Date: 13 October 2014
Status: Still suspiciously okay…
Topic: Smoking as vice
We’re most of us familiar with the terms vice and virtue, or at least with the general concepts to which they correspond.
Speaking definitively, the former is simply a repeated action that results in some negative moral outcome, and vice versa with respect to the latter. As the etymology of these words is linearly derivative of the Ancient Greek language, it stands to reason that their meanings should also be reflective of the Ancient Greek philosophy that conceived them.
Not exactly light, I know, but relevant. Nichomachean ethics (the school of thought responsible for giving rise to these concepts) dictates that in order for a human being to truly be happy, they must live in honest pursuit of maintaining a healthy body, mind, and soul. The way to do this, according to the Athenians, is to cultivate virtues, while abstaining from vices.
Simple enough, yeah? No, it isn’t, or at least not for me. The practices of cultivating virtue and abstaining from vice are contributory to the process of achieving true happiness (or what the Greeks would call “eudemonia”), but what about those who believe it’s to be found in exactly the opposite? Or for that matter, what about those who don’t believe happiness is something to be found to begin with?
Which brings us to where we left off last week, with people that are in need of a way to poison themselves in a simple, cursory fashion, and who smoke with according diligence. As previously established, we are all conscious of the chemically addictive properties that cigarettes have become notorious for, but I don’t think we take into account the others, not well enough.
Part of what makes quitting so difficult — and I speak for no one other than myself here — is that not only did smoking become a substantial part of my daily routine, but more importantly, it became part of my identity. I associate it with things that I enjoy, like drinking, driving (not at the same time), music (certain genres more than others), sex (after, not during), reading (always, no exceptions) and, very unfortunately for me, writing.
The act itself was a convenient, enjoyable complement — which, coincidentally, happened to be a vice — to most of my favorite rituals, some of which…just so happened to be vices, as well. Are you with me here? If one makes a point to engage in vice(s), then chances are good that, for them, happiness (in the somewhat traditional, self-fulfilling, Greek sense of the word) is not high up on the greater agenda, if it’s there at all.
Why? Because self-destructive behavior is a telltale symptom of the essential disease, which manifests itself characteristically as one’s latent, abiding belief that they truly do not deserve happiness — Greek or otherwise. Their actions, by virtue of being vices, become central to their fundamental identity as someone for whom toxicity is not just part of life, but a way of life.
Again, this is a “diary”, so I’m speaking for myself, and myself alone.
It would strike me as being no different with addictions to food or alcohol, drugs, even sex. The vice acts both as subsequent punishment for indulging and preemptive reward for choosing to. And it’s that very cyclicality of the process that makes such a lifestyle so perilous, lethal, because you’re no longer just fighting nicotine, codeine, or any other chemical; you’re fighting yourself — which, it must be said, can only be a losing battle.
So when I say that I’m quitting smoking, what I’m really saying is that I’m quitting that cycle, that battle. I won’t pretend for a moment to convince you or myself that this is that pivotal juncture in my life where all vice is permanently forsaken and all virtue similarly so embraced. I still plan on drinking whiskey just to feel it burn, perhaps succumbing to loneliness and enjoying the company of a woman, or two (no burn felt there, hopefully).
What I’m saying is that I have spent way, way too fucking long hating and punishing myself for things which don’t merit either…and that maybe it’s time for that to change, for me to change, because the good life really does require a healthy body, mind, and soul. Above all else, though, because life is entirely too precious and daunting and miraculous (and ultimately, short-lived) to waste any — and I do mean ANY — amount of it taking your own breath away, when there’s nothing more breathtaking than life itself.
to be continued