Moral cruasaders are peering into every nook and cranny of our lives. Maybe it's time society started to push back against the all-seeing nanny state.
Zeal is a “fervour for a person, cause or object; eager desire or endeavour; enthusiastic diligence; ardour”. It is, on the whole, regarded positively. But add two letters and everything changes. A zealot is “a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of their religious, political, or other ideals”. Synonyms for zealot include fanatic, enthusiast, extremist, radical, diehard, activist and militant.
This consideration was prompted by a recent conversation with an individual working at a senior level in pharmaceuticals. He mentioned a meeting where a senior official in the Department of Health talked about banning cigarettes in all public spaces as well as any building where there are children, and banning smoking completely for people born after a certain date. The objective, it seems, would be to make Ireland the first smoker-free country in the world.
Now, if this is the kind of thinking that goes on at senior policy levels, we’re in cloud-cuckoo land. One fully supports the intent to reduce smoking – but this is idealistic fantasy divorced from any semblance of reality. It’s fanaticism. It’s zealotry. It is expressive of a kind of faith, not reason.
The name of this faith is public health. As traditional faiths wane they are replaced by new codes of belief and orthodoxies. The impulse to control people’s behaviours, and their pleasures, hasn’t died. It has merely jumped species. The kind of people who would once have become controlling priests, bishops and head nuns now find their niche as public health policymakers, experts and lobbyists.
Like those black-garbed clerics of old, their mantra is that their draconian policies are for your own good. They know better and you are only entitled to the most minimal of freedoms. It’s all rather like the Taliban’s Afghanistan.
The same madness can be seen in alcohol policy in Ireland. My pharma friend also described a high-level conversation between health officials and the alcohol industry. Allegedly, the former told the latter that “We’re not listening to you. Whatever you say will be ignored”.
There you go. Of course, Big Pharma is the biggest industry in the world, with company budgets dwarfing those of many countries, including Ireland.
Observe the moral compromise. While they might see their motives as pure, public health zealots have made common cause with Big Pharma to promote the outlawing of a range of drugs AND to increasingly limit availability of alcohol. They have allied with Big Pharma to attack Big Alcohol – but in so doing have empowered Big Crime.
Historians of the illegal drug trade invariably point to the degree to which the “legit” drugs industry led Governments, and especially in the USA, towards ever greater prohibition and control of psychoactive drugs. Their goal was to corral consumers into their grasp and to cut out the non-industry drugs. Insofar as the legal drugs market expanded enormously, they were successful. But nobody can hide from the fact that, in parallel, the illegal drugs market also expanded on a truly massive scale.
You could say that the net effect of all their efforts is that the illegal drugs market mirrors the legal drugs market in size. Meanwhile, cigarette smoking has bottomed out and we now have a flourishing trade in illegally imported fags. And, of course, gangsters are making huge amounts of money and the Government is getting gypped of tax. It’s Prohibition all over again.
The policies promoted by the zealots have their effects on alcohol too. Ireland’s excise duty on drink is the highest in the world. The taxes have come close to destroying the pub as a social hub. Now pre-drinking is the norm. This, even some of the zealots admit, is a bad thing. Pubs bring a measure of general social control to drinking.
And there’s evidence of displacement: that is, that people are again getting into home-brewing – an honourable tradition – and that an illegal alcohol market is growing.
Earlier this month Donegal coroner John Canon commented on the deaths of two men from “corrupted and debased alcohol”. He said it was either home brew or imported as cheap alcohol. One of the men had “an extremely outrageous” level of methanol in his system.
The argument against the war on drugs goes way beyond its huge cost and ineffectiveness and the taxes lost in its pursuit. It must also comprehend the natural human instinct to experiment and to get a bit out of our heads, especially when young. If people can’t get, or afford, one substance they’re likely to go for another, legal or not.
Last week Professor Luke O’Neill of the School of Biochemistry and Immunology in Trinity College Dublin gave a lecture to the Irish Sceptics Society. He explained that humans have always taken drugs. And he said that these were originally in the form of plants such as marijuana – which was, he said, the first drug ever depicted (on the Ebers papyrus from ancient Egypt). It was used as an anti-inflammatory agent. Then there is a theory that the small medieval stone structures found in many parts of Ireland were sweathouses used in the consumption of magic mushrooms.
And so on.
Let’s be clear. The Hog is not in any sense in favour of smoking. It’s a wretched habit and certainly causes significant health problems later in life. But the notion of criminalising smokers is ridiculous.
As regards psychoactive drugs and alcohol, as is increasingly recognised in other countries (for example the legalisation of cannabis in Colorado), these are broadly benign substances unless consumed to excess or in excessive strength (like skunk). Heroin is, of course, a specific exception. Treat ‘em all the same. Regulate them. Tax them.
Will we get that here? Some chance. Public health policy in Ireland has become so distant from both reason and the real lives that people live. Sadly, that’s what happens when zeal gives way to zealotry. It should not be allowed. But it is very hard to defeat...
In Ireland, on both sides of the border there is change in the air. And in London too, the people have had enough of boorish toffs…Read More
One year on from our historic and momentous 'Yes' vote on Ireland's same-sex marriage referendum, we look back at Labour's crucial contribution to making it possibleRead More
It may have been famous for its hats and its canal – but with the release of the Panama Papers, the Central American country is now best known as a place where sometimes ill-gotten gains are salted away...Read More
That is just one example of the achievements of the Labour Party over the course of the past five years. It is about time that people gave them credit for what they did do...Read More
"The trouble with Trump is that he is, by temperament, by experience, and by character, utterly unqualified to be president of the United States. He is a buffoon."Read More
There have been hardly any applicants for one of the key positions in the civil service - suggesting the media's poisonous attitude towards public servants is putting suitable candidates off applying.Read More
Let us mourn them all with dignity, solidarity and love, says regular columnist, The Whole Hog…Read More
The clash of the opposing strands of Islam in Yemen has begun to escalate. The consequences for us all could be dire…Read More
What do the revelations by Paudie McGahon that he had been raped by a member of the IRA and subjected to a kangaroo court as recently as 2002 say about the Republican movement?Read More
From its initial vantage point on page three of the first issue of Hot Press, over the intervening 900 issues, The Whole Hog column has covered social, political and environmental issues around the world. In many ways it has been an exercise in observing the extraordinary capacity of humanity to get things wrong. And yet, there have been reasons to be cheerful, notably in the changes that have taken place in Ireland…Read More
The future of the European idea is at stake, as the Greeks seek a write-down of debts. The progress of the ensuing negotiations will be watched avidly in Ireland…Read More
The current wave of anti-government feeling is a complicated phenomenon. But lurking in there is the possibility that we may be entering a period of political fragmentation…Read More
The current conflict in the middle east shows that global leaders have failed to learn the lessons of world war 1.Read More
No? That Didn’t Come Naturally, did it? So Why is it that the Irish Have Such a Poor Self-image?Read More
Bosnia made it to the world cup finals, in the process making light of the country’s historic troubles. but in the emerging Jihadist force, Isis, there is a threat which will give the relatively liberal Muslims of Bosnia - along with the rest of the modern world – much to fear.Read More
Whistleblowers are essential. But the chorus of self righteousness and condemnation from the media is another matter entirely...Read More
What the ESB dispute and the prospect of a Christmas black-out says about class and politics in post-bailout Ireland...Read More
From civil war in Syria to natural disaster in the Philippines, we are staggering from one crisis to another...Read More
The recent NSA phone-tapping controversy underlines the enormously alarming levels of surveillance in our society...Read More
A series of apparently unelated phenomena underline the extent to which conventional thinking on the inter-linked subjects of drink, drugs and sex is totally off the point...Read More
The drowning tragedy off Lampedusa puts the reality of Irish emigration into a different kind of perspective...Read More
Lab-grown food may have a role to play in tackling the problem of world hunger...Read More
The debate about the future of the second house of parliament is underway. But the real issue is: how can we improve the nature of our democracy?Read More
In recent times, several women in different parts of the globe have shown remarkable courage and resilience...Read More
To paraphrase Bertie, the crash keeps getting crasher, with tiny Cyprus and its bloated banking sector feeling the chill winds of the global economic collapse. But who should pick up the tab for a nation awash with ‘hot’ money?Read More
With revelations about horse meat in burgers, it seems increasingly likely!Read More
Beginning in 2013, there are a slew of anniversaries on the way. Take note: living in the past is dangerous for your health...Read More
With world leaders almost exclusively pre-occupied with the global financial crisis, they have overlooked the looming threat of even greater catastrophes – including food shoatages.Read More
The murder of the U.S. ambassador in Libya is part of a wider battle being fought by a variety of religious faiths.Read More
There are numerous reasons why people do or don’t go to college – but for those who choose the third level route , it’s important to enjoy the experience to the full.Read More
If you were to believe the politicians, the moralists and the commentators you’d think Ireland was a horrible place to live. But it isn’t...Read More
Whatever the result of the referendum on the European Stability Treaty, we need to renew the idea of Europe as a matter of urgency...Read More
As the debate about the fiscal treaty referendum hots up, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that a new growth strategy is urgently needed.Read More
There is a growing international consensus that a different approach to drug legislation is needed. Ireland is beginning to wake up too…Read More
Another European referendum will inevitably result in a great deal of heated discussion about topics that have absolutely nothing to do with what we’ll actually be voting on. Isn’t it time we grew up?Read More
Moves to enshrine children’s rights in the Constitution raise questions as to what exactly childhood is, how we should protect it – and when precisely does it end?Read More
Like it or not, taxation is absolutely vital for enabling the State to provide decent public services. So why all the uproar? As with so much else, it’s a legacy of the Reagan/Thatcher reign of error...Read More
One of the most worrying elements of the Presidential campaign was a blurring of the line between politics and entertainment.Read More
Four of the Presidential candidates took the back road to nomination. The Whole Hog weighs up their chances.Read More
With David Norris seeking to re-enter the race, one might have thought the Presidential campaign had hit a new level of intrigue. And then Martin McGuinness was announced as a candidate..Read More
With the first of the UK rioters being dumped into an overcrowded prison system, the media continue to point fingers and call for their heads. In the search for a sensationalist headline, could they be coming for you next?Read More
With the Dog Star hanging overhead, our friends in the media are liable to get a bit hot and bothered over almost anything during the Silly Season. This time around – Summer Drubbin’ for David Norris...Read More
So now Bertie Ahern is telling Nigeria how to run its economy. Plus: there is an election looming in the North.Read More
The scale of Ireland’s crippling national debt is now far beyond the scope of comprehension; roughly 90 grand for every man, woman and child...Read More
Global catastrophes such as the Japanese earthquake and tsunami remind us that life is fragile and preciousRead More
We have just witnessed the most sensational election since the foundation of the Free State, with the decimation of the outgoing coalition parties, Fianna Fáil and the Greens. With the election of Luke “Ming” Flanagan, Richard Boyd Barrett, Shane Ross, Clare Daly and Mick Wallace – to name just five – the new Dáil will be a far more interesting place. But the challenges facing the incoming administration are no less daunting for that...Read More
This week’s election is likely to leave our poltical parties jockeying for position. Despite the lure of office, some of them may be better off remaining in opposition.Read More
The General Election the country has craved for so long is finally upon us. But will it represent the political sea-change Ireland so desperately needs?Read More
But they have been behaving like kids in a romper room. Well, it looks like it’s time to go to the polls...Read More
So much has changed since the fall of the Berlin Wall. It underlines how much we have to learn from our European neighbours...Read More
The oil spill in the Gulf has uncomfortable echoes of the banking crisisRead More
It is said that social networking has brought many of us closer together than ever before – but our rush to breathlessly document every element of our lives raises serious privacy issuesRead More
The tumultuous global events of 2008 demonstrate the utter precariousness of life. So let's live in the now...Read More
Recent violent attacks, such as the horrendous killing of two Polish men, may have involved young people. But that shouldn't lead us to tar an entire generation.Read More
The health nazis tell us that sharing a bottle of wine over a meal is binge drinking, but the statistics just don't add up.Read More
40 years after the Viet Cong outsmarted the most powerful army on earth, a new generation of Vietnamese are welcoming western dollars.Read More
The American Presidential primaries are fascinating to observe – but how will the ultimate outcome impact on the rest of the world?Read More
The current moral panic over binge-drinking is borne out of a 19th century Protestant ethic. Plus, The Hog’s Six Golden Rules for having a good Christmas.Read More
Young asylum seekers flee war and persecution to come to Ireland. So why are they treated so badly when they finally arrive here?Read More
Why there’s more to the murky world of child trafficking than meets the eye.Read More
Perfect weather has been promised for the next year’s Olympics Games thanks to a man called Zhang Qiang who is in charge of the city’s artificial rainmaking and prevention programme.Read More
In which the Archbishop of Armagh takes the commentariat to task – and finds himself in unlikely agreement with Richard Dawkins.Read More
Finding decent candidates to vote for may be hard work, but they’re out there. Somewhere.Read More
With the countdown to the general election now officially under way, the most important aspect to remember amid all the hype is that the right to vote is both a privilege and a responsibility.Read More
Striking nurses need to convince the public that their demands for extra pay and shorter hours will lead to a better health service. So far, they haven’t done so.Read More
With Paisley and Adams agreeing to play ball, Northern Ireland looks like becoming an unstoppable force over the coming years.Read More
Press coverage of the deaths of both Tania Corcoran and Derek O’Toole was equally misguided and unpleasant.Read More
Climate change has overtaken terrorism as the number one fear of electorates in western countries.Read More
The decision by Sinn Féin to endorse the PSNI as the legitimate police force for Northern Ireland heralds a new dawn in politics in Ireland.Read More
What the boy-racer phenomenon tells us about modern Ireland.Read More
Is it right that people should be held to account for past transgressions –even if they were not illegal at the time?Read More
Ten more years and Planet Earth reaches the point of no return. What are we going to do about it?Read More
The Points Race would appear to be dead, as the population bubble tails off. But what can we expect in its place?Read More
Sadly, the mighty cedars are bleeding in the heat. And no one is shouting stop...Read More
Would a surge in immigration diffuse sectarian antagonisms or inflame race-hate?Read More
Charlie Haughey caused as much harm as good. But in the final tally, he was typically one of us.Read More
There was a lot of heat and very little light in the debate about Ireland's sex laws. And as a result, the new act has created a whole new set of problems.Read More
Ireland’s treatment of asylum seekers tells us a great deal about our national mindsetRead More
Could new broacast regulations become a crank's charter?Read More
The recent Easter Rising commemration must encourage us to re-examine the events that lead to the foundation of state.Read More
Or how the Easter Rising still frightens the horses.Read More
The men that gods made mad.Read More
Why virutal reality will force us to reappraise our attitudes towards 'exploitative' pornography.Read More
When you look into the techno abyss, it looks into you.Read More
Technological advances are profoundly changing the very nature of what it is to be human.Read More
Annual article: A year in Irish politics reviewed.Read More
Annual article: The Whole Hog looks back on a year of strife and upheaval.Read More
Annual article: A year in the world of war reviewed.Read More
Annual article: A year in the world of wealth reviewed.Read More
Annual article: A year in the world of disease reviewed.Read More
Annual article: A year in developments in Northern Ireland reviewed.Read More
Annual article: A year in the world of religion reviewed.Read More
Annual article: A year in industrial relations reviewed.Read More
Annual article: A year in the world of enivronmental issues reviewed.Read More
Annual article: A year in world politics reviewed.Read More