24 May 2008

Personal evolution (maybe..)

"Dis, tonton Marc, pourquoi tu fumes ?" ("hey uncle Marc, why are you smoking?").. said my oldest little niece Anne last summer at a family reunion near Paris. She had just turned 8, and her adult face started to emerge. What to answer? It was posed so earnestly, but also cuz it's Anne-who-will-break-many-hearts with a little "sourire en coin" (a slight ironical smile). I guess her parents must have told her how bad smoking is, blah blah.. I was also a bit tipsy, a perfect time for a smoke, especially back in those days of post-dissertation stress and post-breakup trauma. But that's too complicated to explain to a 6 year old, or rather, that's just not a good excuse. She wanted the true simple reason, and so should I. Cuz it tastes good. Well my sister (her mom) might well kill me for saying that and enticing her to try it out at such a tender age. Whatever, she will without me saying anything either way. Plus sometimes tobacco does taste good, but that cigarette didn't, sorry to whoever i bummed it. Then what? Cuz i am just stupid?.. i think i almost sayed that since that was the first tought that came to guilt-ridden ex-catholic mind. That's how i felt too, weak, guilty and stupid to fall into a toxic trap. I was just smoking socially and cuz i recalled that nicotine feels good and numbs pain, especially when you don't smoke that often. And it's party thing, etc..

Anyway, so much for the proximate explanations. But the what is the ultimate reason? We humans are probably unique for... many things that turned out to be shared with other species, from tools to building cities to eating medicinal and mind-altering plants. But one strange truly unique thing we do is play with fire, and inhale smoke on purpose. I challenge you to find another animal who does that. Is it that surprising considering that fire was a crucial aspect of our environment of evolutionary adaptation for hundreds of thousands of years, even before we were "sapiens"? Whoever could not stand smoke or was scared by fire, likely genetic characters, was out of the gene pool. Those who stayed and depended on fire evolved resistance to fear (leading to fascination for?), possibly DNA repair mechanism to that physiological stress, and possibly taste for smoke and smoky things. I am convinced that certain persons have better resitance to smoke and pollution that others don't have. Smoking might actually be good to some/many people, especially the nicotine. A couple months ago in Colombia I met a Huitoto medicine man from the Amazonas who says simply that tobacco is not bad for health, but is a potent medicine to be combined with others (including coca leaves, in a mixture he ingested). Consequently, as any medicine, overdose, mis-application and prescription to the wrong patient can wreak havoc. Tobacco has just taken a very different route as its traditional users probably intended, same for many other substances (e.g. chocolate :0). But of course, disease and medicine itself may as well be seen as cultural constructs, continuously reinventing themselves. And humans keep experimenting with substances, fighting boredom or mal de vivre. All I know is I don't smoke anymore because common cigarettes are loaded with non-tobacco crap including carcinogens, and i don't need tobacco itself that much. Plus, now it usually feels harsh on my throat. But some people are amazing at taking high quantities of it. Resistance and to this kind of pollution and making the nicotine effects part of one's metabolism may be beneficialfor those whose stress is efficiently relieved by smoking, and whose metabolism succesfully repairs the damages to DNA (hence a potential ecolutionary adaptation). Someday we may be able to predict from one's DNA, whether a person can smoke until he turns a 100, or should stay away even from second hand smoke.

In practice what did i tell lil'Anne? I can't remember but I hope it wasn't something like "you will understand when you're older", an adult answer I hated when I was her age. I think after a few seconds of embarassed lame smile, I laughed and did a magic trick move , getting rid of the cigarette and pretended I had no idea what she was talking about. Ha ha, tontonmarc is sooo funny. Hopefully she forgot the whole thing, like I did for most of what happened when i was 8 years old.

1 comment:

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