The Key to Everything

The bell tolled for western civilisation on the 1st of July 2007

Some people will point to financiers.

After all, they sold competence and instead delivered the Great Financial Disaster of 2008. The last was followed by a never ending tidal wave of Governmental incontinence, destroying trust and value in the process.

Others will finger politicians across the decades for mistaking personal for national interest; yet more will blame the rise of tech giants, social media platforms and the instant gratification it suggests as the source of all our woes.

All these might well be true – in part. However, they only skim the surface of our accelerating fall.

The final nail in the coffin of our ancient and civilised order was the introduction of the smoking ban.

In one fell swoop, man was deprived of the setting for intellectual speculation.

No longer could friends gather by the fire place, sitting on a set of Chesterfield sofas to smoke cigars accompanied by some Port wine and Brandy to speculate about, mostly, random things.

Places of discussions, fuelled by spirits, floating on heavy cigar smoke simply vanished.

No alternatives were ever provided. Bureaucrats and lawmakers seldom think about these things.

Pubs ruled themselves out almost overnight. Whilst they stopped smelling of smoke, in the process, they started stinking of everything else – of latrines, disinfectant and most of the time much worse.

It is impossible to exaggerate how far down the road our civilizational decline has travelled since that fateful decision was made.

Yesterday’s intellectual speculation is today’s conspiracy theory.

Scepticism used to be the welcome sign of an enquiring intelligence; it is now a crime.

In the field of vaccination and relating to COVID for instance, we even see dictionaries jump on the “branding” bandwagon.

Merriam Webster, America’s oldest dictionary publisher, defines as “Anti-vaxxer”, a person who opposes vaccine mandates among others. One can no longer be pro-vaccine but against forcing people to be vaccinated against their conscience.

The same is true of the “Climate”.

It no longer does to be attentive to the ones environment but look askance at the official devotion to the Mother Earth cult currently guiding the bulk of our decision makers, in particular in the field of Energy.

To be open about people’s private lives no longer suffices, the individual must comply and submit openly, regardless of whether he believes what he says. Cowed, he loses his dignity and with it his sense of fun.

Long the avant-guard of “progress”, the comedian drove roughshod over every taboo. Now, he bows to pressure and apologises for the fun he brought to us. How depressing was it do see David Walliams apologising for Little Britainthe show that made him truly famous?

To dare to tread in the fertile field of enquiry now risks online cancellation, reputational destruction and physical job losses.

Looking back to “pre-smoking ban” times, the idea of “cancellation” was unknown.

A youngster nowadays would need the fancy of a Jules Verne to imagine a place by the fire where topics of any kind about anything could be broached and feed an incredible lust for debate, discussion and friendship which usually started after dinner and finished at around 4am the next morning.

In that time, cigar in one hand, glass of brandy in the other, sitting like the world was a mystery waiting to be undressed, layer by layer, problems were discussed, a handful resolved and the way home, as if by magic, always found – more or less.

And while the solutions of the night before seemed crystal clear at the time, many of them lost their contours in the cold light of day.

But what remained was a sense that whatever the problem, solutions inevitably carried with them the seeds of further complications.

This inevitably led to a certain type of humility. Interestingly, it fed a desire to delve more deeply into topics, which each in themselves made one wonder at the vastness of the universe and our place in it, engendering a love for knowledge and for life, which made everything worthwhile.

Interestingly, a good evening was only guaranteed if the group was intellectually and professionally diverse. The acceptance of alternative views was a sine qua non of a memorable evening. Few of us would have sat there, whiling away the small hours of the morning to listen to charmless political talking points.

A Greta Thunberg would have been greeted politely of course, how else, but her historical knowledge would have been prodded. It would have revealed, in a short space of time that her stance had more to do with feelings than knowledge.

And that too would have been acceptable, because her feelings would have been taken at face value. However, her absolute certainty, which is currently the preferred weapon of her allies, would have be mollified and humanised.

Humour, in this case, would have acted like a massage oil on stiff shoulders. The cigar would have slowed the cadence of her sentences and the whiskey shaved some of the stridency in her voice. She might even have found space to flirt, laugh and forget the world for a while and focus on herself and her company a little.

But alas, cigar smoking was banned. A void was created and civility fell into it.

Alex Story is Head of Business Development at a City broker working with Hedge Funds and other financial institutions. He stood for parliament in 2005, 2010 and 2015. In 2016, he won the right to represent Yorkshire & the Humber in the European Parliament. He didn’t take the seat. 

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