become forgotten, and eating with cutlery simply becomes what customarily “is done”, and doing anything else becomes something rather shocking and disturbing, because it is “not done.” And at the same time it becomes impossible to explain why it is “not done”, because the reasons why it is “not done” have been forgotten, and may never have been known in the first place. Things are “not done” because they are “not done.”

And this is what seems to have happened with antismokers like Bayer. Smoking is something that is “not done”, in the exact same way that eating with fingers is “not done”, and it’s something that is as shocking to see as a naked body on a nudist beach. It’s perceived as “revolting” or “disgusting.” And children cannot be allowed to see it. But it’s really only shocking because it’s “not done.” And it’s disapproved because it’s shocking. And it’s not done because it’s disapproved, in what gradually turns into a circular process of reasoning. And with the disapproval comes a sense of moral superiority.

The disapproval that antismokers have for smokers is also a form of snobbery. Snobbish antismokers regard themselves as morally superior to lowly, uneducated, stupid smokers.

(Veering off topic, I think that the hatred and contempt that a lot of people have for Donald Trump also grows from pure snobbery. The Trump haters see the rise of Donald Trump as an inversion of the social order, and Trump as ‘trailer trash’ that has somehow got into the White House. But they are never able to explain what exactly is so awful about him.)

About Frank Davis

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12 Responses to Antismoking Snobs

  1. Timothy Goodacre says:

    How wrong these antismokers are. Most smokers i know are intelligent and erudite.

  2. Algernon Struthers says:

    Not use one’s hands?! But contrarily there’s talk in London of banning knives, even forks. Well, someone was arrested in Scotland for possession of a potato peeler, so we’ll have no option but hands. Hands are obviously the problem, so that straitjackets should be mandatory, in London at least, which moves the problem to its logical conclusion.
    Advice to older boys from an old annual, I forget it’s name, warned that smoking could lead utter ruination, and it was worse than the curse of masturbation, the latter word only alluded to.
    Hands again!
    I’m not really being flippant, it’s just that the half-wit experts haven’t yet considered the limiting of hands, perhaps by licence. Sadly it’s not beyond belief, it’s just another possible probability in the insanity of human progress.
    Thanks again Frank, for another thoughtful essay.
    Time for a smoke!

  3. beobrigitte says:

    The disapproval that antismokers have for smokers is also a form of snobbery. Snobbish antismokers regard themselves as morally superior to lowly, uneducated, stupid smokers.
    What qualifies the anti-smokers to arrogantly judge people?
    Most anti-smokers I have come across are not particularly well educated. But then, as they are not actively engaged in anti-smoker activities, I concluded that these people are just blind followers of whatever is the latest fashion.
    Some people have questions, others have not.

    • Smoking Lamp says:

      The majority of antismoking sentiment is the direct result of relentless propaganda. Therefore the key to overturning the situation is to expose the lies that serve as the foundation for antismoking sentiment.

  4. Joe L. says:

    Yes, Frank, this is purely a cultural war. It’s not about “health” and never has been. The “eating with one’s fingers” comparison cited by Bayer makes the Antismokers’ intentions clear.

    It is the same, self-righteous, elitist, holier-than-thou attitude that is shared among all these authoritarians. It is snobbery taken to the extreme. These “snobs” aren’t satisfied with looking down their noses and scoff at those they disapprove of; they feel the need to denormalize and shame the “unwashed masses” into conforming to their ideas of “acceptable” or “proper” behavior.

  5. slugbop007 says:

    I just read parts of the Quebec government’s anti-tobacco legislation. It’s at least 10 ten pages long. I don’t think even the Nazis were as thorough and brutal. Scares the hell out of me how totalitarian it is in its scope. I doubt that most people would bother reading it, but they should just for its sheer nastiness and precursor of the shape of things to come if we don’t stop these fanatics.


  6. slugbop007 says:

    They are worse than snobs, they are dangerous, neurotic, social engineering freaks.


  7. slugbop007 says:

    I just pasted over a Quebec 9 meter law yesterday at the side of the federation of Quebec unions building across the street from where I live. I wrote, in French: Loi absurde, concu par les gens débiles. In English, it roughly translates to: Absurd Law, conceived by imbeciles.


  8. Dr Evil says:

    Interesting points. If I am eating fish and chips al fresco I usually use my fingers. Right hand to eat with and left to hold the fish and chips (no mushy peas of course as it is not finger food). Tastes much better under the stars. It’s an art eating with your fingers as many folk living in the Indian sub continent will tell you. Going back to cutlery, the fork was introduced by the Italians but most Europeans thought it the work of Lucifer as it resembled a devil’s pitchfork. How things change from devilish to etiquette in knowing which is the correct item to use to eat your different courses. And courses of course in sequence is down to the Russians. Everyone else had them all at the same time. We are a strange lot when it comes to food.

    • smokingscot says:

      Good point. In fact there are several cultures where eating with your hands is the norm. Africa, including North Africa, the Yemen – and amongst the Bedouin throughout Arabia. Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. All the First Nation people in Aus, NZ plus North and South America.

      And we embrace sandwiches, wraps and kebabs.

      So bad example by Elias or confirmation of his intended audience, the less well travelled aspiring to his values.

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