Tobacco and the Soul is yet another article that WordPress decided was related to one of my post and this time, they actually got it right. It is an article written by Michael P. Foley, and if you know who that is, great because I have no idea. But I do happen to like the article he has written. It is about Tobacco and its relation to the soul. He talks a bit about the Platonic version of the soul and how it can be “divided into three parts—the appetitive, spirited, and rational—that correspond to the three basic kinds of human desires: the desire to satisfy physical appetites, the desire for recognition, and the desire for truth.”

He goes on to talk about how each form of tobacco use, at least the three smoking uses satisfy each desire. Cigarettes satisfying physical appetites, cigars satisfying the desire for recognition and pipes satisfying the desire for truth. I won’t quote the whole article, if you want to read it click on the link, but I will share what he said about pipe smoking because I found it interesting.

Finally, the pipe corresponds to the rational part of the soul, which explains why we tend to picture wise figures smoking pipes: the Oxford don surrounded by his great books, or Sherlock Holmes, who, in Doyle’s original stories, actually smoked other sorts of tobacco as well, yet is almost always portrayed with a pipe. Unlike cigars and cigarettes, a pipe endures. Similarly, the questions of the philosopher far outlast the passing concerns of physical desires on the one hand and human ambitions on the other. Further, while the cigar is entirely masculine, the pipe has both masculine and feminine elements (the stem and the bowl). This corresponds to the philosopher’s activity, which is both masculine and feminine: masculine in its pursuit of Lady Truth, feminine in its reception of anything that she discloses. Finally, the effect that the pipe has on others is analogous to the effect of philosophizing: the sweet fragrance of a pipe, like good philosophy, is a blessing to all who are near.

It is fitting that all three kinds of smoking tobacco involve the use of fire, for each relates to the soul’s responsiveness to reason, and fire, at least from the days of Prometheus, is especially emblematic of reason. But there are also nonhuman parts to the human soul. The growth of our hair and fingernails, for example, is due to the soul’s activity, yet is not responsive to rational instruction.

While I’m not sure about all that he says here, he has a particularly romantic way of describing the pursuit of truth. I never did see that the pipe has both feminine and masculine elements, but indeed it does.

He goes on to talk about smoking marijuana and how it mimics tobacco smoking, but falls short of being its equal. The entire article is really interesting, because at the end he turns it into a commentary on society. Here is how it ends:

As every student of Plato knows, if something has a relation to the soul it has a relation to the city. Thus if our theory is anything more than the smoke it purports to explain, it can be used to analyze political phenomena. For example, in recent years we have witnessed a concerted effort to sterilize our erotic attachments, to sap them of their danger but also of their vigor. The flat, unerotic words we now use for these attachments confirm this. Instead of “lover” and “beloved,” we now have “significant other” and, even worse, “partner” (a term which lends to the affairs of the heart all the excitement of filling out a tax form). Given this environment, it is no wonder that our most vigorous moral war waged today is against cigarette-smoking. Nor is it any wonder that this war’s only rival in intensity is the one in favor of “safe sex,” for condoms sterilize sex not only literally but figuratively as well.

Further, the relation between cigars and spiritedness may explain why cigars are now for the first time gaining a significant number of female disciples. For as women continue to enter the traditionally male world of competition, many are beating men at their own game by using the same tactics of gaining power. And with the tactics have come the symbols.

Most significantly, however, the relative rarity of pipe-smoking in America is a telling sign of its current intellectual crisis. If the pipe epitomizes the intellectual way of life, then is it any surprise that it cannot be found where schools substitute politically correct ideology for real philosophy, or where the intelligentsia, instead of engaging in serious thought, pander to the latest activist fads? Is it any surprise that America’s most famous pipe-smoker in the last thirty years has been Hugh Hefner, pajama prophet of the trite philosophy of hedonism? No, the age of the pipe-smoker is as far from us as the day when philosophers will be kings and kings will philosophize, a sad reality to which the thick blue haze of non-pipe smoke is only too ready to attest.

It should also be no surprise in this pipeless age that the ferocious battle over tobacco has missed the real point about its addictive power. Tobacco holds sway over the soul as much as it does the body. The qualities it takes in its various forms make it a near irresistible complement to the particular desire dominant in an individual’s soul. How we react to these forms says as much about our attitude toward those desires as it does toward the weed itself.

I guess being brought up on safe sex, it happens to be the only thing I sort of disagree with, although he is right about it “sapping” the danger from sex. But condoms serve their purpose and personally I would rather not contract STI’s. I particularly like the way this article ends. The anti-smoking machine focuses on the physical addiction to tobacco, but not the psychological drive to use tobacco. That is what I think Foley means when he says, “Tobacco holds sway over the soul as much as the body.” Everyone who uses tobacco in its various forms has their reasons for use regardless of whether they agree with Foley’s soul theory. This is something that the anti-smoking guys can’t figure out since the focus on is physical addiction and that a smoker’s reasons for smoking are made up as excuses to allow them to keep feeding their physical addiction. Or at least that is the approach many quit smoking programs take. I’m done my ranting for today, I highly recommend reading the whole article. Even if you don’t end up agreeing with him, I found it still made for an interesting read.