Isn’t it about time someone gave three cheers for smokers? After all, they are one of the scapegoats in the most recent Liberal Distraction.
First, let it be clear that I am firmly opposed to ill health, cancer, suffering, bad habits, respiratory disease, long lingering death, and of course, (need it even be said), secondhand smoke. That said, these aren’t the real issues. Though the stigmatization of cigarette smokers has passed beyond its shelf life, it still remains a helpful metaphor into the current Reign of Woke Terror under which we groan. It signals the Leftist lunacy of passionate focus upon trivialities while entirely oblivious to matters of titanic moral consequence.
Note how they take captive once noble terms and redesign them to suit their transgressive purposes: virtue-signaling, for instance. Verbal engineering always precedes social engineering. Thus, George Orwell, in his influential essay Politics and the English Language:
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language—so the argument runs—must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.
Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.
Defending smokers is imperative for even graver reasons having to do with the survival of civilization itself. Overreach you say? Not exactly, only because the symbolism reaches so profoundly. Orwell would agree. With our culture cobbling a New Moral Code to replace the Old one, new virtues and new sins are being created. It used to be that we stigmatized adulterers, now we shun smokers. Once upon a time, society showed disgust for pornography, now disgust is reserved for those who refuse to recycle. As you watch poor smokers huddling in their corners to do the dastardly act, we readily see how the new sins are shunned as effectively as the old ones.
Left unaddressed, these outlier stupidities soon become mainstream strangleholds. Take Critical Race Theory. It gestated in the petri dishes of classrooms of higher academe and now is as common as the ABCs in our children’s classrooms.
A public school in Cupertino, California, actually required third graders—in math class—to “deconstruct” their racial identities and rank themselves according to their “power privilege.” A public school in Philadelphia made fifth graders march across an auditorium stage bearing signs that read “Jail Trump” and “Black Power Matters” in a rally for “Black Communism.” And a Buffalo school district adopted an “emancipatory curriculum” instructing students through its “pedagogy of liberation” that “all white people play a part in perpetuating systemic racism.” Now you see, don’t you, why we must all shout: “Three cheers for smokers.”
This kind of Woke Maoism possesses an etiology not difficult to trace. It is embedded deeply in the ontological nature of man. He cannot live too long without heeding that persistent voice of the natural law enjoining him to do good and avoid evil—any kind of good, and any kind of evil.
Even though he might campaign for an existence without standards, the steady interior voice demands some calculus of absolute evil and absolute good. And if man won’t let God declare what they are, then man will. When he does, despotism reigns. If truth and God no longer govern a man’s life, darker forces do, and man’s desire for absolutes descends into absolute terror. You see, as Chesterton once put it, “the atheist is not one who believes in no god, he is one who believes in any god.”
Not surprisingly, this moral reinvention proceeds deceptively. Glimmers of hope soon become layers of more darkness. For instance, there is Columbia University’s Professor Delbanco’s 1995 book, The Death of Satan: How Americans Have Lost the Sense of Evil. Initially, one is encouraged at such a promising title; from a certified member of the bien pensant no less. Could it be a breach in the seemingly impregnable armor of the Liberal Behemoth?
Then, page 3: “a gulf has opened in our culture between the visibility of evil and the intellectual resources available for coping with it.” What is that evil? Delbanco tells us: “deforestation, erosion, siltation, exhaustion, pollution, extermination, cruelty, destruction and despoliation.” Doesn’t this remind you of the quip made by Forrest Davis, adviser to the imitable Senator Taft: “The Liberal has looked upon the face of evil and found it half-good.”
The seven old capital sins are now replaced by nine new ones. Alas, Academe nudges out Sinai, and Almighty Man one-ups Almighty God. Can’t the fanatical devotion to abortion and the LGBTQ+ agenda be described as a “religion” with “devotion” twisted into zealotry. No keen eye is necessary to see how the unwavering dedication once reserved to the dogmas of Christianity have now shifted to the hallowed dogmas of Liberalism. The difference is that the former are rational, the latter are not.
This new moral project is not reserved to agnostic academics. Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, late president of Notre Dame (and designer of the new anti-Catholic Catholic University), was once interviewed at age 81. He confessed that his priestly mission never ends: “my constant pressure is to get students caught up with moral issues—civil rights, human rights, world development and getting rid of the nukes.” With such moral men all around us, why do we not feel consoled?
These new pronunciamentos reflect not the grand exigencies of human nature but the petrifying posturing of men mimicking God. As a result, true morality is miniaturized, concerned less with issues of man’s potential greatness through virtue and sanctity and more with issues of his supremacy. Aristotle’s world argued incessantly about the nature of virtue and truth, justice and God, fortitude and the good. The Christian world perfected this natural wisdom with calls to sacrifice and heroism, grace and revelation, beauty and holiness. A post-Christian world offers either a smarmy version of brotherly love, or, more often, thinks, argues, and fights only about “me.”
Post-Christian man now finds these former things reeking of an ancient naive objectivity. He rejects them, after brief reflection, in favor of the current vogue solipsism because the new Geist forbids consensus on things like the nature of things: man, good, and evil. It settles on a new and smaller, much smaller, list of absolutes such as saving the earth, banning smokers, the twin hydra of diversity/inclusivity, tribal purity, or the simply desiccated anthem, “being yourself.”
This is the grotesque logic which leads to children being hunted down in schools because they are saying their prayers but given gold stars for promoting safe sex; or promoting marches that celebrate anarchy and hatred of police while gagging ordinary Americans for expressing a desire to love God and speak freely.
No hesitation, please: “Three cheers for smokers!”
[Photo Credit: Unsplash]