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Frank Davis

Banging on about the Smoking Ban

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The Tobacco Centuries
After I'd carried bits of a Danish article which cited evidence that smokers performed a variety of mental tasks up to 30% better than non-smokers, Stewart Cowan suggested that banning smoking was an integral part of the modern dumbing-down process. Leg-iron continued the theme last night.

Today I wondered whether 30% increased mental acuity translated into 30% increased IQ. I couldn't see why it shouldn't. If your mind works better under the influence of tobacco smoke, you're likely to solve puzzles quicker. And that's all an IQ test consists of.

Lewis Terman (1916) proposed this scale for classifying IQ scores:
Over 140 - Genius or near genius
120 - 140 - Very superior intelligence
110 - 119 - Superior intelligence
90 - 109 - Normal or average intelligence
80 - 89 - Dullness
70 - 79 - Borderline deficiency
Under 70 - Definite feeble-mindedness

Normal or average intelligence measures about 100 on the IQ scale. So if IQ is boosted 30%, an ordinary guy of average intelligence will find he has a very superior intelligence of 130 once he starts smoking. If he's a smarter than average guy with an IQ of 110, he becomes a genius with an IQ of over 140. And if he's a bit feeble-minded, with an IQ of 70, a 30% increase of intelligence will boost him to IQ of 90, which is almost normal.

Today I found myself wondering what happens to a society when, almost overnight, it gets 30% smarter. I figured there'd probably be a great flowering of science and philosophy and art and music and literature. But the gains wouldn't just be in outstanding scientific discoveries and inventions and works of art, but in the performance of everybody, right the way down to the butcher and baker and candlestick maker.

Well, we can just take a look at history. The New World (and tobacco) was discovered in 1492 by Columbus, sailing from Spain, and funded by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. This time corresponds to the period of the High Renaissance in Europe. In Spain, the Spanish Renaissance is dated from exactly 1492. Assuming that tobacco spread rapidly from Spain to the aristocracies of neighbouring countries, then since Leonardo da Vinci lived from 1452 to 1519, he could have smoked tobacco for the last 30 years of his life, while painting the Mona Lisa. Michelangelo (1475 – 1564) could have picked up the habit when he was about 25, and lit up every now and then while painting the Sistine Chapel. Nicholas Copernicus (1473 – 1543) could have lit his first pipe at age 30, while pondering the motion of the planets. The Reformation is kicked off by Martin Luther in 1517. What set him thinking? And whatever induced that larger-than-life king Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) to write poetry and music and theology? None of his predecessors did. Ah, he had a Spanish wife. By 1530, tobacco had become popular with the Spanish lower classes (which suggests that there was already a lot of it around).

It's not as if absolutely nothing was happening before 1500. But there does seem to be a veritable flood of artists and philosophers and scientists and engineers after that date. Francis Bacon was a smoker. Very likely William Shakespeare was too.

And it's not just that many of the key figures in the Renaissance could have smoked tobacco, but that many of the main players in the subsequent Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution most definitely were smokers. Isaac Newton was a smoker. Charles Darwin was a smoker. Isambard Brunel was a smoker. Johann S Bach was a smoker. Albert Einstein was a smoker. Pablo Picasso was a smoker.

The Renaissance and the Reformation and the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution were all intellectual revolutions. There's really nothing equivalent to them in the previous 1000 years or more. What could have made that happen? Climate change? In the 16th century Europe was entering the Little Ice Age. It's a bit difficult to think when you're freezing cold. Rising living standards? The Industrial Revolution didn't really get under way until about 1800. The arrival of tobacco, raising almost everyone's intellectual performance by 30%, offers an excellent explanation of this rolling series of intellectual revolutions. The timing is perfect.

Add to this that America was built on tobacco. The original colonies of Virginia grew and exported tobacco. Probably almost every single one of America's founding fathers were tobacco smokers. The US Constitution is wreathed in tobacco smoke. The most successful political experiment of the past 300 years was founded on tobacco.

This won't be the first time that a large claim has been made for a drug. Anyone who was familiar with the 1960s will remember the large claims that were made first about cannabis and later about LSD. "Feed Your Mind" was one of the mantras of the late 60s.

And maybe minds do need feeding, and humanity has long been starved of the nutrients that nourish thought, just as much as it has been starved of the nutrients that nourish physical vitality. Maybe what drives all drug experimentation is the search for the elixir not of immortality or eternal youth, but of genius. Tobacco has been one of the best.

If smoking tobacco substantially increases mental performance, then why would anyone want to prohibit tobacco? It probably just boils down to one simple thing: jealousy. Smokers have a 30% intelligence advantage over non-smokers. Not because they're inherently smarter, but because they're using performance-enhancing drugs, just like olympic athletes cheat by using steroids. It's not a level playing field. Banning smoking gives non-smokers an equal chance of winning prizes, gaining advancement, and getting the girl. If you can't speed up your own racing car, your only recourse is to demand changes in the rules to slow down the other guys' cars.

If we might want to know what a smoke-free world would be like, all we need do is wind back the clock to before 1492, when nobody smoked. Almost all intellectual inquiry is restricted to monks in the Roman Catholic Church, and if they're thinking about anything, it's most likely theology. It's an authoritarian intellectual world, where questioning almost anything is heresy. Sound familiar?

And in this world where more or less everyone is 30% less intelligent than in previous generations, there will be incompetence at all levels of society. Politicians will make stupid decisions, science will decay, philosophers and intellectuals will disappear, the arts will degenerate. Nothing will work properly. Most people will be feeble-minded. Again, sound familiar?

Ours is increasingly a world without vision and without imagination. It's a frightened world. It's a world in which people are frightened of their own shadows. Frightened of tobacco smoke. Frightened of carbon dioxide. Frightened of Terror. It's a world in which people readily accept the authority of doctors and scientists who are all too ready to exploit and dupe them. It's a world in which the Holy Father, il papa, the pope, is returning the nanny superstate is emerging, to regulate everything that anyone does, in the smallest details.

For a few centuries - the Tobacco Centuries - people were 30% smarter than they were in centuries before or after. For a few centuries science and reason triumphed over superstition and credulity, before it all came rolling back in a tidal wave of joss sticks and Vegan diets and global warming and windmills.

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