Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Smoking.

10:04 PM Posted by Patrick 13 comments
America is not a nation fueled on Christian thought; it is a nation fueled on suppositions of moral superiority.

You think my words too harsh?

Think about it for just a moment. Gandhi, who was himself not the most innocent of parties, put forth the idea of Satyagraha, or the force of moral strength over physical strength in the world of politics. It is not necessary to be the greatest in numbers, nor to be stronger in either the ways of violence of intellect, but merely in the ways of perceived moral superiority; from there, mastery follows, because none dare act in the face of perceived morality.

In Gandhi's case, he challenged British control, on the grounds that they were abusing the Indian peoples--plural, not singular--and were refusing the Indians self-determination, of which they were fully capable. At the same time, when Jinnah went to Gandhi and Nehru to ask for protection of the Indian Muslims in the face of Hindu majority, Gandhi rebuked him and told him to get his priorities straight; not that Jinnah's request would have derailed Gandhi's agenda, but Gandhi did not care overmuch about the concerns of Indian Muslims, and would prefer to have control with his own party.

I do not say this to challenge the greatness of Gandhi: he is still amongst the wisest of men. However, like all men, Gandhi falls short of the mark, because all men are imperfect, even according to their own standards.

Nonetheless, Gandhi was a hypocrite in his call for Indian self-determination, because he intended to afford no protections to the Muslims. The moral high ground that he seized was created, not real, and so it is--or so I believe--with all of the moral high ground created by men.

There are any number of modern topics to which my critique could be applied; there are perhaps some of you that have gay marriage dancing before your eyes, perhaps others dwell on the death penalty.

No matter what, there is not one party within our society that bases its claims upon superior numbers or might or wisdom or pragmatic realism; all parties lay the foundations of their arguments in  perceived superiority.

To challenge certain societal norms--or emergent societal norms--makes you a bad person. To act against these norms puts you at a level that is practically sub-human. There are some behaviors we are no longer allowed to question, and still other things in which we are no longer allowed to engage.

I am about to go where you did not expect.

Would you care to know why I began smoking a pipe? (occasionally, of course)

I can think of three moments that most strongly influenced me. The first was my great grandfathers that used tobacco, and apparently derived some pleasure from it, both of whom were intelligent, healthy, long-lived men, who understood the importance of moderation, but also enjoyed their simple pleasures.

The second instance was a pastor at the Higher Things, In His Face concert in Texas. I left the absolute bedlam of the hotel for a moment of fresh--98 degree with equal Houston humidity--air and found myself alone with a pastor, who was taking a mental health moment. He was reading and smoking his pipe; it smelled marvelous, and of all the people of the conference, he seemed to me like the one who was making the best use of his time.Being a thoughtless teenager, with as yet uncontrolled social impulses, I began talking at him, and he seemed perfectly content and at ease. I will carry the image of his bearded person for quite awhile I imagine; I wonder who he was.

The last influence, with which I would never have picked up the pipe, will come as less of a surprise to those who know how contrary I am.

Connie Willis wrote a book. Her book was named Bellweather. If you have not read Bellweather, then you are wasting your time reading this. H'anyway, in this most amusing and best of books, Willis parodies the visceral reaction of societies against smokers, and the ridiculous reviling of a single vice.

I laughed at it in Willis, but the reality is that smokers really do get the shaft from the rest of us. Habitual smokers are looked at like they have a disease or a mental defect, and the rest of society seems to stand together in agreement that they and their second hand smoke may--and you will pardon my profanity--fuck off.

Smoking is dirty, can be quite uncouth, and like all behavior, should be abstained from around those who do not care for it, as good manners and basic courtesy dictate.

However.

When I have someone in line at work who gives someone else a dirty look for smelling like smoke; when I have someone act as if smoking were a mental disease; when I hear smokers as not caring for those around them...I draw the line.

I have no time for the perceived moral superiority.

Those same people who get angry with the smokers drink too much alcohol, drive too fast, do not exercise enough, and are all going to die one way or another. Smoking is a dirty habit. So are lying, gossiping, and masturbation, but the latter three are generally excepted by society as inevitable.

Furthermore, I say that smoking is the only one of those three that is not an absolute moral wrong. It is a small pleasure that is bad for your health, like large quantities of red meat and insufficient exercise. Obesity related conditions--especially heart issues in males--are still more deadly than lung cancer to date, so where is the outrage over gluttony? Or is it that you only care about the 'dangers of second hand smoke.'' You know, from that one time you walked past a smoker on the side walk.

Smoking is not wise, but chew on this.

In some forms, it is indeed pleasant. I smoke, usually, no more than once a week, and only when I am at my most restless. I can get to the point where I find it hard to do anything but pace like a caged animal, especially when I have a headache. Smoking tends to relieve this in the space of fifteen odd minutes. I tend to spend a much better night after this.

The other great attraction is social.

I went to Riegels today. Riegels is our local tobacconist, and they have a simply splendid selection. On this occasion, like every other, I was not alone in the store. In the store were three old men, all of whom seemed to know each other, and all of whom were having a good time smoking their cigars.

Smoking, like drinking, is a social vice. It gives these men an excuse to come together and enjoy themselves, just as it does with the young people in the smoke huts on campus. They have a good time, and they have community. The people in the smoke hut are huddled against the wind, and the old men in that tobacconist are huddled against the disapproval of society.

In the one case, the young folks in the smoke hut are rebels; they do not care that society has decided that their little pleasure is unacceptable. The reality that their habit alienates them from the rest of the body only makes their sense of community that much stronger: everyone knows the other people who meet in the smoke huts.

So also, those fine old men of Riegels know each other, and though society does not approve of their particular little vice, they know their way around life and have learned something that most of us are yet to learn. Everyone dies.

Is this a reason to go out and chain-smoke? Good heavens, no. I do not, and nor will I ever.

But it is a lesson in moderation. Just as we should be moderate in how we take things into ourselves, so also, we should be more moderate in the judgements we hand down.

Accept that your body is already moldering. Birth is the beginning of the slow road to death, if you will allow me to be macabre. It is also, however, blessed with the ability to perceive numerous--innumerable--kinds of pleasure, all of which should be enjoyed in moderation and in the proper time and place. Alcohol, tobacco, food, sex, music, poetry, and coffee are all for our enjoyment, but are all destructive if they become obesessions.

If you abstain from alcohol and smoking entirely in the interest of preserving your body, go ahead. But please have the consistency to abstain from gluttony and laziness; do not fall to the darkness of a delicate pastry, neither the leisure of fake buttered popcorn, nor allow yourself to fall into contact sports; such as are contrary to your God, Goodhealth.

Addiction is not a good thing, so far as anything that takes a man's will from him is a bad thing; in the same way, peer pressure, and caving to perceived moral force in the absence of principle may be said to be a bad thing, as it strips a man of his will and makes him dependent on something outward. A slave is a slave, regardless of who the master is.

My problem is that we are all slaves of public opinion; the greatest evil in our society--whether we will admit it or not--is to be unpopular, and this is exactly what we should expect from a democratic society, where the will of the people is the alpha and the omega.

I started smoking, je so oft, as a protest against all of those who looked down on smoking and smokers. Had I not been so angry at the outrage against smoking, I never would have picked up my pipe.

Get rid of all of your bad habits. Obey all laws fully and completely. Stop being a glutton. Stop undressing women in your head as they walk past. Stop sitting there and reading stupid blogs when you should be doing something useful.

Then, we can talk.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Lazy Sunday

11:37 PM Posted by Patrick No comments
Sunday morning began rather later than it normally would have for me. In one way, you could say that the reason was that I hit the snooze button eight times, after--of course--listening to the opening cadences of M.I.A. 8 times, but cutting it off before the acoustic guitar gives way to the electric. In another way, you could say that it was because I was--am?--a lazy bum, and just did not want to drag my carcass out of bed. To some extent, both of the above would be true.

The real reason, however, is that I--and several unnamed accomplices--had just finished watching the last season of breaking bad at 2:30 the night before, and one does not simply slip off into gentle sleep after that. I will not say anything about the show here, because everyone should watch it and spoilers would be a bad thing. Without spoiling anything, I can say, it was really good.

How good? I might just buy into TV as a potential art form; that kind of good.

Anyway, my Sunday started late, and I took no pains to make my morning rituals any faster. I moseyed down the street to the Gottesdienst, not thinking about how my leather soled shoes would fair on the polished ice. Concentrating my full energies on not spilling my coffee, I skittered my way down the sidewalk like a Great Dane puppy; unfortunately rather less cute and coordinated.

After a couple close calls I had made it across Rudisill. There was church, complete with Confirmation and Baptism, with an excellent little reception to follow; the morning was satisfying, life was good, and the rest of the day promised interest as well.

Now, before I continue to chronicle my boring day, and so you do not feel like I have tricked you awfully when I reach the end, I should tell you that the only reason that this day seems worth chronicling to me, is because I never get Sundays off of work. Ever. As such, while everyone else is used to Sunday being a day to chill, mine is usually pretty well occupied from 9:15 until 8:00 in the evening, which makes for a fairly long day to be out and about; nothing to complain about, but I usually never feel settled on a Sunday until I stop to unwind at night.

A free Sunday is something of a novelty for me, and having the time to assimilate it makes everything so much more pleasant and clear, both at the time, and even now as I reflect on it. Even church and seeing my church family are more pleasant when I know I do not have to rush off to work right afterward.

This could be a place where I might launch into much breast beating about my desire to have a normal, fixed, work schedule, but that is rather done to death at this point, so we press on.

After taking my sweet time at the reception, I got home and realized I needed to book if I wanted to change and get to Cinema Center on time. And I was not showing up in a suit.

Cinema Center was having an event to support the Three Rivers Language Center, and particularly their excellent--and quite fascinating--work reanimating the Myaamia language. The Myaamia are working on relearning how to speak their language, which went dormant in the Sixties; the center is helping them decode all of the linguist speak to recover the syntax and pronunciation. Interesting work. A worthy cause.

I was there because I had been bribed with extra credit. Sad, but true. In my senior year, there are now many things I won't do for extra credit or bad free pizza, but this seemed like it had the potential to be interesting. Plus, this was all being done at Cinema Center; how better to build my cover with the hipsters, the secret to whose origins I am still seeking.

I changed and got downtown much faster than I anticipated, so I decided to park by the library and walk to the theater. It was windy, and downtown Fort Wayne lends itself quite well to turning ordinary wind into bone-chilling, biting, howling winds. While I was not entirely comfortable, I was consoled by how remarkably bad-ass my coat looked in the wind (so the nice hooligans said).

I finally made it to the theater, considerably warmer for the walking. The first thing I saw when I got into the theater was Dr. Bischoff, who was pleasantly surprised that a few of his students were taking the bait. It appeared that I was the only student that had made it from my class, but there was a fairly decent group there, including people I've had classes with before.

I slipped into the auditorium, and two minutes later I was joined by someone I did not expect to see. I was sitting there, counting a larger number of people than I had expected, when Joe Strange slid into the seat next to me. I have had several classes with Joe before, in both History and German, and it was not until we started talking that I realized that I missed him. He is probably in his late thirties or early forties; he has a wife and kids, a wry sense of humor, and a je ne sais quoi that makes him really easy to be around. Oh, and his name is awesome.

He and I spent the last little bit before the show catching up, and then, just before the show began, Curt sat in the seat on my other side, and it was really good to see that Curt wasn't dead.

An announcement was made, we applauded about something, the lights went down, and our feature began. The Linguists turned out to be a documentary about the documentation of dying languages. As the film reminded the viewer--over and over--there are seven thousand languages, and languages go dormant--or lose their final speakers--at the present rate of 2 a week. The viewer is whisked along on an often amusing but thoroughly alarmist exposition of how an intrepid pair of linguists spend their professional life tracking down and recording these languages.

My final review of the movie is that it was worth my time. It belabored a few points, presented the linguists in a light that was less than flattering to them as skilled academics, and tried to make a cheap drama out of an otherwise fascinating topic. Nonetheless, the crap editing and attempts to make it sexier did not spoil the interest of the people and languages.

In the movie talk afterwards, I got to hear Myaamia spoken, which was rather cool, and I got to listen to the panel try to toe the line between supporting the cause and acknowledging the flaws of the movie, which was especially funny, since all  threee panelists had worked with the linguists in the documentary.

I didn't hang around after the screening, mostly because I had consumed a fair amount of coffee before the film, a bottle of water during the film, and by the end of the somewhat protracted talk, and in the face of a long line, I decided I would be a happier man if I just hoofed it back to the library. I got there, saw some more of my classmates, stopped, chatted, then went looking for research materials before the library closed. New materials on hand, I left them in my trunk, and decided it should be a marvelous thing if I went to Starbucks. To Starbucks I went, I got a cappuccino, and it was good. Even in the snow, Downtown is a great little place to walk.

After that, I really had to get back and do homework, but the afternoon of unexpected freedom was nice. And yes, it might seem like a somewhat boring afternoon, but I genuinely enjoyed it.

And that was my lazy Sunday afternoon.