Wherefore, though good and bad men suffer alike, we must not suppose that there is no difference between the men themselves, because there is no difference in what they both suffer. For even in the likeness of the sufferings, there remains an unlikeness in the sufferers; and though exposed to the same anguish, virtue and vice are not the same thing. For as the same fire causes gold to glow brightly, and chaff to smoke; and under the same flail the straw is beaten small, while the grain is cleansed; and as the lees are not mixed with the oil, though squeezed out of the vat by the same pressure, so the same violence of affliction proves, purges, clarifies the good, but damns, ruins, exterminates the wicked. And thus it is that in the same affliction the wicked detest God and blaspheme, while the good pray and praise. So material a difference does it make, not what ills are suffered, but what kind of man suffers them. For, stirred up with the same movement, mud exhales a horrible stench, and ointment emits a fragrant odor.
In the end, only love (of which faith is a particular form) can achieve the well-nigh impossible goal of seeing a situation as it really is, shorn of both the brittle enchantments of romance and the disheveled fantasies of desire. Clinical, cold-eyed realism of this kind demands all manner of virtues—openness to being wrong, selflessness, humility, generosity of spirit, hard labor, tenacity, a readiness to collaborate, conscientious judgment, and the like; and for Aquinas, all virtues have their source in love. Love is the ultimate form of soberly disenchanted realism, which is why it is the twin of truth. The two also have in common the fact that they are both usually unpleasant. Radicals tend to suspect that the truth is generally a lot less palatable than those in power would have us believe, and we have seen already just where love is likely to land you for the New Testament. In one sense of the word, dispassionateness would spell the death of knowledge, though not in another sense. Without some kind of desire or attraction we would not be roused to the labor of knowledge in the first place; but to know truly, we must also seek to surmount the snares and ruses of desire as best we can. We must try not to disfigure what we strive to know through fantasy, or reduce the object of knowledge to a narcissistic image of ourselves.
Because smoking is almost universally denigrated and I am a hopeless contrarian,[ref]Social anathemas like smoking instinctually make me look for ways to defend them. A similar impulse animated my CFL post.[/ref] I will extol the virtues of smoking tobacco.[ref]The health problems associated with smoking are many and obvious and, lest anyone should think otherwise, I am not advocating that anyone reading this picks up the habit. Nor am I trying to improve the lot of large tobacco corporations, who cannot be relocated to their special place in hell soon enough. Finally, mass-manufactured cigarettes are the ass-end of tobacco—much as Budweiser and its ilk can only be called “beer”—and can only technically and begrudgingly be included in this list.[/ref] [ref]Because you’re naturally wondering: I smoked cigarettes from the age of 16-19, after which I quit. I’ve been smoking hookah and pipe tobacco semi-regularly for the past four years.[/ref] Long footnoted qualifications aside, I want to draw some attention to a few virtues of smoking to contrast with its obvious vices.
The first virtue is that it gives one the regular opportunity to stop and think. In a relentlessly driving world that hardly ever pauses to catch its breath, smoking provides the regular opportunity to break from whatever you’re doing, change your scenery and, well, pause. Pause and reflect, perhaps, or maybe pause and think about nothing for a while. In any case, it’s a pause, which is virtue enough in and of itself.
And, in an increasingly isolated—if supposedly more “connected”—culture, smoking promotes sociality. Whether it’s the shared ritual of the hookah or the simple act of asking a colleague to join you for a smoke break, smoking is at its best a shared activity. I have few fond memories of my teenage years, but flirting with coworkers on snuck smoke breaks is one of them.
Smoking also give rhythm to life, introducing a cadence to your day, a way of marking time in a world where we march inexorably towards 24 hour everything. A way to start the day and end the day; to cap off a meal or making love, smoking gives structure to the time in our lives. It’s precisely the sudden absence of well-worn routine that makes quitting smoking so difficult for addicts who face much more than chemical withdrawal.
Finally, smoking can also be an aesthetic delight, especially the further one gets from mass-market cigarettes. Exploring the different varieties of tobacco and modes of smoking it can produce a lifetime of experimentation and enjoyment. And few things can compete with the simple pleasure of blowing a series of perfect smoke rings.
As already (foot)noted, none of this diminishes the fact that smoking comes with profound health risks, not only for yourself, but for those around you. Smoking can—and does—kill, and should not be blithely approached as just another hobby. But, particularly if one embraces the non-inhaling modes of tobacco smoking such as pipe or cigar, smoking has its virtues.