I saw a satellite photo of the California wildfires a couple of days back:
It looked like San Francisco, which I think of as the antismoking capital of the world, is not quite as smoke-free as it might wish to be. In fact, it rather looks like SF is a smoke-filled city right now, and has been for the past week or so since the Camp Fire started. There’s probably secondhand cigarette smoke in every home, and every office, and every bar.
And it will be secondhand cigarette smoke. Because included in the smoke will be the smoke from countless packs of cigarettes that the Camp Fire has consumed as it has burned its way through towns and villages. When I lived in Devon, I used to convert garden bonfire smoke into secondhand cigarette smoke by emptying a few of my ashtrays into them: easy.
And all the snowflakes in San Francisco are probably completely freaking out after having endured a smoky environment for an entire week. If they start coughing when they see a cigarette, what must happen when they’re stuck in a smoky environment for an entire week? They must be coughing their lungs up all day, the poor dears.
But for SF’s few remaining smokers, the past week has probably come like a breath of fresh air. They’ll have no trouble at all. They may even be enjoying it. Because smokers are smoke-adapted people. They’re quite used to living in a smoky environment, and having their lungs filled with smoke. They have a skill that non-smokers don’t have. They can do something that non-smokers can’t do: they can smoke cigarettes, or pipes, or cigars.
Smoking is a skill. It took me a long time to become a proper smoker. For the first few years I smoked menthol cigarettes. And that’s like swimming with water wings. It took 3 or 4 years before I learned to roll my own (another skill), and smoke unfiltered Old Holborn. It took me 2 or 3 years to learn how to swim.
For smoking is a skill like swimming. It takes a while how to learn how to do it. And once you can do it, you can survive in another environment: water.
By comparison, non-smokers are like non-swimmers. There are environments they can’t enter, can’t endure. They have to stand on the bank and watch their friends swimming out on a sea that they dare not enter. They are, in effect, disabled people
And antismokers are like non-swimmers who not only can’t swim, but who actively disapprove of swimming. Rather than learnig how to swim, they want to prevent anyone else from swimming. And they play up the dangers of swimming. You can drown. How can you possibly enjoy getting completely soaking wet? Where’s the fun in sitting on a beach getting your shoes and hair full of sand? Every time I go to the beach, I have to wash my hair afterwards! Swimmers must be addicted to water.
Antismokers are people who make a virtue of disability. They can’t smoke, but rather than admit it, they’ll make smoking into a terrible vice that only they have the willpower to resist.
Adolf Hitler is probably the most famous antismoker of all time. But he used to be a smoker. He stopped smoking after WW1. Why? There’s a very simple and obvious explanation: at the end of WW1 he was gassed. He was blinded by mustard gas. That means he can’t have been wearing a gas mask. And that would mean that he almost certainly breathed in some of the mustard gas. And mustard gas seriously damages lungs. And after that, Hitler probably couldn’t smoke any more. His lungs could no longer take it. But rather than admit that he was disabled, and couldn’t smoke cigarettes any more, he instead claimed to have stopped smoking purely by force of his will. And then told everybody that if he could quit smoking, so could they. But all he had done was to convert a disability into an ability. He presented himself not as someone who couldn’t smoke, but as someone who had the ability – through sheer will power – to resist the temptation to smoke. It wasn’t him who was disabled: it was all the smokers who were disabled.
Smokers and antismokers belong to two separate cultures, which can never meet:
There seems then to be no place where the cultures meet. I am not going to
waste time saying that this is a pity. It is much worse than that. Soon I shall
come to some practical consequences. But at the heart of thought and creation
we are letting some of our best chances go by default. The clashing point of two
subjects, two disciplines, two cultures—of two galaxies, so far as that goes—
ought to produce creative chances. In the history of mental activity that has been
where some of the break-throughs came. The chances are there now. But they
are there, as it were, in a vacuum, because those in the two cultures can’t talk to
C. P. Snow as talking about literary and scientific cultures which inhabited separate universes, but the chasm between smokers and antismokers is just as deep.
In fact, the separation between the scientists and non-scientists is much less
bridgeable among the young than it was even thirty years ago. Thirty years ago
the cultures had long ceased to speak to each other: but at least they managed a
kind of frozen smile across the gulf. Now the politeness has gone, and they just
Literary intellectuals at one pole—at the other scientists, and as the most
representative, the physical scientists. Between the two a gulf of mutual
incomprehension—sometimes (particularly among the young) hostility and
dislike, but most of all lack of understanding. They have a curious distorted
image of each other. Their attitudes are so different that, even on the level of
emotion, they can’t find much common ground.
Antismokers don’t understand smokers, and smokers don’t understand antismokers. There is a gulf of mutual incomprehension. And now of hostility and dislike. But while scientists and non-scientists can meet and talk, smokers and antismokers cannot. They can’t share the same space. And that makes the divide much deeper than any between a scientific and a literary culture.