As a non-smoker who can’t stand the stink of cigarettes, I yet think the proposal to ban smoking in our parks is ridiculous. Just about the only place people are now permitted to smoke is within the confines of their own homes – which causes infinitely more pollution than lighting up on Hampstead Heath where a small amount of smoke won’t hurt anyone in all that fresh air. But it’s worse than ridiculous: it’s a shocking deprivation of individual freedom. Of course, individual liberty does not mean freedom to do just anything. For example, you shouldn’t be allowed to set off fireworks in the cinema or play guitars in church, but there must be a good dollop of live and let live.
The wholesale banning of stuff and actions is sinister and reflects a creeping totalitarianism. For the fact is that we are governed – policed is a better word for it – by a metro-political, politically-correct elite who are so self-righteously up themselves that their first response to anything they don’t approve of is to slap a prohibition order on it. This elite is noticeably selective in the stuff it seeks to disallow.A man may forsake the natural use of a woman and marry another bloke. A man may change his sex – so long as he remembers to refer to what God has made him by the absurd PC word “gender,” as if we were all proper (or improper) nouns. Radio and TV stations galore can fill the air waves with the pollution of mindless pop music. You can shop on the Sabbath 24/7. But if you take your child out of the lousy state school system for a couple of weeks – perhaps to show her the ruins of Carthage – you will be fined. And so on.
We have forgotten what traditional social ethics is all about. It always used to be based on the idea of the dignity of the individual and his right to do as he likes within reason. And the working out of social morality involves the discussion about what constitutes rational behaviour. Moreover, we should be permitted to do things that are bad for us – such as watching Strictly Come Dancing and Downton Abbey, reading Hilary Mantel, listening to the music of Philip Glass*** and even attending to party political broadcasts; and things that are dangerous – such as rock-climbing, driving our cars along country roads at night and voting for Ed Miliband.
The basis of social morality should not be what is approved by a politically-correct commissariat, directed by clones of Harriet Harman, Polly Toynbee, Diane Abbott, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Dame Jenni Murray but by the rational operation of free choice.
Instead, our society is a sort of totalitarianism-lite. And unfortunately totalitarianism-lite all too easily turns into totalitarianism-heavy.
PS *** Knock knock – who’s there? – Philip Glass- Knock knock – who’s there? – Philip Glass – Knock knock – who’s there? – Philip Glass- Knock knock – who’s there? – Philip Glass….