The Campfire

A couple of articles I came across yesterday. The first was Could Cigarette Smoking Be The Right Career Move?

What is it about sharing a cigarette that accelerates human bonding? Whether it’s outside an office building or a bar, people who smoke are at the very least willing to strike up a conversation with someone they mightn’t know. Today in many public environments you’ll mostly find people with their eyes glued to their phone screens. I’ve talked to a lot of smokers and what I keep hearing is that the conversations they have hurdle the banalities of everyday life and gets straight to the good stuff.

The other one was Do you have a light?

Small moments, single intersections of time and luck and opportunity as fleeting as seconds themselves sow the seeds of the richest things in our lives. One kind in particular sticks out to me, though: the countless different social interactions I’ve had because of smoking cigarettes…

I’ve left out the statutory condemnation of smoking that followed in the next paragraph, and skipped to the one after that:

Any smoker will tell you that smoking cigarettes grants you membership to an invisible club of all the people in the world who smoke. You might not resemble each other in the slightest but you have this deeply personal thing in common: the fact that, at that moment, you both needed a cigarette. So you share a match, you find a streetlight to lurch under, and then there you are, together. Sharing, chatting, connecting. It happens in Morningside Heights just as it does on every city street around the world.

There is something both dark and delightful—something so wonderfully Columbia—about how this prevalent source of community stems from such a human vice. A lit cigarette ironically becomes a humanizing signal to passersby that you’ve momentarily succumbed to stress and life—that you admit you’re not perfect, either, at least for a few minutes.

I don’t disagree with any of that. But what do I think?

I think that when you light a cigarette or a pipe or a cigar, you’re returning to a primal human world. You’re returning barefoot to a campfire on a beach, or in a forest clearing, the lit sticks crackling, the smoke billowing up towards the full moon above, the barbecue sizzling, the women nursing infants at their breasts, cutting slices of burnt meat, half-cooked in places, with your obsidian knife, to hand to him or her or the half-feral dog.

A cigarette is a little campside fire. Or a candle. Or a torch. And an ashtray is the cold ashes of the morning after.

The act of smoking is deeply primitive, primeval. It places the smoker deep in human history, the way things used to be for thousands upon thousands of years. It’s a deep history from which us moderns are becoming steadily more detached, disconnected, estranged.

Cigarettes are a 20th century mode of smoking. They’re strongly associated with war, because the cigarette pack is the natural companion to a clip of bullets in a rifle magazine, and almost as precisely engineered. By comparison, pipes are 16th century muzzle-loading cannon. And cigars are handmade stone age spears. And of course e-cigarettes are a 21st century way of smoking, with the smoke and flame as invisible and vestigial as silicon chips. But whichever way you’re smoking, you’re recreating the ancient campfire, around which you’re sat, offering strangers bloody pieces of half-cooked meat. And that’s why it bonds people together. That’s the way humans have always bonded. Around a campfire, enveloped in clouds of smoke.

And the antismokers are people who are fleeing from that deep history. They hate it all. They hate everything about it. They hate humanity and campfires and smoke. They want every trace of it expunged. They regard themselves as beyond that kind of humanity. And that’s why they’re so arrogant, and so inhuman.  They’re “progressives”, going they know not where, except that it’s away from the smoke and fire and heat and dirt and sand that they so detest.

The war between smokers and antismokers is a war between a warm human past and a cold, compassionless, inhuman future. It’s a profound war. And it’s one that’s been going on for hundreds of thousands of years, and not just since the smoking bans of the early 21st century, or the arrival of tobacco in Europe in 1485.

And us humans have one advantage over the anti-human antismokers. We have the campfire around which we can talk and share and bond. And they have nothing comparable. There’s nothing to unite them except their hatred – which is the only thing that drives them, and which is just as easily directed at each other as at any enemy. For the antismokers hate each other just as much as they hate smokers, and it will be their hatred that will in the end destroy them.

P.S. I’ve added a Follow button at the top of the right margin. I don’t know how I’ve managed to get 205 followers, when I haven’t myself been able to see how to follow this blog.

About Frank Davis

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16 Responses to The Campfire

  1. Doonhamer says:

    I used to always have a seat right at the rear in SMOKING when I flew. And I had almost completely stopped smoking – not for health reasons – I just found that each successive fag through the day was less pleasurable.
    The company was better and there were no children.

  2. Timothy Goodacre says:

    Totally right Frank. Aren’t we sociable ! It is so pleasant to enjoy a cigarette with a fellow devotee wherever you are in the world !

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Lovely post Frank. Absolutely spot on. I presume those campfire women also smoked. They weren’t in your picture but just looking after the kids. Our children are now middle aged, and healthy, but when I fed them in the middle of the night or crack of dawn, I lit a cigarette first to comfort me in such a lonely, dreary job! I presume the campfire ladies had a fag to comfort themselves too? I loved the comradie of smoking!

    • Frank Davis says:

      I wasn’t thinking of any of those ancestral people smoking anything, I simply saw them as living in a smoky world, huddled around their open fires. And in that sense, everyone “smoked”. And perhaps the women most of all, if their job was to cook the food.

      • Elizabeth says:

        I think we have always smoked. Was it you, or someone else who posted a video of French anthropologists meeting an undiscovered tribe for the first time in Borneo, was it, in the seventies? . They smoked pipes! In Africa they twirl leaves to smoke. So please don’t mess with my lovely idea that the men were sitting round their fires smoking with the women who were doing it too! I LIKE the idea…..

  4. Smoking Lamp says:

    Sharing a smoke has been a pleasure for smokers for many years past. It is way of showing solidarity, means of expressing empathy, and a mechanism for sharing comfort and concern. I think the anti-tobacco extremists seek to break these bonds of community so they can impose their will and persecute those that don’t cower and submit to their oppressive diktats…

  5. Philip Neal says:

    The evolutionary biologist William Hamilton thought in all seriousness that smoking is the modern reflection of the campfires round which prehistoric man evolved. I quote him here.

  6. Smoking Lamp says:

    Another example of an anti-smoking extremist’s quest to eradicate smoking and persecute smokers–this time from japan (where the antis are rating up efforts to impose comprehensive smoking bans): “40-year fight of anti-smoking movement’s key campaigner” Essentially this is the story of a fanatic seeking to eradicate smoking because he doesn’t like it. Note the article cites the “passive smoking” ruse propagated by Takeshi Hirayama as a fact–which it certainly isn’t (fraud through manipulated data reinforcing an ideological bias would be more accurate).

  7. waltc says:

    Your paragraph on the campfire is a keeper and I’ve duly copied it. When I connect with other smokers, I don’t, however, go back in time to my undoubredly cave-dwelling ancestors, but merely to a few short decades ago when that metaphorical campfire was anywhere we spontaneously decided to build it–certainly in bars and pre-Starbucks coffee shops, over long dinners, at anybody’s house.

    But yes, I believe the campfire women smoked. I was once on a small plane between Carribbean islands and caught in a violent storm in the middle of the night in the middle of the ocean. The plane bounced around like a chopper in a warzone evading flak. And I remember some ancient Carib woman with a baby on her lap, placidly smoking a dark, bent, hand-rolled cigar.

  8. Gráinne says:

    It’s great that you can articulate how nice it is to smoke companuably.

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