Teetotalling totalitarians know the cost of life, but not the value.

ByMichael J. Knowles

If the Houston Chronicle is right, I’m going to live forever. The paper shared the secret to longevity over the weekend in a piece titled, “Drinking Dr. Pepper and smoking cigars: Centenarians share their secrets to living past 100.” The secret, it seems, is not trying to live forever.

World War II veteran Richard Overton, the oldest man in America at 112, begins his morning with whisky in his coffee and a stogie in his teeth. He’ll consume up to 18 cigars per day while scarfing down catfish, gravy, and macaroni and cheese. Last year, 106-year-old Texan Elizabeth Sullivan finally gave up the ghost, but only after guzzling Dr. Pepper for over a century. “Every doctor that sees me says they’ll kill you, but they die, and I don’t,” explained Sullivan. “So there must be a mistake somewhere.”

Susannah Mushatt Jones, who died two years ago at the age of 116, never drank or smoked, but she did eat four pieces of bacon with eggs and grits each morning for breakfast. Adele Dunlap passed away last year at 114, after a lifetime eating, drinking, and smoking whatever she wanted, though she “never went out jogging or anything like that,” according to her son. The longest confirmed lifespan in history goes to Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122. According to her obituary, Calment “used to eat more than two pounds of chocolate a week,” smoked nearly all her life, and continued to drink Port—not just wine, but fortified wine—into her thirteenth decade.

Meanwhile, neurotic health nuts strive for immortality through compulsive physical exercise, meatless diets, juice “cleanses,” and outright starvation. Our technological overlords in Silicon Valley promise every few years to be on the verge of finding the “cure” for death. Ethically deaf scientists promise that the corpses of only a few more unborn babies offer the key to biological regeneration. Convinced of their originality and unacquainted with history, these leftist utopians follow a long tradition of immortalists seeking the elixir of life in various metals and potions, sometimes at staggering human cost.

They all died, but how many lived? A materialist age makes neurotics of those who measure their life in minutes. Teetotalling totalitarians know the cost of life, but not the value. They ban smoking, soft drinks, fast food, and foie gras. Now they harangue a federal judge for drinking beer in college. The political philosopher Michael Oakeshott put it well when he observed that, for conservatives, “to acquire and to enlarge will be less important than to keep, to cultivate, and to enjoy.” No wonder the Left seems so perpetually aggrieved. If only they knew the secret: by limiting one’s demands on life to the possible, one is able actually to enjoy it.

For more on the simple joys of being Right, you might enjoy my speech last week at Franciscan University of Steubenville: