A Ration of Irrationality (Or Looking For A Lighter, Finding God)

Okay, I’ll admit it: I smoke.

There! There you go …I said it! I don’t smoke anything else but cigarettes (not anymore i.e.). I don’t smoke in public or enclosed spaces (well, maybe a restaurant or two). Never around kids. I try to be considerate: I retreat behind some invisible bulwark; blow the smoke upward; crush the cigarette halfway through. I hide, in my palms my cigarette, when elders pass. Every three months, I vow to quit. And then quit the vow.

A pair of smokers stand outside of an office building in the Times Square region of New York (photo: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
A pair of smokers stand outside of a building in the Times Square region of New York (photo: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

Smoking is the marriage that I can’t get out of. I enjoy, not without a measure of guilt, the mental respite that it gives me; the idleness of raising the cigarette to my lips, puffing, blowing half the smoke out, inhaling, bringing hand down and exhaling; telling myself – who knows whether to the aid or detriment to my resolve to cut-down – I have earned it.

Stop looking at me like that! Don’t judge me. There are many of us …many great ones too – why! Obama smokes! …or -ed!  George Harrison smoked. But the noose is tightening. We’re being rounded up. There’s smoke police out there, donning Righteousness as a cap and Consternation as a badge. Sir, excuse me sir – you may NOT consume this item you bought of your own volition with your own money.  No …no, don’t you dare run away …!

What has the world become …? No smoking here! No smoking there! Is that a cigarette in your hand? Get down, get down! Get down on your knees! The world just harbors so much normalized, institutionalized discrimination against people with different consumption patterns! Anyway, I won’t launch into my pro-smoking (and probably, right-wing) agenda. Suffice it to say, it pertains to the notions of ‘freedom of choice’ and ‘victimless crimes‘.

Besides, it helped me understand God.

***

smoke
Ignore that glass of whiskey, mom …it’s stock footage.

When you’re smoking …and I mean, really smoking and not just puffing away nervously at some dingy, tar-stained airport lounge or gasping with the satisfaction of scratching an itch …fixing a jonesing …you aren’t really doing much else. You’re just smoking. That is especially true if you’re trying to cut down / in the process of quitting (I subscribe to the school of thought that says quitting is a process, not an instant act). You relish that smoke. Anchored in the part of one’s Consciousness that is dealing with the release of Dopamine (happy chemicals) – is another part that flies above the hot, concrete jungle. That part of the Consciousness soars above dingy, smoky roads, beyond inflation-stricken salaries and Formalin-tainted fruits to reach into life’s bigger questions. I think we’ve become – sadly –  ashamed of pondering or discussing the real big things in Life. Android devices, superhero fanfiction, X-Factor / The Voice and weekend games pervade our Consciousness and Thoughts. But during those few, quiet moments – I try to understand what the really big questions are. I’m no philosopher. But I’m not ashamed to confess to thinking about Life, God, Love, Universe, Men and Brotherhood once in a while.

So, there I was …settling down in the dark of my 3rd floor balcony, on my China-made Victorian park-bench, only dimly-lit by my Victorian garden lamp, my feet brushing against the carpet …when I realized I did not have a working lighter. Damn! Well, I did have an old, rusted, clattering work-horse that had seen its best days. Its replacement had already been bought. Feeling too lazy to go get the new one, I tried the rusty lighter once. Nothing. I tried again. Just the metallic sound of the wheel screeching. In this way, I gave it exactly twelve tries. None of them worked. In a bid to procrastinate, I considered my options: I could either go inside, walk across my room, enter a third room and get the replacement lighter. Or else, I could give this crackling little cheapshit another go. Remember this: I had tried the broken lighter at least a dozen times before. It just wouldn’t work.

So I gave it another shot.

Wait!

Why did I just do that? Why did I rely on the baseless Hope that it would ignite a spark? Especially when all the evidence from previous trials suggest otherwise? I could’ve – and should’ve – just relied on the certainty of knowing exactly where I keep my spare lighter. It was a sure shot. So, why bank on the belief ‘this time …this is the time …this time, it will all change. Does the human mind automatically rely on hope …almost like happy optimism …instead of believing evidence from past patterns?

Rationality Vs. Belief

You may be thinking ‘it’s probability’. Well, I don’t agree. You see, if the perceived probability of it working were at least 50% – I would totally understand. But twelve trials had yielded the evidence that the lighter wouldn’t work. What evidence is there to suggest it will acquiesce during a thirteenth attempt? Why did I think I was special? Is it not irrational behavior?

Albert Einstein once said something to the tune of, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” That’s what it is, at the core of it: Irrationality; hoping for a Singularity with such fervor that it influences actual behavior; an evidence-flouting, unreasonable act based on belief (from a thinking, logical being). But what is this belief? Who or what, did I think, would turn things in my favor? What evidence did I have to make such a choice? The truth is, I had no evidence. Just blind hope. Faith. Which is the firm belief that something good will happen. It is a belief that gets millions of people out of bed: searching for jobs in a bad economy; trusting in health plans though it cuts into insurance coverage; trying to quit smoking after 30+ failed attempts; flirting with girls at the counter even though they’re clearly out of our league.

Remember what they say about black-holes? They say that their gravitational pull is so strong that they even suck in light. So you can never see a black-hole. You can only know it exists because the orbit of everything else around it is warped by its pull. All over the world, people’s actions are refracted by their faith in something bigger, something greater than themselves (I guess, somewhat like Plato’s Cave Allegory). And sure …why not a Being? To me, it’s the same as ‘An Invisible Force’, ‘Nature’, ‘Highest Vibratory Energy’ or ‘Yahweh’ – i.e. they’re all constructs that we’ve adopted for convenience. I’m quite sure anything that can conceive & create Life, Universe and Time – is sentient. I don’t know if (S)he is up in the sky or Light years away. But like a black-hole, (S)he is there: unseen, untouched but as real as Skittles.

So, there you have it. That’s how I (supposedly) found God while looking for a lighter.

P.S. Oh! And that old, rusty lighter? It did work on the thirteenth attempt.

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