Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Fri Dec 11 09:21:05 PST 1998

>The fascination of the sublime is in its power to overwhelm or destroy us -
>in art, Shelley's Mont Blanc, Jameson's Hotel Bonaventure, or even, as Tom
>Weiskel argued in The Romantic Sublime, noisy rock and roll. Or in life,
>cigarettes. It's precisely their danger that some people find attractive.
>And the more they're demonized, the more people, especially younger people,
>are drawn to them. The attraction has nothing to do with the reasonable
>evaluation of risk/reward ratios. They're a way of flirting with death.
>This is something that public health professionals and mental hygienists
>don't understand.

This is lacking totally in what should matter most, a historical analysis of the role of tobacco in capital accumulation. Tobacco, coffee, tea, sugar and rum are linked historically to the emergence of Western European colonialism. New world indigenous societies were destroyed by the invading maruaders and valuable land was used to create essentially habit-forming or addictive products. As Warren Buffett once said, there is no better profit-rewarding business than cigarettes. You take cheap crops that are worth pennies, wrap paper around them, and sell them for dollars to a population which becomes addicted. Then, corporations use the power of the state to protect their interests.

Doug, as in a previous discussion of prostitution on PEN-L, doesn't see these questions in class terms. They are only life-style questions for him.

In point of fact, we don't really know what kinds of choices young people will make in the absence of advertising. To talk about "flirting with death" seems rather silly. The average 15 year old starts smoking because of peer pressure and nothing else. The other reason people smoke is that it is a mood elevator, which some scientists liken to the effect of prozac. Since adolescents suffer depression on a higher per capita basis than nearly any other section of the population, as confirmed by the astonishing increase in suicides, they represent tremendous profit-making opportunity.

There should be no laws in capitalist society against cigarettes but laws should definitely be enacted against advertising, subsidies to growers, etc. Education against their harmful effects fall on deaf ears in capitalist society, because most people take up smoking already know that they are harmful, just as African-Americans know that crack is addictive. Chinese knew opium was addictive as well, but this did not stop Great Britain from having its way in the 19th century. The power of capital is enormous.

Under socialism, I would expect people to act in less self-destructive manners. Anybody who spent time in Sandinista Nicaragua would have been astonished by the high level of cigarette-smoking. The only explanation is that people in desperate situations need everything they can to get through the day. The idea obviously is to reduce desperation, which starts by eliminating the capitalist system.

Louis Proyect


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