Smoking and the Age of Reason
For thousands of years European civilisation had been built on slavery and serfdom. The feudal system and religion kept everyone in their place. Despite wars, plagues and the collapse of the Roman Empire and centuries of the dark age, European society remained strictly hierarchical. So why did concepts such as 'Liberty' and 'Freedom' suddenly become all the rage in the 17th and 16th centuries. Why did the European settlers in America rebel and demand liberty in 1776? Why did the French revolt in 1789? Why did the English kill their King in 1649?
They called it 'The Age of Reason'; they rejected the superstitious thinking of the past and began to seek rational explanations for the workings of the world. Men such as Isaac Newton began to think in ways that had never been seen before. People began to question things. Why should kings rule us? They asked. Is it really right to buy and sell human beings as though they were nothing more than a commodity, people wondered?
By the 19th century the monarch of the United Kingdom was little more than a symbol of power, she had very little real power. The house of Commons had more influence than the Lords and almost all men could vote. America had a civil war to end slavery. France had a revolution every 20 years or so. The whole world was agitating for freedom and change.
So what happened to the people of Europe and the Americas that suddenly caused them to no longer bear the indignity of oppression, which they had so unquestioningly accepted before? Why did the Europeans start thinking freely?
In 1492 Islam was removed from the Iberian peninsula, Columbus didn't find a short cut to Asia, and Europeans found out about tobacco. The middle ages promptly finished. It would be another 60 years before tobacco would be introduced to Europe but within a generation of that the practice of smoking was widespread. By the time King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England in 1603, England had become a nation of smokers.
James hated smoking and witchcraft. He also hated Parliament, which prevented him from practicing what he saw as his divine right to rule as an absolute Monarch. He had a mediaeval mind-set, but his subjects did not. Less than half a century later republicans killed his son who shared his views and England became a republic. How did this happen?
My theory is that nicotine was the cause. This drug agitates the brain causing the user to crave it more than food, sex, water, or anything. No drug is more addictive. As a result smokers are disinclined to be content. They seek to be rewarded constantly. This is not a state of mind desirable in a slave or serf who is expected to serve for little or no reward. Also smoking is best enjoyed in company. Smokers have a habit of gathering and chatting. This causes them to be friendly, and friendly groups of people who gather and chat are likely start to have ideas about things. Smoking creates an optimistic outlook, because the smoker is always looking forward to his next smoke. Optimists expect things to improve which makes them a problem to tyrants who want their subjects to get used to things being bad and hope they accept things getting worse.
It is no coincidence that the greatest democracy the world has ever seen, was created by a libertarian revolution in the continent that gave the world nicotine. The North American Indians had smoked for centuries and as a result never developed the slave-based civilisations of Europe and Asia. The slave-based society created by the Europeans in America soon collapsed and was replaced with a society obsessed with freedom, equality and justice. Why did this happen if it wasn't nicotine?
It is my feeling that scientists are fully aware of the nicotine's ability to render humans less pliable and controllable than they would be without nicotine, which is why the great health scare thing, was dreamed up in the sixties. Doctors knew that many things shortened people's lives: hard work; junk food; alcohol; joining the Army, but they also knew that these things were good for the Economy. Nicotine had turned people so against authority that by the late 1960's there was evidence that the whole western world was going Native American. The Hippie revolution had turned a whole generation into Quasi- Apache Indians and it couldn't all be blamed on The High Chaparral. The Vietnam war was being lost because teenagers were no longer willing to sacrifice their lives for the benefit of their government. Something had to be done.
In the last 40 years since the height of the Vietnam war and the hippie revolution smoking has greatly decreased in the western world through laws and campaigns against it. The smoker has been demonised, and thrown out of bars and pubs. And so the world is changing again. The Class System is getting stronger. Religious belief is on the rise. Rationalism is in retreat. Freedom of Speech is not what it was. No one calls The Western World, the Free World any more. 19-year-old boys die in our wars and we feel pride at their sacrifice and not shame for luring them to their deaths. The slave-serf - mindset is returning. The Dark Ages are returning. Already Christians believe in witches again. Leaders such as Bush and Blair are not ashamed to admit that they thought God guided them. King James has returned and Adolf Hitler's vision of a world without freedom and cigarettes is quickly coming true.
By Mad Sean Ridgeway
FRITZ & TOMMY
THE BALLBAG PAPERS