Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The ethics of breath

Just a quick thought today. There is an aspect of everyday life that has always intrigued me, and this is our compulsion to hurt others for various reasons. I have been reading Primo Levi's "The Drowned and the Saved", and in it he talks movingly about the German's use of 'useless violence', expressions of harm to which the intent is simply the cause of harm itself. Not pain inflicted for a reason, merely to make the point of one race's superiority over another.

I could not avoid considering this when, after an interview for a job today, I became peckish for a spot of lunch. I settled in a Wolverhampton eatery from which I ordered a cheese, pineapple and chives panini (odd, I know. Also, I didn't receive any chives. I wasn't sure about complaining because I considered it possible that the chives were hidden beneath the cheese and pineapple and were transmitting no taste). A woman entered, asked for an ashtray and started smoking. The two elderly ladies on the next table stared at her warily and coughed telegraphically, to no avail.

What armoury of thought enters your head as you light up in a public space? This is fascinating because of the range of responses to issues of passive smoking. There is the denial of passive smoking's health risks, which although preposterous, as clearly the smoke is an irritant, at least it does not place the smoker in a position of not caring for the health of others. And there are those who have the habit, the compulsion, and who find it normal to smoke publicly. We cannot dislike people for growing up in the very different British culture that only precedes ours by a few decades, and such arguments are seemingly evidently understandable.
The important question is, what about those who understand the unpleasantness of such smoking, and that they shouldn't be doing what they are, and who have known this from the very start of their use of nicotinic stimulants, but express the idea that they don't care about the health of others? These people, predominantly those much younger who have grown up with conscientous anti-smoking childrens' telivision, started smoking knowing what it entailed - the harm of themselves and of others. Surely, this is just an example of 'useless violence', using air itself as the medium through which to communicate a rasping punch to the airways of others?

This has led me to consider studying such arguments as a PhD thesis. If you think this makes me a veritable hero of today's consensus-driven meritocracy, press the red button now, and cast your vote on our interactive service! You may also view this blog post from an array of different ideological angles if you subscribe to our premium service.