You’ll be happy to hear that I’ve quit smoking. That smoldering little love affair of mine got a bit much. The testimony of every sapless bore, leaf-cruncher, sandal-wearer, smoothie-drinker, every green-haired leftie, and every insufferable rah named “Cheska” from gentrified Brixton, has prevailed.
“You must feel worlds better?!” they implore, in more of a statement of their desire than a question with possible answers. I don’t trust anything with an interrobang—the neurotic of punctuation—tacked on to the end.
No, I do not. You see, I’ve jumped the gun here. Quitting smoking must be, like a relationship with a neurotic, teased gradually lest you alert the neurotic to your plans of escape from their addictive yet corrosive embrace.
These days, smokers are a spluttering band of diehards, like those Japanese soldiers still shambling around the jungle decades after official surrender.
The cigarette after a hearty meal is the one to which we black lungs ascribe divinity. Christopher Hitchens used to smoke in the shower.
That’s the one I’ll quit first, the one in the shower. Maybe next year I’ll forgo the one before the first “official” one in the morning. The pre-smoke smoke.
The truth is, I cannot quit smoking. Not because it’s hard—I stopped for three and half years—but because quitting would please the prudes I loathe most.
The objects of my loathing recently bullied their way to another novelty, another “First!” of which to trumpet.
Politicians in New Zealand have empowered citizens to quit smoking. By “empowered” they mean permitted them to make the exact choice the mad mullahs wish them to make. New Zealand will this year ban the sale of tobacco to future generations, barring for life anyone born after 2008 from ever buying tobacco. Did they have a referendum? A vote? No, empowerment means enforcing one’s pathology upon others.
We cannot feign surprise. Over the last two years of “two weeks to slow the spread,” New Zealand’s girlboss, Jacinda Ardern, has leaned in toward a brand of compassionate authoritarianism motored solely by her and her ilk’s desire to fill the emptiness at the pit of their souls. They’ve turned their little islands into a hermit kingdom.
By 2025, the experts say New Zealand will be smoke-free; beauty will never fade; every mother will look 10 years younger than her daughter; strife, unfairness, torment, and woe, will be banished from the realm; the blind will see, the lame will walk, and Banksy’s adolescent graffiti will mean something.
If that doesn’t herald utopia, perhaps they’ll take inspiration from their spiritual brothers in East Germany. The Stasi employed a campaign of psychological terror called Zersetzung. German for “decomposition,” Zersetzung dissolved the GDR’s potential enemies by silently undermining them. Stasi agents would spread rumors and smear campaigns, send anonymous letters, fake and compromising photos to one’s family and friends. They’d even arrange for improper medical treatment.
Unsurprisingly, half of the victims of such psychic horror never recovered. This “assault on the human soul,” as one of the thousands of victims put it, was also committed in the interests of utopia. No, we are not quite there yet, dear reader, but give the utopians time.
The urge to save humanity is always an urge to rule over humanity.
There’s something comforting about the indomitability of human folly.
This silly decree means that 30 years from now, a graying, 40-something Kiwi with the desire to enjoy a cigarette will (like I did at age 12) loiter outside the local off-license in hope of convincing a fellow middle-ager to skank them a shiny packet of gaspers.
Perhaps I’m guilty of optimism. This kind of thing doesn’t stop. The problem with do-gooding is there’s always more good to do.
They started with disfiguring packets of cigarettes with photographs of the erectile-dysfunctional. Then they banned smoking in pubs. They’ll end with employing unmarried 42-year-old Cluster B personalities, those bubbling with fictitious ailments, to harangue smokers who dare step outside the giant iron lung to which they must by law surrender at the end of each day.
In our culture, indeed all cultures, age restrictions symbolize a rite of passage, the passing of which is an endorsement of adulthood and of earning the right to do foolish and often wonderful things with one’s mind and one’s body. A generation of Kiwis will never quite earn such a right.
This is just a glimpse of the utopia the Woke have in mind for us children of lesser gods. A world without contrast, bleached of harm and happiness. A world bleached of great ugliness; ergo, great beauty.
Back in the 2000s, my silly teenaged self plastered satirical stickers over the grim health warnings foisted upon cigarette packets. They read wry little indulgences such as “Smoking Causes Happiness.”
Such waggish resistance usually invited a giggle. Back then, “Mind your own business!” was still a fearsome social command. Nowadays, such a jape would draw with magnetic force the scrunched-up scorn of that tiny yet omnipresent minority which, as Christopher Lasch wrote of the narcissist, “sees the world as a mirror, a projection of one’s fears and desires.” The narcissist, I would add, interprets his inner turmoil as a reflection of society’s turmoil. The anatomy of wokeness is the desire to control others’ behavior as one cannot control one’s emotions.
Civilizations drained of confidence enact laws and enforce mores to curtail anything which might further erode that confidence. Proclaiming the “End of History,” we abolished reality sometime in the 1990s.
In that reality, saying “I like pizza,” invites accusations of discrimination toward salad. “You’re marginalizing vegetables of color!” In our world, fixing one human imperfection only reveals another. As smoking rates have declined, obesity rates have ballooned. One in four deaths is now linked to one’s weight. Krispy Kremes kill more than cancer sticks. No doubt, after hunting down the last smoker, the fanatics will harass those gourmands whom “plant-based” slop shall never satisfy.
And yet, someone born today will likely live to be 100 years old. By 2050, the old will outnumber—for the first time in human history—the young. Sentimentalists might think that a wonderful prospect, another first of which to proclaim. We, realists, envision civilizational collapse.
I’m reminded 20 or so times a day that smokers die around 10 years younger than those of pink lungs. I’m also reminded that the average cost of nursing home care in Great Britain is £50,000 per year (roughly $67,000) and the average stay is five years.
Having paid three times more in taxes than we take out, having endured criminal increases rises year after year, we smokers can still save money. We can save a quarter of a million pounds, provided we shuffle off this mortal coil to that happy hour in the sky before the nursing home, and its lobotomizing daytime TV shows, beckons. By curtailing our time here, we smokers are doing our bit for the planet, for society, for our children.
We’ll leave utopia to the utopians, the realization of which will always be just one more first away.
I’d rather “the familiar to the unknown, present laughter to utopian bliss.” The closest you’ll get to utopia on this earth is Bar and Books, in New York’s West Village. The coffin-varnish Sazerac is second-to-none. And for the princely sum of $5, one can smoke inside. How empowering.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared at Oxford Sour. Subscribe to Christopher Gage’s Substack here.