The Invisible Growing Backlash

Today is Brexit day. It’s the end of the 3½ years of agony that followed from the 2016 EU Referendum. I won’t be celebrating. I’ll just be relieved that it’s over, just like hospital patients feel relieved when they recover from some long illness. Britain is becoming an independent country again.

I used to be a Guardian reader, back in the 1970s. I started reading it when the Times stopped being published because of a strike. Back then it was a broadsheet newspaper with about 20 pages, and no supplements. You could easily fold it under your arm. I bought a copy most days.

I stopped reading it about 10 years later. And I stopped reading it because it started having multiple added supplements, each one of which had as many pages as the main newspaper, if not more. There was no way it could be folded under an arm. It really needed its own briefcase. I had no interest in the steadily multiplying numbers of supplements – education supplements, travel supplements, local government supplements -, and so one day I stopped buying it, and started reading the Independent instead, which at that time was a simple broadsheet newspaper like the Guardian had once been.

I read newspapers not for the news, but for the opinions. I like to know what people are thinking. I might not agree with their opinions, but I’m always interested.

And yesterday I came across an opinion piece in the Guardian – The ‘anti-woke’ backlash is no joke – and progressives are going to lose if they don’t wise up – by Ellie Mae O’Hagan. Perhaps I was once a progressive, but I’m not a progressive any more. I don’t think that the direction that the progressives are going is actually any real progress. I don’t think the world they want will be any better than our current one. In fact I think it will be a lot worse.

The progressive tendency to regard “anti-woke” crusaders as aberrations is a hangover from the liberal consensus established in the late 90s. New Labour’s landslide victory in 1997 didn’t signal just a change in government, but an ostensible change in our nation’s culture. Exhausted and demoralised by the polarising Thatcher years, British people were apparently ready for a more liberal and tolerant era.

The new received wisdom dictated that women and LGBT+ people were equal (sort of), and racism was to be condemned (unless you were a Muslim). The reason liberals still believe this consensus holds is that the politics New Labour ushered in was so dominant and all-encompassing that almost every opinion that existed outside of it was dismissed as the view of cranks.

The most salient example of this is the Conservative party, which under the leadership of David Cameron recognised it would have to lean in to socially liberal values in order to gain a hearing. The culmination of this was that the Tories – historically the party of homophobic legislation – would eventually outflank New Labour by overseeing the introduction of equal marriage. In 2006, the Conservative and Blair critic Matthew Parris conceded in the Times: “Britain is a nicer place than when [Blair] entered Downing Street. Something tolerant, something amiable…has left its mark upon the country.

I highlight several passages because they demonstrate how progressives regard themselves: as “nice”, “tolerant”, “liberal”, and “amiable”. In this view, New Labour was the Nice Party, and Thatcher’s Conservatives were the Nasty Party.

I would probably have agreed with this summary up until 1 July 2007. But on that day the world turned upside down. For there was nothing “nice”, “tolerant”, “liberal”, or “amiable” about the UK public smoking ban that came into force that day. It was a thoroughly nasty, authoritarian, bullying, exclusionary, and mean-spirited piece of legislation. And yet it was the work of the “progressive” Labour and Lib Dem parties. Most of the “nasty” Conservatives in Parliament voted against it. And that was when the Nice Party started to look nasty, and the Nasty Party started to look nice.

And the progressive author of the Guardian opinion piece realises that the tide has turned against the progressive Blairite consensus, and that a new “potent political movement” has emerged.

…but as the tide of 90s social liberalism has ebbed, it has also revealed another group of people (primarily older, white homeowners and pensioners) who had never bought into the consensus in the first place, and are aggressively hostile to its newer, more radical iteration.

She’s talking about me: I’m 71 years old. I’m white. I’m a homeowner. And I’m a pensioner. And I never bought into the progressive consensus. And I’m also aggressively hostile to it.

They are the people that have enabled Brexit and Donald Trump to succeed

Yup. That’s me. I’m one of the 17.41 million. And if I’d had a US vote, I’d have voted for Donald Trump.

She understands that the tide has turned against progressives like her. But she doesn’t understand why. She seems to think that people like me have turned against her because we’re old, white, homeowning pensioners. But it’s got nothing to do with that. But for the multiple supplements, I’d probably still be a Guardian reader today.

Ellie Mae O’Hagan simply doesn’t understand that what happened on 1 July 2007 changed everything. She probably doesn’t smoke, and so she probably didn’t even notice what happened that day. But for 13 million British smokers, that was the day when they were “exiled to the outdoors”, comprehensively expelled from society, and became (and remained) exiles in their own country. But nothing like this ever happened to her. She has no idea what it’s like to have such a terrible thing done to her. You have to experience it for yourself to know the multiple impacts it has.

Smokers in Scotland and Ireland and Holland and France and Spain and Italy (and pretty much everywhere else in the world) have all shared this same nasty experience, to a greater or lesser degree. And you don’t really need to refer to “national populism” to explain why Europeans are turning against the EU, and nation states everywhere are turning against progressive globalism. All you need do is point to the hundreds of millions of smokers who have been expelled from society, almost everywhere in the world. They might not be the only people in revolt against top-down-controlling, authoritarian, one-size-fits-all globalisation, but they will most certainly make up a few legions in that revolt.

But Ellie Mae O’Hagan can’t see this. And she probably never will. She probably thinks that these smoking bans were simply much-needed, long-overdue health measures, and nothing else. She probably thinks that they were a very good example of the sort of Progress that progressives like her pursue.

And if Ellie Mae O’Hagan can’t see it, then the strangest thing of all is that nobody else can see it either. They can’t see the main driving force behind “national populism.” And it’s not just progressives like her who can’t see it. Neither can most conservatives see it either. They can’t see it even if they’re smokers themselves. Steve Bannon (cigars) can’t see it. Rush Limbaugh (cigars) can’t see it. Michael Savage can’t see it. Mark Levin can’t see it. Donald Trump can’t see it either. About the only person who just might see it is the canniest and most influential man in British politics today: Nigel Farage. He’s the only politician in Britain who has stuck up for smokers, because he is one himself. But I’m not sure that even he can see that “national populism” is the growing backlash to all these smoking bans. If he could see it, wouldn’t he say so? He never does.

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25 Responses to The Invisible Growing Backlash

  1. Timothy Goodacre says:

    Ellie Mae O’Hagen hates guys like us Frank. She will be happy when we die. Only we aren’t going to die yet until we get our revenge on these nasty controlling bastards who have ruined our social life.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    In the old UKIP manifesto they were going to “review the smoking ban”. But it is not there now. I complained. I stopped being interested in them at that point.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Oh, I meant to say – nice post!

  4. beobrigitte says:

    I came to England in Thatcher times (1983). Much to my surprise, for a “nasty” party, the Tories ensured not only that I had the same opportunities as every UK citizen had, it was even prepared to instantly issue me with a UB40. (I was obsessed to have one with my name on it after acquiring the UB40 album “Signing Off”). As I had a job lined up, I signed off virtually immediately.
    I still have this UB40 in my personal treasure box.
    Would something like this have been possible 3 years ago? Would something like this be possible in 3 years time? I doubt it. The climate has become harsher, political correctness more prominent and fragmentation society continues.
    As a woman, I have ALWAYS seen and treated myself as an equal. It worked and still does work rather well for me. I am not bothered by this LBQTG or whatever called “group”; As far as I’m concerned, I can live with them around me and EXPECT they live with me (and my ashtray) around them.
    The ashtray may not be a problem for a lot of them, it is our (smokers) status in society that is. Now WE are the most persecuted group in society. I assume the same applies for staunch Christian people who experience anger when “Christmas” is replaced with “holiday” as not to offend the Muslim community.
    The list goes on. The number of disgruntled people is growing more rapid every day. A serious backlash is on the way.

    The UK today has joined the European countries with it’s first 2 cases of the corona virus. Much to my surprise they are up north – in Newcastle. (Quarantine for returning Brits is said to be “over the water” in the Wirral).

    To all those who wish to celebrate and talk Brexit all night in the SD-bar please allow me to leave before you begin. I am not sure yet if I am becoming collateral damage of Brexit and do not feel like celebrating.

  5. beobrigitte says:

    I just learned that the 6th coronavirus patient in Germany is a 5 year old. The father was in the meeting with the, then asymptomatic, Chinese woman. Two more children (ages unknown) and his wife are currently being tested.

    On an amusing note:
    I received today a number of texts bidding tearful “Bye-bye” so I did remind everyone that the British Isles are still where they were quite a number of years ago and nothing stops visiting – both ways.
    Some days are plain weird…..

  6. Clicky says:

  7. Clicky says:

  8. beobrigitte says:

    Apologies for abusing your blog right now, Frank!!!
    I am getting fed up with all German regrets forwarded about losing their English colleagues flooding in. My advice to these people is to adopt the famous English humour and continue the line. My family had this kind of humour naturally despite being German!
    We all knew Brexit was going to happen! (except Frank, of course, who doubted this until the last minute).
    I had NEVER come across this prior today, how much regarded the English as colleagues were in the Eu. I guess the anti-smokers and Brexiteers in 2016 were too busy with their own agendas (Brexiteers needing the smokers’ vote even though they have no intentions to re-integrate us into society and embrace the anti-smokers Australian/New Zealand style measures) I most certainly would have pointed this one out!!!

    Sometimes it is better to deal with the devil you know. Germany still is the anti-smokers’ mine field.

    In short, we smokers have been had – yet again. Remember Article 13. Opting out makes no difference. Biiiiig deal then?

  9. Joe L. says:

    Congratulations, Frank and all other Britons! It took 3½ ridiculous years, but it is finally official: you’re out of the EU! I understand how you feel, Frank. It took so damn long, it must feel more like a relief than a victory at this point. Not to mention, there is still a year-long “transition” phase, in which it’s likely that the EU will make the “transition” period as difficult as possible for Boris. I just hope he stands strong for his country (because it is an independent country again, after all).

    There will, of course, be an immediate knee-jerk reaction, and the British economy may briefly nosedive as some people panic (most likely the same people who panic when they see a wisp of cigarette smoke), but I believe that within 3 years, everything will have recovered and then some. This will start the other dominoes falling, and there will be a mass Exodus from the globalist EU.

    Now with those pesky, do-gooder MEPs out of the way, you have a better chance of convincing your MPs to work for their constituents and relax the smoking ban.

    Viva Britannia!

  10. beobrigitte says:

    Since I didn’t exactly feel like partying I continued trying to find my path, lubricated by a couple of beers, through the Gov.UK site.

    Those who are are fluent in Politic speak please feel free to correct me!

    (There is a kind of deal, so what next?)
    The current regulations
    Current regulations for tobacco and related products are designed to promote and protect the public’s health. We will maintain these standards if there’s a no-deal Brexit.

    Some of the UK law which regulates tobacco products and e-cigarettes currently implements EU legislation, such as the Tobacco Products Directive and Tobacco Advertising Directive. All relevant EU legislation is listed at the end of this guidance.

    So the EU laws on tobacco will remain after Brexit.

    One thing I did find out. Until 31.12.2020 people travelling can still bring “unlimited” amounts of tobacco (VAT paid in one of the EU countries) back to the UK providing it is for own use. In the case of tobacco, customs officials will have questions if this amount exceeds 1 Kg. In short, for this year it is business as usual. From 01.01.2021 it is back to Duty Free (250g overpriced tobacco/person) with the “Booze-cruisers” resuming their business.

    The 2019-nCoV epidemic is still ramping up.
    Total number of cases: 11374
    Total number of cases outside China: 153
    The site updates are twice/day. Next update roughly about 2 pm British time.

    Despite Article 13, right now Memes are flourishing in EU countries. They are just distributed differently.

  11. waltc says:

    Though they haven’t yet been kicked out of offices, schools and bars, a lot of people have been turned into pariahs (deplorables! racists!) by the progressive culture and therefore became part of the rebellion. Having turned against white people, old people, straight people, religious people, car drivers, meat eaters, tobacco smokers, and improper pronoun users, the progressives now have no one left to turn against except each other which they’re starting to do in America right now. . But my point is they’ve isolated and alienated more than just smokers

  12. slugbop007 says:

    I used to subscribe to the Guardian Weekly in the 1970s and 80s. Got it air mail from a distributor in Ontario, Canada. They had quality articles and journalists in those days. Now they are mostly agenda driven advocates of this or that cause célebre. Appalling standards. What a shame. I also bought The New Statesman in those days-the Thatcher era-as well.


  13. Philip Neal says:

    When I went to my local pub last night I was pleased and surprised to find the place decorated with Union Jacks and a modest celebration planned (the landlord is a Leaver). I must say that the Beeb excelled itself with talking heads announcing the news that we were leaving, Breaking News that we were leaving and the occasional five-second glimpse of the celebrations in Parliament Square (balanced by shots of a Remainer demonstration elsewhere). However, lots of people cheered and raised their glasses at 11.00. I also rather like reading the Guardian on days when it has had a setback and it is free online at present. No doubt the EU will try to offer us a punishment deal and the Blob will do its best to force us to take it, but for the present I am still simply gloating.

  14. jaxthefirst says:

    I do think that smoking bans have a lot more to do with the rise of populism, anti-progressive or anti-woke attitudes, or whatever the description is for the current social direction, as described in this article, but I don’t think that many people realise it, simply because they don’t smoke and therefore the timing of the sudden downturn in tolerance and reasonability and the correlating sudden increase in intolerance and self-centred, “me, me, me” attitudes has simply passed them by. The trouble with smoking bans is that that they facilitate the idea of the acceptability of State enforcement, favouritism, heavy-handed action and a lack of the need for a societal sense of compromise. They eat away at the live-and-let-live attitude which most modern societies have developed and nurtured over the last 100-odd years and replace it with a new moral code which is no less disapproving and intolerant than the old one – it’s just that the target groups have changed.

    Smoking bans are in many ways “greater than the sum of their parts,” in that on the surface they are just about smoking and nothing else – no-one else, after all, has (yet) been “exiled to the outdoors” and no-one else is (yet) expected, as a guest, by their hosts to leave the room to do anything apart from smoke. But they’re a sort of litmus test for the level of reasonability and tolerance and kindness of any society. It seems that once a smoking ban is in, it’s open house for anyone else with a pet hate to start demanding that that, too, is banned, restricted or taxed. There’s a sort of “Why should it only be anti-smokers who get their way? Why can’t we anti-[insert pet hate]-ers get our way, too?” And that attitude is a bit like an illness – it spreads fast and affects different people in different ways because, of course, we all have our pet hates and we all have things that we would rather we didn’t have to put up with in others.

    I think it’s deeply subconscious and because of that, most people aren’t aware of how strongly smoking bans affect them if they aren’t smokers. But they do affect them, albeit in a subtle and indirect way, by sending out a very strong signal from The Authorities to The Public which effectively says that it’s OK to dislike people just because they’re different from you, and it’s OK to say terrible things to those people and to do unpleasant, rude things to them that you wouldn’t dream of saying or doing to anyone else. Which, in its bare-bones form, is effectively saying that’s it’s OK to be prejudiced – as long as it isn’t directed towards any of the powers-that-be’s current “favourites.” The problem is that, inevitably, once emboldened, people even start to dare to express their dislike or disapproval of those very “favourites,” too – as is now happening, as this article cites. That’s just the way these things go. The ironic thing is that those “in charge” didn’t see this coming. If they had, then they wouldn’t have been foolish enough to give The Prejudiced their opportunity by starting the ball rolling with smoking bans!

    So, smoking bans may not initiate intolerance and prejudice, because intolerance and prejudice is probably always there, lurking in the background, but what they do do is give those attitudes enough respectability, through legislation, for people to feel sufficiently emboldened to express them. In short, smoking bans, by legitimising one form of prejudice, inevitably pave the way for a raft of others to make their voices heard and for the people holding those prejudices to demand that those voices be listened to, and acted upon, by those in power. Which is what makes smoking bans far more dangerous to society as a whole than a smoky room down at your local pub or club ever was. Ultimately, the moral, spiritual and social harm caused by smoking bans and the message that they send out is far, far greater than any of the over-hyped physical harms of cigarette smoke could ever dream of being. Prejudice is like a pushy salesman – let it get just one foot in the door and before you know it you’ll end up with the whole kit and caboodle in your front room! Politicians the world over should stop virtue-signalling and take note …..

    • beobrigitte says:

      A wonderful read with my cup of coffee this morning!

      Prejudice is like a pushy salesman – let it get just one foot in the door and before you know it you’ll end up with the whole kit and caboodle in your front room! Politicians the world over should stop virtue-signalling and take note …..
      Politicians the world over have had the whole kit and caboodle in their front rooms for quite a number of years and have not taken note, nor will they.
      (Just one example: Assured by the salesmen, whole kit and caboodle, that a remain vote is virtually guaranteed, Cameron did not implement the 60% majority rule and minimum of 75% voter turn-out less than 3 years ago.)
      Until politicians the world over clear their front rooms there is no end of convenient virtue-signalling and prejudice in sight.
      We have to ride this one out, too.

      • Rose says:

        Brigitte, but now at least, WE do have control of those politicians and they have to be a lot more careful about followiing fads and fashions, because if we don’t like what they do we can get rid of them and the laws they create affect only us.

  15. Elizabeth says:

    Smashing comment Jax!

    • Rose says:

      Certainly was, I do hope we go back to Common Law, you knew where you were with that.
      Common Law made common sense and you could hazard a good guess what the law was.

  16. Fumo ergo sum says:

    I just returned from the emergency room after reading your comment, Jax, having my head completely covered in bandages now. You just hit the nail on the head… but it hammered right into my face, ouch!… :-)

    I completely agree with what you wrote. For me the smoking ban isn’t just about the mere prohibition of smoking – actually, that’s even the very least of my concerns – but the whole political and ideological framework based on lies, threats, menaces, linguistic manipulation (all the sudden they invented “public spaces” out of thin smoke-free air…), hatred and surveillance that underlies it. An ideological framework that once it comes into force, carved into stone through legislation, will ultimately lead to the disintegration of social cohesion, a total implosion of the rule of law and finally an unleashing of an Hobbesian war of all against all, backed up by the state. These are good reasons indeed to fear the smoking ban way more than a whiff of cigarette smoke or a particle of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere…

    I therefore also agree that by imposing smoking bans upon everybody and everything, one has just opened the main gate for evil to enter, which is the idea that one could use humanity as a mere means to a further end instead of an end in itself. But the fundamental question is whether evil is really ‘willed’ to exist? I do not think so, because asserting this, would mean that evil has some kind of ontological status of being, which it has not. You posed the (I assume rhetorical) question “Why can’t we anti-[insert pet hate]-ers get our way, too?” But to be against something – for instance, smoking or racism or sexism – is actually the negatively stated corollary of an affirmative pro-attitude. Being against smoking, then, is to be FOR something, such as physical health. Even though I would completely disagree that mere physical health is something valuable in itself (it only has instrumental value), it cannot be denied that on the part of the one who judges it to be something valuable, it is actually – prima facie – good. So even the one who wants to have all the things he dislikes banned from the world, does want it to be so because of something good – namely the improvement of his own subjective wellbeing.

    Now there are of course a number of serious problems with such a subjectivist approach towards values and goodness. I will mention two. Firstly, the conception of the thing that is conceived to embody goodness may be inadequate. For instance, the one who takes ‘physical health’ to exemplify ‘the good’ will be in need to explain what ‘physical health’ actually means. Is it the mere lack of any physical illness – including even an itch or a light toothache – and if so, how does it relate to a broader conception of ‘health’ that does also include mental states of wellbeing that cannot me measured? If so, isn’t it rather ‘wellbeing’ or even ‘happiness’ that we are after instead of physical health? Secondly, a subjectivist account of value would flatly deny that there are is any real connection between ends and means: the subjectivist wants his desires to be instantaneously satisfied no matter the cost. However, if one wants the end, one necessarily also wants the means to accomplish those ends. But are those means appropriate, efficient and justifiable? This is a fundamental question that must be carefully analysed as well. If the means cannot be justified, then the end cannot be justified either. And this is where evil starts creeping in, because if one pursues the end without good means, the good ultimately turns into evil.

    That is why the current tides of progressivism are bound to fail. By denying or downplaying the metaphysical principle of parts and wholes, those who conceive of society as a macroscopic the-winner-takes-it-all game will find themselves caught up in a performative contradiction. Suppose that person A wants his ends to be fulfilled by enforcing person B to do an action, or to refrain from doing certain actions. Then person B has en equal ‘right’ (or power, to use a more adequate term) to enforce person A to refrain from doing a certain action, or to compel him to do a certain action on his behalf. But in the end, the situation would be such that everyone has a right in others to compel them to do or not do to certain things; and a reciprocal duty to do certain things or not to do certain things. But this would be equivalent to saying that actually no one has a right nor a duty to one another. Hence the performative contradiction: in such a situation, doing something would actually require a universal consent to be allowed to do what you intended to do. And this is of course impossible, because when would such a universal consensus ever be attained? We are then kindly reminded of the noble and prophetic words of the French economist Frédéric Bastiat (1801 – 1850): “L’Etat, c’est la grande fiction par laquelle tout le monde s’efforce de vivre aux dépens de tout le monde.” (“The State is the great fiction by which everybody seeks to live at the expense of everybody.”)

    Antismoking legislation did not make it so blatantly obvious that we are heading toward this utmost grim and dystopian future of a communist ‘universal consensus’. It was, after all, probably just the second battle in an escalating war against humanity. I say the second, because the first ‘battle’ has been targeted against drugs – and still not won despite the large costs, the human suffering involved and the injustice inflicted. Nevertheless, even the battle against tobacco has just been directed against what appeared to be a mere, albeit large, minority. This probably explains why so many non-smokers did not notice that the smoking ban effectively DID affect them – yes, even if they haven’t seen a cigarette, cigar or pipe from close in their entire life. They were, after all, not on the menu of the bastards in charge. What they did not notice is that a tyrant’s appetite will never be satiated. Indeed, after having devoured some hundreds of millions of smokers for dinner, the tyrant might still fancy a little dessert to fill in some empty spaces in his stomach. Hence the restyling of progressivism into a whole series of new brands such as climate alarmism, LGBT-and-some-pluses-and-minuses-activism, gender fluidism, woke culture, and I do not know what they will invent next. But if these, often even competing and mutually excluding, agendas are being put through, then virtually everybody and anybody will find himself ‘on the menu’ after all. Fortunately, at least some people are finally getting awakened instead of woke, and finally fully realizing the real dangers of this contemporary progressivist fanaticism. When a celebrity such as Ricky Gervais recently roasted this whole moralistic, pedantic woke cult fashionable in Hollywood at the Golden Globes Awards, this may have been one of the first death bells ringing for progressivism. I cannot wait for that bell to evolve into a beautiful carillon.

    • Rose says:

      “Your Evil is my Good” – Dracula

    • jaxthefirst says:

      Sorry about the head, Fumo. Not intentional, I promise!! Great comment, though, despite the headache! Very deep stuff, and all very pertinent – where does all this end, one wonders? We are, after all, already seeing quite a few of the currently “favoured” groups turning on one another in their rush to get Gold in the Victimhood Olympics. There are now openly racist women; openly sexist ethnic minorities (and not just the usual suspects, either); different generational groups happily expressing sweeping ageist opinions about anyone not of their own age; LGBTQ people who will happily attack each other if any one of the L or G or B or T or Q people strays from the narrative in even the most minor detail – even if those people are female, or from an ethnic minority, or very old, or very young, or disabled. It’s almost like a battle is going on between all the Protected Groups to try and show that “their” group is harder-done-by than all the others!

      And of course all of them happily endorse the latest prejudice, against smokers, without ever seeing a trace of irony in their self-righteous, State-approved opinions. You’d think they’d know better, but far from it. It almost seems as if, having been at the sharp end and obtained hard-won rights and freedoms for themselves, they’d be able to see any new prejudice coming over the horizon quicker than anyone else, and would be eager to tackle it before it took hold, on a “we’ve been there and don’t want anyone else to suffer like we did,” but instead it seems that so often the erstwhile-persecuted, once freed from the shackles of their persecutors, seem disgustingly keen to join the ranks of the New Persecutors at the earliest opportunity. Is that really what they fought for over the years? So that they themselves could have a crack of the whip of being the Big Bullies in town? Really? Because if so – and it seems it is – then one has to wonder whether, from humankind’s perspective as a whole, it was really worth fighting for in the first place.

      • Fumo ergo sum says:

        You’re welcome, Jax. Yesterday’s headache has already been forgotten by now. What a soothing cigarette can do… :-)

        And again, you are hitting the nails on the head (I am wearing a helmet this time!). The problem with all these queer pressure and rights groups is that they may have had a noble cause to fight for, but that once the battle has been won, new goals and challenges had to be constructed in order for these groups to find an alibi to continue their battles. I do think, for instance, that in a not so distant past feminism may have served a perfectly legitimate goal, such as granting women the right to vote and the right to pursue a career. But the legitimacy of these goals was itself evaluated against the backdrop of a legal system that secured equal justice for all (or ought to do so) by granting every member of society to have an equal right to pursue his or her ends as he sees fit and, as Aristotle (who was nevertheless a misogyne) already observed, an equal share in the constitution. So justice itself was a standard against which all kinds of minority activism and hard-won rights could be judged – not the other way round.

        But it did eventually turn the other way round… Whereas a clear boundary should have been drawn once women could start to vote, African minorities could launch political movements and gays could live together without being harassed by the state; it seemed expedient for these movements to redefine the concept of right in terms of abilities instead of capacities. A capacity denotes a potential to do something. When you have a couple of tubes of oil-paint, a brush and a canvas; you have the capacity to make a painting. But the capacity itself will not make you a skilled painter. It is a potentiality that needs to be developed in function of your talents, skills and perseverance. It needs to be cultivated. Once it has been developed, the capacity turns into an ability, which is an actual skill to do something. Note that there is no metaphysically necessary causality between the notions of potentiality and actuality used here: not every potentiality will turn into an actuality, just as an acorn will not necessarily grow into an oak tree if it does not receive the required amount of sunlight. When applied on an institutional level we may then say, for instance, that having a college degree in law will give you the capacity to become a lawyer. Just as with the acorn, there is no need to assume that if you can become a lawyer, you will become a lawyer. You will have to apply for different job offers at a whole range of law firms, go to a job interview, perhaps even accomplish some tests and assessments, etc. before you will be hired and hence effectively ‘be’ a lawyer instead of still ‘becoming’ one. Only at that stage has your capacity become an effective ability.

        Legal rights are therefore essentially capacity-engendering. A right to contract with other persons gives you the capacity to, say, sell your house to someone else. Or to buy one from someone else. A right to freedom of conscience gives you the capacity to be a member of a religious community. Or of no community at all. And so on, and so forth. In all these cases, however, it remains essentially up to the acting person to develop these capacities into real abilities. Secondly, a principle of non-rivalry applies when rights are defined in terms of capacities. I may have a capacity to visit another city or even another country: this does not prevent anyone else, at least theoretically, to enjoy the very same capacity. Thirdly, there exists a hierarchy among different capacities and even abilities. Consider the example I sketched earlier about becoming a lawyer. My capacity to become one depends at least upon my having obtained a law degree. But this capacity does not come out of thin air either: it is a capacity that depends upon an underlying capacity of being able to join a university in the first place. Now there have been certain theories of social justice that considered it expedient that these higher-order capacities to ‘empower’ people to pursue certain goals be part of an institutional framework as well. An example may be John Rawls’s ‘Theory of Justice’ developed in the early 1970s, according to which a social order is conceived to be just if it is able to provide a total system of equal liberties. But these liberties were thought of to be empty formalisms if they rested unaccompanied by an equally important set of equal opportunities – which are exactly those higher-order capacities I just spoke about. On this account, it is not sufficient for a political order to guarantee, say, freedom of education just be letting people choose the school of university of their choice according to their values and life plans. It must also actively contribute to the flourishing of these educational communities through subsidies or to secure the teachers’ monthly living by subscribing those teachers to the state’s payroll. Now whereas I do not endorse these Rawlsian conceptions of social justice myself, they had at least the advantage of being theoretically compatible with the classical liberal notions of non-interference and non-rivalry. Even when a certain school or university gets subsidized, or even when education is for free, it still remains ‘up to the person’ to take up that capacity and to turn its potentiality into an actuality – into an effective ability.

        This is, I think, the problem of most of the contemporary cohorts of post-Rawlsian social justice warriors. Whereas Rawls and other 20th century advocates of the welfare state conceived a more encompassing notion of liberties and opportunities, the post-Rawlsian conceived of this as not encompassing enough. There are more ‘capacities’ – actually claim-rights in others to do certain things for them – that needed to be included in the concept of social justice. Indeed, we are now heading to the tipping point where a conception of justice based on capacities is no longer cogent: instead of defining rights in terms of capacities, it is full-fledged abilities that must be enabled. But an ability is an actuality, and if the fostering of these abilities becomes something that must be enforced, then this can only come at the cost of other people’s capacities. The principles of non-interference and non-rivalry do not apply any longer then. A good example might be laws that make positive discrimination mandatory for certain corporations. Those laws then provide a direct ability to, for instance, women or people with a migration background to enter the labour market – simply because the state makes it mandatory to hire them. But positive discrimination will always come at the expense of other people belonging to another group, or perhaps no group at all, that see their opportunities for having the same job diminished. The same applies to the shaky logic behind the smoking ban. The architects that designed the ugly smoking ban thought that in prohibiting smoking anywhere at any time and any place, they would grant non-smokers the direct ‘ability’ to enjoy all kinds of smoke-free places to go out. But in terms of capacities, this is blatant nonsense. Before the smoking ban came into force, non-smokers always have had the capacity (i.e., the legal right) to start all kinds of smoke-free businesses as they saw fit.

        This may explain why all these fashionable lobby and affirmative action groups behave so aggressively, even up to the point where they may join the ranks of the New Persecutors, as you say. It is because they now have inverted the explanatory link between (objective) rights and (subjective) abilities – defining the former in terms of the latter, instead of the other way round. ‘Right’ then becomes ‘might’ to bully, compel and force other people to do (or to refrain from doing- what you want – as I explained in my previous comment. It is then just a matter of time before those activists start persecuting their own members as well: the Revolution will ultimately devour its own children. For instance, if you know that there is a proportionally higher rate of smokers among gay people, then who gets negatively impacted most by imposing ludicrous smoking bans everywhere? Indeed, gay people of course. Yet we do not hear any protest about it from the ‘official’ LGBT community’s spokesmen, -women and -fluids. Because that may of course be no part of the official narrative…

        Take the following thought experiment. Suppose that one day there arises a smokers’ rights group that would apply the same kind of reasoning as utilized by our contemporary women’s rights groups, LGBTQ-people, etc. And that indeed, it would actually succeed in implementing its agenda on the institutional and political agenda. Then we would inhabit a world where, for instance, businesses are legally compelled to have at least 20% of their executive boards consisting of smokers. And smokers would also get subsidies to enter college and university, because they form a vulnerable minority group. In bars, clubs, restaurants, theaters and all other kinds of “public spaces”, no-smoking signs have to be removed as they are considered to be discriminatory and offensive. So it would be virtually impossible or even illegal to start an exclusive no-smoking café. Once a year, larger cities would then host and promote a large-scale ‘Smoke Parade’, involving loud techno music, colorful parade floats, cheerful crowds and, of course, lots of tobacco smoke (and vape) around. Politicians of all major political parties will be present there as well, pledging their support for the cult of the new tolerance. They will all be too eager, cigarette in hand perhaps, to take selfies with the Parade’s organizers so that they can virtue-signal their commitments through Facebook en Twitter.

        Of course, this would all make as little sense as the current tides of [fill in minority group] activism. Taking care of smokers’ rights is actually quite simple. It actually involves nothing but the idea of a society where people are one another’s equal in freedom. And perhaps this may explain why smokers hardly get their agendas aired. Because they actually ask for too little?

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