H/T Audrey Silk,
“[M]ost smokers first try cigarettes as youth, before the areas of their brain responsible for rational decision-making and risk perception have been fully formed. For these reasons, smoking should not be viewed as a rational behavior.”
Lots of things to chew over in this passage.
I tried my first cigarettes during my childhood, as a puff or two on one of my father’s while he smoked them, and I didn’t like them. I also didn’t like gin or whisky he drank. I didn’t much like girls either. It was only when I had reached the age of 18 or 20 that I found that I now liked all the things that I didn’t much like when I was 10.
And I’m always a bit puzzled about these “areas of the brain” that are somehow not “fully formed” until someone has reach the age of 18, or maybe 21, or perhaps even 47. When I was about 7 years old, I was told by my proud parents that I had reached “the age of reason” – but I had not recently experienced some profound revelation during which I had learned to count or to add. As far as I was concerned, I was as rational at the age of seven as I was at the age of six.
As far as my own experience goes, it seems to me that I have had the same mind/brain from birth, much as I have the same eyes, and I have used it to slowly build up skill and experience and knowledge. One of the earliest skills I acquired was that of walking, and later talking. I sometimes wonder, given that I have no memories of anything I saw before the age of 18 months, that I maybe also acquired the skill of seeing around that time. To the basic set of walking-talking-seeing skills I was then provided with reading-writing-arithmetic skills, swimming and bicycle-riding and shoelace-tying skills. I also slowly grew taller. As time went on, I learned more and more about the world in which I lived. And I’m still learning today. The learning process is unending. But none of that entails any “formation” of “areas of the brain” that I know of. In fact, to speak in this manner seems to me to be a way of de-legitimising people, by saying “their brains aren’t fully formed enough to understand” whatever insight/knowledge the speaker possesses.
And also, in what sense is any behaviour “rational”? In Idle Theory, people act rationally to increase their idleness, and thereby increase their freedom, wealth, and longevity. But what people do in their idle time need not be particularly “rational”. They do things that they enjoy doing.
Rational behaviour seems to me to be entail working using some means towards some end: something needs to be done – a lightbulb replaced -, and so a new one is found from the cupboard and screwed into place. But there are a great many activities which are not means to some end, but are ends in themselves. They don’t need to be done. Smoking cigarettes or drinking beer are such activities. Sitting in a pub, drinking a beer, and smoking a cigarette is an end in itself. It’s not a means to an end. Equally, activities like reading a novel or playing cards or going for a walk or a swim are ends in themselves. All art and music and poetry is an end in itself. Dance is an end in itself. They’re all idle time activities in which people can engage, or not engage. And there’s nothing particularly “rational” about any of them.
If it is the antismoker’s insistence that people would not take up smoking if they were capable of rational decision-making and risk assessment, then it seems to me that they wouldn’t take up beer-drinking, pub-going, card-playing, novel-reading, poetry-writing, picture-painting, hill-walking, sea-swimming, or waltz-dancing either. The antismoker seems to be insisting that we only do what needs to be done – like changing a lightbulb – and that we should desist from any activity that is unnecessary – like cigarette-smoking, beer-drinking, card-playing, and any of the countless other unnecessary activities that people engage in.
All of which reminds me, once again, of Dr W, the first antismoker I ever encountered. For, apart from his occasional rants against smoking, he was a man who seemed singularly incapable of pleasure. Not only did he not smoke or drink, but he didn’t go to pubs, or play cards, or read books, or paint pictures, or go for walks. He didn’t even read newspapers or watch TV. When he got home from his work – he was some sort of district health officer – he would take off his suit, put on some old trousers and boots, and head off into the garden to work on the beans and cabbages and chickens that he raised there. And when darkness had fallen, he’d potter around the house doing odd jobs that needed doing. Or he’d sit at the desk that he kept at home, poring over medical papers (he was very active in the BMA). And he never laughed. He hardly ever even smiled. And when he did, it was a sardonic smile, with the corners of his mouth hitched up for the required duration.
Contrast that with my mother, who when she got home from her teaching job, would change, get out her paints and work on her paintings, or sing along with Frank Sinatra, or play piano, read books, and drink Cinzano. Or my father, who when he came home from his managerial job, would change into casual clothes, sit down in an armchair with a Pink Gin and a cigarette, and read Time or the Brazil Herald, before taking us all out in his car to the beach or the cinema or some restaurant. And they were both capable of smiling and laughing. In fact they were both capable of gales of laughter. And so were all their friends, who would occasionally come round to one of the parties they threw, and themselves smoke and drink and laugh all evening.
Dr W lived a life that was all work, no play. When he’d finished his day job, he started on his evening jobs. Most likely everything he was doing was highly rational. He never did anything in the least bit irrational or playful. But my parents (and their friends) enjoyed their after-hours idle time. They played hard. When they got home, they’d start doing things they enjoyed doing for their own sake, not as means to some end.
But then maybe at the age 35 or 40, the “areas of the brain” that they needed for “rational decision-making and risk perception” had still yet to be “fully formed.”