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Moral Statistics

30 November 2012

I don’t want any of your statistics; I took your whole batch and lit my pipe with it.

I hate your kind of people. You are always ciphering out how much a man’s health is injured, and how much his intellect is impaired, and how many pitiful dollars and cents he wastes in the course of ninety-two years’ indulgence in the fatal practice of smoking; and in the equally fatal practice of drinking coffee; and in playing billiards occasionally; and in taking a glass of wine at dinner, etc. etc. And you are always figuring out how many women have been burned to death because of the dangerous fashion of wearing expansive hoops, etc. etc. You never see more than one side of the question.

You are blind to the fact that most old men in America smoke and drink coffee, although, according to your theory, they ought to have died young. . . . And you never try to find out how much solid comfort, relaxation, and enjoyment a man derives from smoking in the course of a lifetime (which is worth ten times the money he would save by letting it alone), nor the appalling aggregate of happiness lost in a lifetime by your kind of people from not smoking. Of course you can save money by denying yourself all those little vicious enjoyments for fifty years; but then what can you do with it? What use can you put it to? Money can’t save your infinitesimal soul. All the use that money can be put to is to purchase comfort and enjoyment in this life; therefore, as you are an enemy to comfort and enjoyment where is the use of accumulating cash?

It won’t do for you to say that you can use it to better purpose in furnishing a good table, and in charities, and in supporting tract societies, because you know yourself that you people who have no petty vices are never known to give away a cent, and that you stint yourselves so in the matter of food that you are always feeble and hungry. . . .

What is the use of your saving money that is so utterly worthless to you? In a word, why don’t you go off somewhere and die, and not be always trying to seduce people into becoming as ornery and unlovable as you are yourselves, by your villainous “moral statistics”?

Mark Twain, Moral Statistics, 1893


29 Comments to “Moral Statistics”

  1. I never realized it before. Twain was a libertarian.

    • No offense meant, but you are either extremely unperceptive, or not very familiar with Twain. If the latter, I wholeheartedly support any efforts to remedy the situation.

      If the former, I dunno, maybe you should try a few more glasses of wine before you read or something. Or a few fewer.

      • I have no idea how Meryl could take offense to your comment. Perhaps you need to take your own advice about the wine, Marc.

      • The act of using the phrase “no offense meant” does not mean your words are not meant to be offensive, nor does it excuse you of being so.

        But you go on congratulating yourself for acting exactly like the people Twain is complaining about in the quote above.

        In the meantime, I’ll go see if I can find the above in one of the volumes of his collected works in my bookcase. It will take me a while, as I have all of his fiction, as well as most of his essays and letters in various collections.

        Assume. You know the rest.

  2. P.G.

    LOL, that is brilliant!


  3. This is awesome. 🙂

    It’s alittle weird to have Twain defend smoking, but hey, it was a different world then, and social services often took the form of preaching.

    • I defend smoking now, and for exactly the same reasons. Not cigarettes: cigarettes are so unwholesome that there probably is a reasonable calculus indicating they’re iffy. But good tobacco well smoked is a reason to live, not a reason to die.

      And if smoking them is the only way you can keep your weight down, even cigarettes are probably a net health benefit.

      • It’s ridculous to use cigarettes as a way to lose weight. It’s inefficient. You know what works better? Cancer. I’ve heard that people who have cancer tend to lose alot of weight.

        So, if you’re trying to lose weight, perhaps you skip the cigarettes and go right to the cancer.

        • The good thing about smoking is: it’s enjoyable. The bad thing about smoking is: it’s addictive.

          Cancer and death, who cares, you gotta go some time, but getting twitchy because you can’t have a smoke is really not good at all.

          Yes, I am a smoker and yes I am working on quitting and no if you haven’t smoked you have not a clue what it is like.

          The good thing about that Mark Twain piece isn’t that it is about smoking. It’s that it’s about people sticking their noses into other people’s business because ‘it’s for their own good.’

          Okay, having a fag (British fag not US) now. 🙂

        • Or crack! Crack works for weight loss.

          When working as a medic I rarely encountered a fat crackhead. Meth works even better!

          Or there’s always those magic pills you see on late night TV. I can’t believe people buy into that crap.

  4. As an ex-smoker, it isn’t weird at all to see him defend smoking.

    I’d go back in a heartbeat if they invented a harmless cigarette, or if my doctor told me I had six months to live.

    • Meryl – I guess I thought it was “funny”, because in his day and age they didn’t really know just how harmful they were. There’s an innocence about his defense of them.

      But yes, I believe that cigarettes, and pipes, are extremely enjoyable.

    • What if they come up with a way to regrow your lungs with stem cells, Meryl? Smoke a few years, new lungs, smoke a few more years, new lungs, that’d work too 🙂

      • Nice theory. How are you going to regrow an entire circulatory system? Smoking plays hell with your heart and your arteries, too.

      • Steve, it’s been nearly 15 years since my last cigarette. I remember how much I loved smoking, but no, I’d probably never go back no matter what. Well, except for the six months to live scenario.

        It’s also expensive, smelly, and can cause car accidents (when you drop a burning cigarette in your lap) and fires. So I’ll pass.

        • Hi Meryl, Tom, I think I may be misunderstood here. I am working on quitting smoking, but I am doing it because it is addictive and I am an addict. It controls me, I do not control it.

          The health benefits of quitting, the social benefits of not stinking like an ash-tray, the safety benefits of not driving into the car in front because the wind blew the cigarette back in through the window and into the collar of my shirt, I don’t really care about any of that.

          The addiction, the ‘need’ to smoke, that is why I am quitting (though it is hard work — I am quite addicted). I don’t like having something controlling me.

          And anyway, all the other things science and technology might well solve in the near to mid future. So if I quit smoking because of the health benefits and stem cells remove that worry, if I quit because of the smell and technology somehow (nano tech maybe) solves that, if I quit for all the other things and science and tech solves them, then what is to stop me from starting smoking again.

          Only the addiction. Only the wish to want to be in control of my own actions.

          Sorry if my facetiousness caused any misunderstanding 🙂

      • Average wait time for a new liver is several years, I put my name on the list some time ago. Seemed like a no-brainer. 🙂

  5. *stands, applauds*

  6. I never did appreciate a good smoke, cigarette or cigar, until I started drinking and after I joined the Army. At worst, I’m a social smoker and drinker, but… ahhh… with the right amount of alcohol in my system the nicotine is very nice.

    • Long ago I was an evening smoker – like you I enjoyed the combination of alcohol and nicotine. I stopped when I got pregnant.

      Glad I did, because apart from smoking ageing you from the inside, here in the UK these days you are only permitted to smoke in the open air or at home. Most bars have outdoor areas for smokers, where smokers go even when there’s snow on the ground.

      Is it the same in the US?

      • Worse in some parts.

        Here in Canada, bars are not even allowed to have outdoor areas for smokers. In fact, in Alberta, where I live, it is forbidden to smoke within five metres of the entrance of any building open to the public. There is a move afoot to outlaw smoking in private homes as well, I hear, on the grounds that children may inhale second-hand smoke.

        In a staggering display of human hypocrisy, stupidity, and inability to recognize the connections between ideas, there is also a move afoot to legalize marijuana in Canada. And how is that marijuana to be consumed? By smoking it, of course. The very same politicians who want to prohibit tobacco also want to legalize drugs, because ‘prohibition never works’. Somebody ought to tell them that ‘never’ means ‘not even for tobacco’.

        • Dear me – I thought we took some beating for pettifogging regulation these days. Johnny Morris once said, talking about cars, that humans were very clever and very stupid.

  7. Mark Twain was a contrarian 😉 There were plenty of noisy, nosy busybodies in his time (the Temperance League, anyone?) and they gave him a rash. I do love a good ranting smackdown and he was a master of the art. I particularly recommend his “Letter to the Gas Company” for enjoyment. It has a lyrical rhythm similar to a good dressing-down by a drill sergeant.

  8. Frankly, food is my vice. I’d rather die sooner while fat and happy, than live longer skinny and hungry.

  9. Thank you for this. I can’t believe I hadn’t read this one before. I’m going to print it out and put it on my wall!

  10. Nice post, PG, being Twain’s bday and all. His death certificate says he died of “tobacco heart”. Mine would probably say “Trader Joe Ritter Sport dark chocolate and gin and tonic heart”.

  11. I just re-read Bellwether by Connie Willis. Her smoking fairy godmother is the best! And her treatment of aversion fads, better! (If you haven’t read it, do!)

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