We’ve sure become a lot tenser since kicking the habit.
On the off chance anyone’s been watching for my articles to appear here at The American Spectator Online, I want to offer my apologies. I was, as Gandalf said, “delayed.” And not in an entirely dissimilar way. I’ve been grappling for the last two years with the Balrog of modern academia, deep in the bowels of the educational abyss. I’m a librarian when I’m not writing or battling evil in a cape, and my employer offered to pay for my master’s training. So now at last I’m bona fide, fully equipped with my degree in Library and Information Science, as they call it nowadays. All this has left me little time for commenting on cultural and political events.
And it’s pretty obvious you’ve missed me. I turn my back for a couple years, and look at what you’ve done to the place.
Where did it all go wrong? I have a suggestion. An extremely ridiculous one.
I recently watched the excellent Norwegian/Danish/British series, The Heavy Water War, on Netflix. It’s a dramatization of the resistance effort to destroy the atomic bomb-related heavy water manufacturing operation in Norway during World War II.
In the interests of authenticity, the series shows many people smoking. And I shall tell you a shameful truth — I kind of liked it.
Now I hasten to add, to avoid possible prosecution for blasphemy and crimes against humanity, that I’m not a smoker. I made a couple attempts at pipe smoking in college, purely as an affectation, but decided it was more trouble than it was worth. And I once had to smoke three cigarettes per performance when I did a play in community theater (Write Me a Murder by Frederick Knott). But the run ended before I got hopelessly addicted (though I’ll admit I was inhaling toward the end, and kind of enjoying it). Since then, clean lungs all the way. Two close family members have died of COPD, so I fully understand the health dangers.
But a person has memories, and our childhoods are something we’re stuck with, not something we choose. When I was a boy — I’m tempted to say everybody smoked, but that’s not true. My mother and grandmothers didn’t smoke. Pretty much all the other adults in my life did, though. Smoking was done everywhere (except in church and school). So there’s a certain comfort for me in watching people lighting up.
Comfort has a lot to do with smoking. Recently I’ve been reading old thrillers written by E. Phillips Oppenheim. There’s a scene in Envoy Extraordinary, set in the 1930s, where the hero tells a friend who’s been through a shock, “Whisky and soda, eh? And light your pipe. Nothing like a spot of tobacco for the nerves.”
Our moralistic — and slightly hysterical — condemnations of earlier generations’ tobacco use overlook many points, as moral crusades generally do. One of them is this — tobacco is a relaxant and a pain killer. When our ancestors were filling their homes and business places with tobacco smoke, they were anesthetizing themselves and un-fraying their nerves. A large percentage of our ancestors, whether they were framing the Constitution, taming the Wild West, or planning victory in Europe, were mildly sedated at the time.
And it occurs to me that that wasn’t entirely a bad thing.
It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that things generally seem to have fallen to pieces in the last few decades. Long-treasured and valuable traditions have been discarded. The nuclear family has been delegitimized, in favor of expensive and counterproductive government programs. Feelings have replaced principle and law, even in the courts. People (as I’ve complained before on this site) have stopped dressing like grownups.
And in politics, we find ourselves facing, this fall, the electoral choice of Scylla vs. Charybdis.
It occurs to me that maybe part of the problem is that we’re all too tense. We’re reacting with our reflexes, not our reason. Perhaps because we’ve lost the calming, civilizing influence of tobacco smoke.
Instead of tobacco, our society today runs on coffee (a beverage I’ve never learned to drink). Coffee’s effects are well known. It heightens the nerves. It makes you jumpy. The caffeine addict is more likely to overreact, to act without thinking, to make irrational decisions.
Like nominating some clown for president.
The unhealthy effects of cigarette smoking are well known and scientifically verified. A smoking society shortens its cumulative lifespan and increases its personal suffering.
But maybe quitting tobacco has negative effects on the health of the Body Politic.
What if our true choice is between tobacco and chaos?
Is that really a lot worse than a choice between Donald and Hillary?