LIVE 8 quote / Musings on Smoking The TAZ, a germ…

LIVE 8 quote / Musings on Smoking

The TAZ, a german newspaper, nicely summed up LIVE 8, here’s an attempt of a translation:

“Everything has to move so that nothing moves. A spectacle like LIVE 8’s lack of content is visible in its total lack of consequences. If there were real consequences linked with LIVE 8 – consequences beyond asking the powerful to please be a little less evil – it never could develop the dynamics that make up its attractiveness. Thus it is the testimony of a will that in its good-will-ness is absolutely helpless in changing the course of the world by information/education. Information/Education that gave up any possibility of real exertion of influence in favour of a feeling of bigness.”

Musings on Smoking

Lately everywhere debates about smoking pop up – among my friends, on messageboards, on TV news and ads etc. On one of those messageboards someone posted an essay by S. Weingarten that was quite an interesting read.

Today the only way of talking about smoking in public seems to be talk about health. Non-smokers rant about their right for physical inviolacy whereas smokers claim their individual right to self violation. Weingarten wonders if it’s really always just talk about health when the bad effects of smoking are criticised. She quotes C. Tate, a historian concentrating on anti-smoking campaigns since the beginning of the 20th century in the USA, who says that (like almost any debate in the USA) the smoking debate there is charged with moral fervour and smokers have become morally stigmatised as society’s dissenters. In Europe, where religion isn’t as dominant and where people don’t have such strong moralistic reflexes, smokers might not be seen as devil’s agents but instead as miniature manifestations of factories that pollute the environment. Here in Europe health is the new moral benchmark.

Frank Furedi, a british professor of sociology, says: “In the past you were a good person if you went to church, today you have to buy organic food, eat vegetarian, don’t smoke, don’t drink.”

Health politics became so strong because of a lack of other moral standards to base society’s rules on. Now health is what separates responsible from irresponsible actions, good from bad. Health can easily be used for that as it is so closely related to our individual existence. It’s all about self interest and survival instinct. That’s why, argues Furedi, we internalize messages connected to health much easier than big philosphical or religious ideas.

Furedi also explains why he thinks that governments today concentrate on things like anti-smoking campaigns and other aspects of health policy: The national state’s capacity to act became more and more constricted by economical pressure, so it needed something else to legitimate its authority. It was found in the politics of behaviour: the state starts to adjust people’s individual actions like an incapacitating nanny that only wants your best and who doesn’t care if you agree or not. Weingarten gives as example: The state pays less dole but cares more for people by forcing them to lead a healthier (= longer) life. Furedi is afraid that the more the nanny state manages to keep us busy worrying about our health the more we lose our political and societal imagination. These worries make us give up parts of the control over our decisions and our lives while at the same time those anti smoking campaigns promise us control. If you can’t control the world, says C. Tate, you start controlling smaller things to proof your authority. Maybe you can’t prevent the next act of terror and you can’t keep people from losing their jobs but hey, you can force people to stub out their disgusting cigarettes!

With health politics the difference between social classes have returned. Social context, income and education influence if you smoke or not. Middle and upper class are far more receptive for health messages. The higher the income, the lower the smoker’s quote. The suggestion that to stop smoking only is a matter of willpower seems paradox against the background of this knowledge but this still is the predominant view on smoking. This willpower is connected to moral categories like self-control, reasonable and methodical action, sense of responsibility and superiority, whereas weak will stands for lack of discipline, dependency, heteronomy and dissoluteness. This is how a moral gap between (mainly middle-class) ex-smokers and (mainly proletarian) still-smokers is torn up. The moral undertone of the smoking debate thus has dangerous potential for discrimination against a whole class.

Because of their educational advertising activity health politics can claim that every citizen is in a position to act reasonably health conscious. But that also means that health becomes a matter of everybody’s personal responsibility: you have to live your life preventive. The German drugs scientist H. Schmidt-Semisch explains the dangers of this way of thinking:

This could mean personal responsibility for any kind of risky or unhealthy behaviour. Following this logic the self-violation of smoking becomes an external violation of the collective and thereby totally morally despicable. Thus the inhibitions against economical consequences fade away. The smoker, the overweighed person and many more are turned into deniers of a preventive lifestyle who caused their harm themselves, and thus they finally are looked upon as social insurance frauds, argues Schmidt-Semisch. It bears a health risk, it is seen as avoidable, it is potentially harmful for others, a large part of the population is concerned (a third of all grown-ups in Germany smoke for example): Smoking is perfect to open the doors for the exclusion of certain kinds of perilious behaviour of the benefits of compulsory health insurance funds.

Well, those moral implifications of smoking and the point about controlling little things to feel more secure in an environment that seems more and more uncontrollable, might explain the sometimes surprisingly aggressive tone in which non-smokers criticise smoking or make jokes about it. Funnily though, digging through possible unconscious things I might like about smoking I confess: control might be one of them. Control over what harms you while most of the time you don’t have this choice. Plus: The incomprehensibility of harming yourself at all with a drug that doesn’t even get you high. Of course the boring main reasons are some sort of addiction, the good taste and the distraction. Nothing like savouring a cigarette and a glass of something while talking to good friends. Although I often don’t smoke for a couple of days I’ve never really thought about giving it up. If that makes me one of the bad guys, well, be it.

read more:

Susanne Weingarten: 11.Gebot – Du sollst nicht rauchen
Cassandra Tate: Cigarette Wars – The Triumph of “The Little White Slaver”
Hess, Henner / Kolte, Birgitta / Schmidt-Semisch, Henning: Kontrolliertes Rauchen – Tabakkonsum zwischen Verbot und Vergnügen.

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