A few days ago I got an email invitation from the Academy of Ideas. It said:
The Battle of Ideas is a weekend of lively debate and discussion on today’s most pressing political, cultural and artistic issues. The weekend will tackle tough contemporary questions through wide-ranging, thought-provoking and wonderfully argumentative debate.
An antidote to today’s climate of offence taking, the festival slogan is: FREE SPEECH ALLOWED.
A list of speakers/contributors was appended, some of whom I’d heard of (David Starkey, Brendan O’Neill, Frank Furedi), most of whom I hadn’t.
I won’t be attending. I won’t be attending because I won’t be welcome. I won’t be welcome on the train to London. And I won’t be welcome in any London hotel. And I won’t be welcome at the Barbican, where the event is being held on 2 – 3 November. And finally, when they all get talking about “today’s most pressing political, cultural and artistic issues”, the one pressing issue they won’t be talking about is smoking bans. Because none of these people ever do. It’s not a welcome subject of discussion. Smokers aren’t welcome anywhere.
It’s one reason why I lose interest in today’s public intellectuals: None of them ever talk about smoking bans.
But yesterday I came across a public intellectual who – gasp! – actually did mention smoking bans. He was Charles Murray, author of the Bell Curve and a number of other books, in conversation back in 2012 with Ronald Bailey:
RB: So they do know how the other half should live. Is that correct?
CM: Yeah, but they shouldn’t be able to make laws. By the way they’re not making laws saying that people have to work and people have to get married. They are talking about making laws about what they should eat, so they aren’t as fat as they are. They have all sorts of things – smoking, of course, being the obvious example – of going way beyond protecting people from secondhand smoke and instead sort of trying to enforce that dictum about how people ought to live their lives. There are all sorts of ways in which they are regulating the life out of all kinds of occupations, which prevents people from living their lives as they see fit. The people at the top are not doing a bad job of living their own lives. What I don’t want is to give them the power to decide how everybody else should. I would like them to say more openly that we think the way we’re behaving is a good way to live. Say it as a cultural statement of what they consider to be right and wrong. Don’t use the power of the state to try to enforce what your opinions are.
And Brendan O’Neill, one of the participants in the Battle of Ideas, in fact wrote in 2017 about smoking bans:
I hate the smoking ban. I hate what it has done to this nation. It has ripped out its soul. It has sterilised it, sanitised it, turned this country of the raucous public house and yellowed fingers wrapped lovingly around glistening, gold pints into one massive gastro hangout in which everything is clean and child-friendly and boring.
I’ve been reading stuff by Brendan O’Neill for years, on and off. I can’t remember him ever mentioning smoking bans before. But it seems that once in a blue moon he does mention them.