Friday, January 04, 2008

Is this the end of coherent English?

Not too long ago, in the pages of the Telegraph, A.N. Wilson bemoaned a significant possible consequence of the smoke-free society. Unable to think of a single writer of merit who didn't, at some point, smoke, he predicted this of the smoking bans that had just swept Great Britain:
This attack on basic liberty, which was allowed through without any significant protest, might mark the end not merely of smoking, but of literature.
Ah, what charming naiveté! Would that we had the luxury of worrying about the loss of a few books, A.N., old darling. No, rather, I fear it's a great deal worse than that: the end of smoking would seem to mark not only the end of literature, but of the written word altogether. As a means of conveying basically coherent ideas, anyway.

Take this column by Micheal Den Tandt. The man fluctuates so rapidly between condemning smoking and then condemning anti-smoking zealotry that it is quite literally impossible to say what his position is, or indeed what the issue is.

He says that smoking stinks, that it is "disgusting," that doing so in a car with children is "stupid, selfish and irresponsible." But then he says that when he used to smoke he "liked it," and that he'd take it up again if it wasn't for the risks to his health. He mentions the proposed ban on smoking in cars, asking rhetorically "but surely we don't need a law?" only to suggest ten sentences later that "the best solution would be to ban tobacco outright."

From which follows this:
What does it all mean? Here's a stab at an answer. Our governments are not serious at all about stamping out tobacco smoking. But we live in a golden era, relative to other times and places, in which real health scourges are few. Politicians must do something, mustn't they, to justify their existence? "Battling" smoking fits the bill.

Our habit of addressing every social problem with new regulations and rules is slowly turning us all into simpletons, without volition or the capability of judgment. Enough already. Parents are responsible for their kids' health and safety, and must be held accountable for their choices.
Let us be grateful, for Mr. Den Tandt's sake, that he is not competing in any stabbing competitions. I mean! The blistering irony of this man, this doofus illiterate ninny, delivering that third to last sentence there--after having just suggested that parents should have their heads examined for daring to smoke in a machine that produces the equivalent of 30 cigarettes worth of exhaust every goddamn minute! (Never mind that his last sentence would appear to contradict, totally and utterly, his point ... Again: which point am I referring to? Who knows!)

J.M. Barrie (author of, amongst other great works of literature, this) said that with the introduction of tobacco to England "the glory of existence became a thing to speak of." Michael Den Tandt bears out the threat implicit in this: that without tobacco, we would be well advised not to speak in the first place.