Smokers Uniting

Nice new (if slightly truncated) Smoking Section video today, of Emily Wieja talking to Kevin/Nisakiman.

What’s interesting about this one is that it hasn’t been recorded in a studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Instead it’s recorded in Emily’s Cambridge flat/apartment and Nisakiman’s home in Greece. And so Emily is smoking (and maybe Nisakiman is smoking too).

What’s also interesting is that it’s also being posted up on a UK blog (mine) to help bring it to a wider audience. (and now a Spanish blog as well)

And I’ve also got a video of myself talking to GaryK in Illinois which I hope to post up in a few days.

And last night I spoke briefly on Skype to Brigitte in Liverpool. I’m hoping to do a test Skype conference with her and Reinhold in Germany soon.

Add it all up, and that’s smokers in the USA, UK, Germany, and Greece talking directly to each other. And Emily and I are hoping to line up more videos with other people too. We’re beginning, in a small way, to help bring smokers together, all over the world.

And I was thinking this morning that smokers have powerful incentives to get together. All these people who are talking in these videos are united by one shared characteristic: they smoke. And they’re also being reviled and rejected and robbed because they smoke. They’re all angry, and they all have good cause to be angry. And their anger is uniting them.

I think it’s what always happens, when any minority comes under attack. The attack serves to push them together, to unite them, in ways that isn’t happening with other people. It doesn’t matter if they’re geographical minorities (countries, peoples) or racial or sexual  minorities (blacks, gays). As soon as they come under attack, they start to come together, like the spreading arms of sea urchins contract together in a tight bunch as soon as they’re touched.

And what’s really interesting about the minority of smokers in the world is that they’re a huge minority. There are some 1.5 billion of them in the world, maybe more. And pretty much all of them are being subjected to the savage global onslaught of Tobacco Control. And so they’re all being driven together by strong forces.

So one may predict with almost perfect certainty that a new minority – smokers – is going to make its appearance soon on the world stage. And it’s going to be a very powerful and angry minority, that will appear almost simultaneously everywhere in the world.

Because, right now, all over the world, there will lots and lots of Emilys and Franks and Brigittes and Reinholds and Kevins who are talking to each other, and reaching out to each other. And eventually, one day, they’ll all meet up.

And when they do, they’ll be invincible.

P.S. Just his morning, I’ve had RdM in New Zealand offering to do a Skype chat. That is, I think, pretty much exactly on the opposite side of the world from the UK. It should be fun to have two people talking, one early in the morning for them, the other late at night for them.

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Casablanca

I wrote two blog posts yesterday that grew out of the same comment: something Walt wrote:

And yet: those photos in the (msm) newspapers of the cool kids smoking at the Met, and a series like MadMen likely did more to help us than almost anything I can think of. They have an unbeatable subtext: Sexy. Normal. Fun. Relaxed. And, more recently, Defiant.

It’s always been unbeatable. It was unbeatable back in WW2- which was in some profound senses a war between smokers (Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin) and antismokers (Hitler). At least one of the participants was well aware of it.

Hitler frequently pointed out that he had quit smoking in 1919, and that fellow fascists Mussolini and Franco were also non-smokers, unlike Allied enemies Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt.

NOVEMBER 23, 2012: The American romantic movie drama Casablanca celebrated its world premiere on November 26, 1942. Starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman the film was a solid success in its initial run, winning three Academy Awards, and its characters, dialogue, and music have become iconic. It now consistently ranks near the top of lists of the greatest films of all time.

Famously smoky movies like Casablanca were probably as a big a part of the war effort as 1000-bomber raids. Back then they told you what you were fighting for. And they tell us today what we’re still fighting for. Because we’re always fighting for the same things. And we’re still fighting against the same enemies.

For no doubt when you came out of the cinema in 1943, and rejoined your unit on its way to Sicily or Salerno, you knew you were fighting for Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), for music and romance, and for drinking and smoking and gambling. You were, in short, powerfully reminded that you were fighting for freedom.

Originally planned to be released in the spring of 1943, the movie had its rushed world premiere on November 26, 1942, in New York City, shortly after the successful Allied landings in North Africa:

Operation Torch, the Algeria-Morocco military campaign, began on November 8, 1942, and ended on November 11, 1942.

US and British forces, commanded by American General Dwight D. Eisenhower, carried out this campaign. Three task forces landed on the beaches near Casablanca on the Moroccan Atlantic Coast; near Oran in western Algeria; and near Algiers, more than 250 miles to the east in Algeria.

Casablanca was released on January 23, 1943, at a pivotal point in the war.

At the Casablanca Conference, from January 14 to 24, 1943, Roosevelt, Churchill, and de Gaulle, had just announced the demand for the “unconditional surrender” of the Axis.

And on January 22, 1943, General Friedrich Paulus had asked Hitler for permission to surrender his surrounded Sixth Army in Stalingrad to the Soviets. When it eventually did surrender, on  2 February 1943, it marked the most significant defeat for the Axis, and perhaps the turning point of the entire war. Thereafter, the Allies would begin to believe that they were winning.

Casablanca – Behind the scenes photo of Humphrey Bogart & Madeleine Lebeau

The status of Casablanca as a movie seems to have been something that has only ever been rising. By the 1960s Humphrey Bogart had become an iconic figure, principally for his role in Casablanca.

It was something that emerged in Woody Allen’s 1972 tribute, Play It Again, Sam.

And the Pink Floyd’s 1987 Yet Another Movie has fragments of Casablanca dialogue playing at back.

Because Casablanca is as relevant today as it was in 1943, perhaps even more. Probably, back in 1943, nobody noticed how smoky the film was. For it simply reflected real life as it was lived back then: people smoked everywhere. But over 70 years on, with antismoking nazis again in ascendance, much as they were in 1941 or 1942, Casablanca is a smokers’ movie, which may as well have been made by smokers for smokers. And most likely actually was. And it’s still unbeatable.

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Break Every Rule

Kinda following on from yesterday, something Walt wrote today, which I’d already reported:

And yet: those photos in the (msm) newspapers of the cool kids smoking at the Met, and a series like MadMen likely did more to help us than almost anything I can think of. They have an unbeatable subtext: Sexy. Normal. Fun. Relaxed. And, more recently, Defiant.

They’re very transgressive images. They’re down and dirty, borderline pornographic. Here’s a bunch of hot girls in party dresses, sitting on the floor of a public toilet, smoking. You’d think there might well be a guy standing at an urinal on the other side of the room, relieving himself. And in fact there probably was.

Bella Hadid puffed away near Lara Stone, Paris Jackson, and Ruby Rose

Was it planned? There were a lot of them.

Probably it wasn’t. It probably started with a couple of people sneaking off for a smoke in the bathroom, and the word spreading, and more and more people joining them until a whole separate (and much more fun) party was going on in the Met’s bathrooms than in the main area. A mass revolt had taken place. All the rules were being broken.

And they’re snapping pictures of themselves on their mobile phones. And then uploading them to Facebook or Imgur or Photobucket or Snapchet. In fact, maybe the photo the girl in the red dress (above) has just taken was uploaded the moment she took it. And it went viral, as it got shared and copied in a spreading wave across the internet. So when it got published in the Daily Mail at 19:15, 5 May 2017, it was already over 4 days after the moment this snap was taken.

Besides smoking openly in the bathroom at the museum, many stars took no pains to hide the behavior on social media.

In fact, according to the 2 May 2017 Washington Times the Mail had got the pictures from Snapchat within 24 hours:

Actress Dakota Johnson was just one celebrity caught on camera disregarding the Big Apple’s smoking ban during a star-studded event held Monday night [1 May 2017] in New York City.

A Snapchat photo of Ms. Johnson, taken by British singer Rita Ora and obtained by the Daily Mail newspaper, shows the “50 Shades” star lighting up a cigarette in what appears to be a smoke-filled bathroom. The photograph was taken during the annual Met Gala, a fundraiser for the city’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Other Met-attending celebrities caught smoking in the girls room, so to speak, were Bella Hadid, musician Courtney Love and her daughter Frances Bean Cobain, the Daily Mail said.

So would it really be true to suggest that these images really only got noticed when they were published in MSM newspapers? Almost certainly millions of people had already seen them online in social media.

It’s like asking whether the Beatles only really got noticed when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964. But by then the Beatles had been wildly popular in the UK for a year (or more), and in Liverpool for even longer.

In late 1963, Sullivan and his entourage happened also to be passing through Heathrow and witnessed how The Beatles’ fans greeted the group on their return from Stockholm, where they had performed a television show as warmup band to local stars Suzie and Lill Babs. Sullivan was intrigued, telling his entourage it was the same thing as Elvis all over again. He initially offered Beatles manager Brian Epstein top dollar for a single show but the Beatles manager had a better idea — he wanted exposure for his clients: the Beatles would instead appear three times on the show, at bottom dollar, but receive top billing and two spots (opening and closing) on each show.

The Beatles had been “going viral” on UK “social media” for over 12 months. Their first hit single, Love Me Do, had been released in the UK on 5 October 1962.

If the internet had been around in 1962, the Beatles would have reached the USA at least a year earlier than they actually did.

And the Beatles were transgressive: they had long hair. They were breaking unwritten rules.

If you want to get noticed, it seems you need to do something transgressive that goes viral on the internet. And going viral is the important thing. When it makes onto the MSM, it’s because it’s already gone viral. The MSM just provides confirmation of the fact.

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Starting in Paul’s Bedroom

In a comment last night, Audrey Silk wrote:

…our whole discussion hinges on what it takes to GAIN a voice, not how far and by what means it can be carried once gained. We’re discussing getting the voice at all. And the use of the internet solely will not do it. Speaking only amongst ourselves will not do it.

How do people gain a voice? I think people gain a voice by talking to each other.

Your Beatles analogy also makes my point. They got things out of their garage to gain recognition. For us to just rely on the internet — hopefully pulling drips and drabs of fellow smokers who somehow find us — is like staying in the garage with our instruments and hoping someone hears the music and comes in. Sure, our friends might help spread the word and get others to join in as well, but how does that make it a force — a voice — to be reckoned with?

Do you think that, when John and Paul and George first met up with their guitars in Paul’s bedroom (they didn’t have garages) in Liverpool, John Lennon said: “How do we get ourselves really, really famous? Like, even more famous than Elvis”?

I bet they had no such thought in their mind. I bet they were just trying to see if they could get Peggy Sue or That’ll Be The Day right this time. They probably just wanted to play guitar and sing like Buddy Holly. Not because Buddy Holly was famous, but because he made music that they really, really liked. And I bet Paul’s mum would regularly come in and tell them to turn it down a bit, because the next door neighbours had been complaining again.

And when they got just about good enough, they’d play as a band at church fêtes or school open days. And when they were slightly better, they got invited to play at the Cavern club. And all the while they were slowly getting better at singing and playing guitar.

And then things really started to happen when they got their music recorded, and distributed on vinyl 45 singles, and lots of people could listen to them all over England.

So I think we have to do what they did. We have to start in Paul’s bedroom, with the neighbours complaining at our awful racket. I think we have to sit down together and smoke and drink and talk. Because that also is a form of music.

And here’s me and Emily drinking and smoking and talking a couple of days ago, in Paul’s bedroom.

And we went one step further and recorded our conversation on the free YouTube label, rather than Parlophone (doesn’t parlophone mean “talk voice” or something?) because we haven’t got a contract with them.

But this isn’t about either Emily or me. This is about making smokers’ voices heard. And I’m a smoker. And so is Emily. And if we are going to get our voices heard, we’re first going to have to talk to each other. Because if we don’t talk to each other, nobody’s ever going to hear us. And if we don’t smoke and drink while we talk to each other, nobody’s ever going to see people smoking and drinking like people normally do. If we don’t sit down in Paul’s bedroom, and try to get Are You Lonesome Tonight right this time, there’s never going to be a Please Please Me or I Wanna Hold Your Hand.

Critics will probably pan our conversation as being amateurish. There is also, somewhere in the middle of this recording, a long silence where both of us just sit there saying nothing (18:33 minutes in). How could you let that happen? And they’ll tut-tut about the lighting. And the terrific racket I make trying to stub out a cigarette (can it really take that long? Were you trying to kill it, Frank?) Worst of all is when, after about 2 hours of smoking and drinking and talking, we both go and take a leak. You never see that on the BBC or CNN.

Sure, hardly anybody is going to watch two people just jamming together, conversationally. There are probably millions of better talkers than us. And better smokers and drinkers too.

But with luck, a few people will see us drinking and smoking and talking, and say to themselves: I could do that! And maybe a few expert talkers (the Eric Claptons, so to speak) will start talking to each other, and record themselves as they smoke and drink and talk and laugh. And there’ll be lots and lots of them. Just like the Beatles were accompanied by the Rolling Stones and the Animals and the Kinks.

Maybe there’ll even be a whole army of them. And they’ll overrun the world.

But you have to start in Paul’s bedroom.

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Absolute and Unlimited Violence

I’ve been looking for an antismoking video which shows a smoker being punched repeatedly by an invisible assailant. I’ve seen it several times. It’s probably somewhere in the comments of this blog. But I haven’t found it yet. (But Clicky now has)

What I did find was the 10:10 No Pressure video which is the equivalent from the Global Warming/Climate Change zealots. In it, in the opening section, a classroom of children is encouraged – “No pressure!” – by their teacher to adopt environmentally friendly measures of one sort or other. Several of the children declare that they will do so. But several others indicate that they have no intention of doing anything. At the end of the class, the teacher presses a button on her desk, and the recalcitrant children are blown to pieces in their seats, splattering all the others with blood and gore.

The video caused a storm of protest, and was hurriedly withdrawn. But why was it made in the first place? And what was so thoroughly nasty about it?

The second question is perhaps easiest to answer, and it is that “No Pressure” is a lie, and in fact the children are under maximum pressure to conform to the environmentalist restrictions being asked of them: they are being told to conform or die. The message is: “Do as we demand, or we will kill you.”

And the answer to the first question, of why this video was ever made, must be that the people who made it were people of absolute and unlimited violence, who wished to inform the world: “Do as we demand, or we will kill you.” And to them it seemed perfectly natural to get their way by using absolute and unlimited violence. And so they spent months making their exquisitely-produced video, and were probably very surprised when it was met with such horror.

And for a great many people it must seem only natural to set out to get their way using unlimited violence if necessary. Bank robbers do it all the time. So do rapists. So do murderers. So does anyone who is prepared to use force to make people do as they wish.

Which brings me back to the other video: the smoker being punched by an invisible assailant. This was a video made by antismokers who wanted to punch smokers in their faces, and who saw nothing wrong in doing such a thing. Just like No Pressure, it was made by people of absolute and unlimited violence. Furthermore, the smoker who is being punched is not even being offered a choice. He’s not being told “Stop smoking or you’ll be repeatedly punched in the face.” He’s just being repeatedly punched in the face.

But aren’t smokers already being punched in the face, again and again, by invisible assailants? Aren’t they already being subjected to absolute and unlimited violence?

For the use of the force of law against anyone is ultimately the use of violence, or the threat of violence, against them. If you don’t do as we demand, we will rob you, beat you, imprison you, or kill you. And maybe we will even do all those things to you.

So when Britain’s smokers were “exiled to the outdoors” on 1 July 2007, they were driven out of their pubs by force, each one of them individually being repeatedly punched in the face by an invisible assailant. And so, given that there were some 13 million smokers in Britain at that time, every single one of them was punched in the face on the morning of 1 July 2007.

And that’s why I always remember that day, and will never forget it. I was punched in the face that day. And I’ve never been the same since. 10 years later, I’m still rubbing my black eye and my sore chin.

And what an act of unlimited violence it was, to have punched not one man in the face, but punched 13 million of them in the face, all at the same time!

No wonder Britain’s smokers have been reeling ever since. No wonder, 10 years later, I’m still reeling from that colossal blow – and wake up thinking about it every day.

But that Tobacco Control, the BMA, the RCP, and two thirds of the MPs in the House of Parliament, and any number of bureaucrats in the British government, were prepared to perform such a monumental act of violence against so many people really only goes to show that they were all people of absolute and unlimited violence. They were people just like the producers of the No Pressure video, and the punched smoker video.

I often think that all I need to know about anyone these days is whether or not they support smoking bans. For if they do, it means that they support the use of absolute and unlimited violence to achieve their goals. They have shown us what kind of people they are. They have demonstrated both their casual brutality, and their perfect contempt for other people.

The current leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, comes over as a soft-spoken man who probably wouldn’t hurt a fly. But as an MP he voted for the UK smoking ban, and therefore he is actually a man of absolute and unlimited violence. The Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, is clearly also a man of absolute and unlimited violence (we actually knew this already, when he took Britain into the Iraq war, which was another act of absolute and unlimited violence). One might say that all the 400 or so MPs who voted for the UK smoking ban in February 2006 were people of absolute and unlimited violence. Most of them were Labour and Lib Dem MPs, but there were quite a few Conservative MPs as well. The propensity to violence is not restricted to the political left.

And we might go on to say that Sir Charles George, then head of the BMA and BHF, who called for a public smoking ban in November 2004, was also a man of absolute and unlimited violence. But he was a surgeon who was regularly chopping up people, and perhaps such violence comes easily to such men.

And if none of these people ever expressed any interest in the 13 million smokers that they’d punched in the face on 1 July 2007, well, does any mugger ever care anything about those they have left for dead in a pool of blood on a street?

And if they’ve all acted, ever since that day, as if nothing had happened at all, then don’t murderers and rapists do exactly the same, as they leave the scene of their crime? You commit a crime, and then pretend it never happened.

And since these monstrous acts of violence are being inflicted on smokers in almost every country in the world, might we not say with certainty that the world is being governed by men (and women) of absolute and unlimited violence?

But was it not ever thus?

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The Greengrocer Snaps

I was writing yesterday, in Learning To Be Nobody, how I felt that the EU had become a sort of new Soviet Union, with the European Commission playing the same role as the Soviet Politburo, and exerting top-down control over an increasingly planned society. I’m not the first to have seen the EU this way: Mikhail Gorbachev, the eighth and final General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, said much the same about it some years ago.

And I was also saying that if we were to find any political inspiration anywhere, it really ought to be in the “dissident” movements that sprung up in the Soviet Union and its satellite states, rather than the equivalent movements of the Western world. That is to say that we should pay more attention to the likes of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, or Vaclav Havel, or Lech Walesa, than to Saul Alinsky or Martin Luther King. Because those people had actually lived within the kind of totalitarian state on which the EU had been modeled, and under which we now live.

It was by a strange and happy chance that, no sooner had I penned this essay, than I happened to notice that I already had on my computer a copy of Vaclav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless. I had downloaded this long essay some years ago, and begun to read it. And now that it had fortuitously presented itself to me again, I began to re-read it. Or rather to carry on reading where I had left off. And so I fairly rapidly re-encountered Havel’s greengrocer:

THE MANAGER of a fruit-and-vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the world, unite!” Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment’s thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean?

This greengrocer re-appears again and again throughout the essay, as the obedient worker, doing what he’s told. He even gains a companion, an office worker, who has the same slogan pinned to the wall of her office. Neither of them pay any attention to the slogan. And nobody else pays any attention to it either.

And I wondered if there was an equivalent slogan that could be discovered in our modern western re-incarnation of the Soviet Union. In a flash I realised what it was: the ubiquitous No Smoking sign.

Its presence in almost every public place testifies, just like Havel’s greengrocer’s Marxist slogan, to the obedience of their proprietors to central political authority. These signs appeared in their millions, overnight, throughout the UK on the morning of 1 July 2007. Why had the proprietors of countless pubs and shops (and even churches) done this? What were they trying to communicate to the world? Did they really want people to stop smoking? Had they all been simultaneously gripped by an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with their ideals?

by exhibiting their slogans, each compels the other to accept the rules of the game and to confirm thereby the power that requires the slogans in the first place.

The greengrocer’s slogan was part of Communist ideology. And Havel went on to discuss the role of ideology:

Ideology, in creating a bridge of excuses between the system and the individual, spans the abyss between the aims of the system and the aims of life. It pretends that the requirements of the system derive from the requirements of life. It is a world of appearances trying to pass for reality.

To what ideology do No Smoking signs belong? Well, they are derived from an antismoking “healthist” ideology that has been overrunning the world much like Marxism or Communism, and for almost as long. It is an ideology which is now endemic in the upper echelons of the medical profession, in the BMA, the RCP, the WHO, and countless government-funded NGOs like ASH. It is an ideology which permeates government at every level. And is trumpeted by all the mainstream media, including the BBC. And it is an ideology of top down control –  what else is Tobacco Control all about, other than control? – that is just as totalitarian in character as that of the old Soviet Union. Havel again:

the post-totalitarian system demands conformity, uniformity, and discipline.

and

This is why life in the system is so thoroughly permeated with hypocrisy and lies: government by bureaucracy is called popular government; the working class is enslaved in the name of the working class; the complete degradation of the individual is presented as his ultimate liberation; depriving people of information is called making it available; the use of power to manipulate is called the public control of power, and the arbitrary abuse of power is called observing the legal code; the repression of culture is called its development; the expansion of imperial influence is presented as support for the oppressed; the lack of free expression becomes the highest form of freedom; farcical elections become the highest form of democracy; banning independent thought becomes the most scientific of world views; military occupation becomes fraternal assistance. Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything. It falsifies the past. It falsifies the present, and it falsifies the future. It falsifies statistics.

Hypocrisy? Lies? Falsified statistics? Bureaucracy? Degradation? The repression of culture? Isn’t this all too familiar today, in a Britain in which freedom has been reduced to being “smoke-free”?

Everyone, Havel says, is involved. And everyone is enslaved.

Everyone, however, is in fact involved and enslaved, not only the greengrocers but also the prime ministers. Differing positions in the hierarchy merely establish differing degrees of involvement: the greengrocer is involved only to a minor extent, but he also has very little power. The prime minister, naturally, has greater power, but in return he is far more deeply involved.

This is something I had been wondering about myself recently. How far up does it go? Is our Prime Minister, Theresa May, just as much a slave to Tobacco Control as anyone else? The answer, Havel would have it, is that she is probably more enslaved than anyone. And didn’t a majority of British MPs enthusiastically vote in 2006 for the healthist ideology, and the ubiquitous No Smoking signs?

Under totalitarianism … there is nothing to prevent ideology from becoming more and more removed from reality, gradually turning into what it has already become in the post-totalitarian system: a world of appearances, a mere ritual, a formalized language deprived of semantic contact with reality and transformed into a system of ritual signs that replace reality with pseudo-reality.

The healthist ideology is increasingly disconnected from reality, is it not? It’s describes a pseudo-reality in which Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, smokers lungs are black, and secondhand smoke can go through walls and along telephone cables. And isn’t the parallel global warming ideology equally disconnected from reality?

Havel, writing in Czechoslovakia in 1978, even had a warning for the West:

And do we not in fact stand (although in the external measures of civilization, we are far behind) as a kind of warning to the West, revealing to its own latent tendencies?

That was prophetic. For it’s what we’re all now living under in the West.

Havel then discusses what happens, in a society permeated by lies, people try “to live within truth.”

LET US now imagine that one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really thinks at political meetings. And he even finds the strength in himself to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game. He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity. He gives his freedom a concrete significance. His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth.

The bill is not long in coming. He will be relieved of his post as manager of the shop and transferred to the warehouse. His pay will be reduced. His hopes for a holiday in Bulgaria will evaporate…

I am myself, I suppose, one of those snapped greengrocers. I say what I really think. I break the rules of the game. I express solidarity with others (and even hope to build an army). And I probably won’t vote in our rather farcical upcoming election.

But – and here’s one significant difference from Havel’s Czechoslovakia – I haven’t yet been made to pay for my temerity. Or at least no more than any other UK smoker. There won’t be any holiday in Bulgaria for me, but not because my passport has been taken away, but instead because I don’t want to visit a Bulgaria that now has as many No Smoking signs as the UK. And if I am pretty much a hermit in my own flat, it’s not because I am a prisoner, or have been prevented from travelling, but because there is no longer anywhere I can go where I am welcome.

Vaclav Havel, furthermore, as a prominent Czech “dissident” was placed under surveillance. In a documentary about him I once saw, the secret police could be seen lounging by their Trabant in the distance. But as a fairly prominent “dissident” blogger, I have yet to see a single secret policeman. Although these days, everyone is surveilled by the NSA or GCHQ, and everyone knows they are being surveilled. And there are of course all those CCTVs in every shop and street and garden. We are perhaps being far more surveilled than Havel ever was.

I haven’t finished reading this very long essay. But I recommend that everyone read it, making their own translations from the Communist post-totalitarian system under which Havel wrote his 1978 essay to our own Orwellian Britain in 2017.

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Learning To Be Nobody

I’ve been trying to put my finger on just exactly why I don’t agree with Stephen Helfer (and a whole bunch of other people, up to and including the illustrious Audrey Silk).

And the nearest I’ve managed to get to it is something like this:

I used to believe I was living in a (parliamentary) democracy here in the UK. I stopped believing that on 1 July 2007 – the start of the UK smoking ban -, when someone came up to me outside the River pub and said, “It’s not a free country any more.” He was right, and 10 years later I still think he’s as right today as he was back then.

I think that, here in the UK (and in the EU) we’re now living in a sort of Soviet Union. All the power has gone upstairs to the Politburo at the top. We’re living under a tyranny in which ordinary people have no voice. All the decisions are being taken at the top by “experts” of one sort or other, for our own good. The smoking ban is the prime example of this. Smoking bans, which are nearly always imposed top down, are the principal symptom of loss of democratic (bottom up) control, in much the same way as buboes are the principal symptom of bubonic plague.

The important point in this is that I have no voice. I have no influence whatsoever in government, or in the Politburo, or in the media, or anywhere else. Yes, I can still vote, and my vote will be counted. Yes, I can write letters to my MP, and to anyone else I care to. But, once I’ve had my say, I’ll just be ignored. For the people who govern us now don’t see themselves as being “public servants”: they see themselves as our masters. And furthermore they actually are our masters.

The response of Stephen Helfer and Audrey Silk and others like them to this circumstance (it’s pretty much the same in the USA as it is in the UK) has been to try to regain lost influence, by mounting campaigns, distributing leaflets, lobbying politicians, getting themselves on TV, and so on. They want to get heard in the corridors of power, 100 floors above them. They want to kick up a fuss.

But my response has been different. I’m not trying to get politicians or pundits to hear me. I’m not trying to get myself on TV. Because I know that none of them have any interest in what I have to say. They don’t want to know. I’m one of the “little people” who don’t count. So why even bother trying. I have no voice, and that is where I must begin: voiceless.

But we voiceless people, who don’t count, can talk to each other. We can build up links and ties between ourselves. We can exchange information and news. We can create a separate community of the voiceless and the powerless.

In this respect we can be much like the Polish Solidarity movement in the shipyards of Gdansk, Poland, back in the 1980s. Or the samizdat writers in the Soviet Union – like Alexander Solzhenitsyn -, laboriously writing and copying books for each other’s consumption. Or Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia. Nobody in government would listen to them, but they listened to each other.

For if we are now living in some sort of new Soviet Union, we should respond in the same way as dissidents in the Soviet Union responded. They didn’t make placards and demonstrate in Red Square against the Communist tyrants in the Politburo. Or if they did, they just got arrested, and shipped off to the gulags. No, they busied themselves writing and talking to each other. And in this manner, they gradually became influential. Vaclav Havel eventually became President of Czechoslovakia, and Lech Walesa became President of Poland.

If we are to learn lessons from anybody, it should be from the likes of Solzhenitsyn and Havel and Walesa, rather than from US radicals like Saul Alinsky  and the like.

The powerless must recognise their powerlessness, and act in accordance with it, and not seek to immediately re-empower themselves. If the river has been dammed, and prevented from flowing in one direction, then it must just flow in some other direction.

As an aside, I can’t help but think that the situation of the Democrat Left in the USA is that they also have been dis-empowered. They’ve been Trumped. They have become powerless and voiceless. And that’s why they’re so angry, and want to impeach or assassinate Donald Trump. And have even formed “a resistance”. They’re just like us smokers, who used to be somebodies, but have all become nobodies, and want to be somebodies again. They’re almost beside themselves with rage and disbelief. But if they could accept what has happened to them, and recognise their objective situation, they may begin to be able to see what they can do, rather than rail against what they can’t do.

That is to say: If they are going to become somebodies again one day, they’re going to have to first learn to be nobodies.

 

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