frank_davis (frank_davis) wrote,

Outing the Antis

Regardless of any claims to the contrary, it has always seemed perfectly apparent to me that the war on smoking is above all a moral crusade. The fundamental objection of antismokers to smoking is that it is a vice, a perverse instinct, an unnatural practice, a species of self-abuse. This is where the antismokers start out. This is their underlying conviction.

It is not, however, the main thrust of the case that antismokers actually make against smoking. They do not say, "Smoking is wrong" or "Smoking is bad". Instead they say, "Smoking is bad for you" and "Smoking causes lung cancer". They do not make a direct assault on smoking as something that is immoral in itself, but instead make an indirect attack by pointing to the consequences of smoking, rather than to smoking itself. After all, nobody is going to say that lung cancer is a good thing. And if lung cancer is an evil, and smoking causes lung cancer, then smoking is also necessarily an evil. QED.

In adopting this indirect line of attack, antismokers are on much firmer ground than they would be if they were to launch a direct moral assault upon smoking as something evil in itself. Because it is not entirely clear that smoking actually is evil in itself. What's wrong, in and of itself, with rolling up a pinch of tobacco in a piece of paper, setting it alight, and inhaling the ensuing smoke? What's so bad about that? And antismokers are hard pressed to say just exactly what's wrong with that. And so they shift away from such a direct attack, and come at smoking upon its flank indirectly. Unable to penetrate the smoker's frontal shield, they swing their swords against his unprotected sides. 

It may of course be that antismokers do not see smoking as something evil in itself, and have only discovered the evil of it by discovering its consequences. If this were so, then if it were to be shown that smoking did not cause lung cancer, antismokers would call off their war on smoking. "Oh, sorry," they'd say. "We were really convinced that smoking caused lung cancer. But now we know better. So forget everything we ever said. Carry on smoking. Here, let me light your pipe for you."

Is such a thing imaginable? No, not really. If it were to ever be shown that smoking doesn't cause lung cancer (and it probably doesn't), there would be a brief pause before antismokers would start claiming that smoking caused every other disease known to man. And if that also proved to be untrue, they would start hunting around for some other evil consequence of smoking. And this is because antismokers know that smoking is wrong, in and of itself. Antismokers know, in advance of any enquiry into the consequences of smoking, that smoking is an evil. Antismokers know that smoking must cause lung cancer, or some other misfortune. It is as plain as day to them.

Should it ever be conclusively demonstrated that smoking doesn't cause lung cancer, or any other disease, antismokers may well be forced to launch a direct moral assault upon smoking. That is, if the blow to the flank is parried, they may be forced to return to frontal attack.

And what sort of direct attack might they launch? There are at least a couple of possibilities. They might claim that smoking was an unnatural practice. Or they might claim that smoking was an unnecessary practice. Indeed, it may be considerations of this sort that first convinced antismokers of the evil of smoking.

It may be appropriate to widen the debate a little here, and point out what everybody knows, which is that those puritanical sorts of people who disapprove of smoking usually also disapprove of drinking, of drugs in general, of gambling, and above all of sex. Or at least of every kind of sexual behaviour other than that which is needed to produce a new generation of humans. And these various vices can also be condemned as being unnecessary and unnatural.

The argument from necessity

The argument from necessity against smoking - or any other vice - is that it simply isn't necessary for people to smoke tobacco, or drink alcohol, or engage in sex. People need food and shelter to survive. But they do not need tobacco, or alcohol, or sex, to survive. They are things that can be stripped away from a life, like so much ornamentation, to leave a pure and unadulterated life. The puritan sets out to strip away the unnecessary from life, as so much excess baggage. The puritan sets out to strip off the icing from the cake, and the marzipan, and the hundreds and thousands, and the candles, to leave just the basic plain simple cake. In the journey of life, the puritan insists, we cannot go around carrying upholstered armchairs and stereo speakers and other frivolities. Crossing the great desert of life, we cannot afford to burden ourselves with chairs and tables, art and music, gold and silver. We must carry the bare minimum of simple food, and clean water, and light garments, and perhaps a map and a compass and a knife. And we should take our delight in the majestic stars above us, and in the rolling sand dunes that spread around us, and the delight of simply being alive.

The argument from nature

So goes the argument from necessity, which could of course be further pursued (is living a life really like crossing a desert?). The other argument, the argument  from nature against smoking, proceeds down a rather different line. Here it is argued that everything has its natural function, and it is an abuse to use it for any other purpose. One should use screwdrivers to drive screws, and hammers to drive nails, and one should not use hammers to drive screws, or screwdrivers to drive nails. Each tool has its own use, and its own instruction manual, and these instructions should be closely observed. There is only one right way to do anything, and everything else is wrong. And in the case of smoking, it is an abuse of mouth and lungs to fill them with smoke. They're not supposed to be filled with smoke. Lungs are for breathing air. And mouths are for eating food and drinking water. It is an abuse of them to do anything else with them, just like it is an abuse to drive screws into walls with hammers. And it is equally an abuse of the human body to poison it with alcohol or any other drug. It wasn't designed to do that. And there is only one appropriate sheath into which a male member should be introduced. Anything else is an abuse of it. Particularly putting it there. And it is an abuse of the body to dance, because it is not the natural purpose of the body to hop and jiggle about. And it is an abuse of the voice to sing, because the human voice is not designed to sing. 

And so on. Underlying this argument from nature is a notion of a natural man, living in a state of nature, of whom modern humans, drinking and smoking and doing all sorts of other unnatural things, are a perversion. An aberration. Morality consists in man doing what is natural to man. Everything else is immorality.

Such are, I suggest, the kinds of reasoning that underpin the antismokers' hatred of smoking. And that underpin puritanical abhorrence of any and every vice. It's a reasoning which has barely been explored at all here.  What antismokers really believe is that smoking is unnecessary and unnatural. And this is really why they don't like it. And why they don't like lots of other things as well.

However they are not, as noted, the reasons they advertise for their abhorrence of smoking. They prefer to say that smoking causes lung cancer rather than say that smoking is unnecessary and unnatural, even if it is the latter which they truly believe.

Outing the Antis

And this opens up the possibility of a counter-attack by smokers. Smokers (and drinkers, and all the rest) might not just parry the blows that puritanical antismokers rain down on them, but might strike directly at the hidden but real justifications that antismokers depend upon in their war on smoking. They might say, "You're not really against smoking because it causes lung cancer. You're against it because you think that it's an unnatural and unnecessary practice. Why don't you come out and say so plainly, and stop hiding behind all your epidemiology and statistics? Are you frightened of something?"

They must be frightened of something. There must be reasons why antismokers don't just call smoking an unnatural or an unnecessary practice. They must know that there are weaknesses in such arguments. And that is why they conceal them. And if they aren't going to come out of their closets, they should be pulled out bodily in the bright light of reason, and made to answer.


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