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.)