The culture of smoking is something that interests me greatly. It is probably one of the best modern examples of reciprocity spoken of in Mauss' the Gift. A cigarette smoker will inevitably become addicted, creating a need for nicotine. It is often not considered "pan-handling" to ask a stranger for a cigarette when the addict doesn't have one. When someone has cigarettes it is considered good faith to give one to someone who needs one. Thus, a kind of mutual aid is fostered through the exchange of cigarettes. The cigarette smoker knows that if they don't have one someone will inevitably give them one. This creates an obligation to "pay it forward" and give the next person a cigarette when the individual has some. This is reciprocal altruism at its finest.

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Comment by Mitchell Jones on May 7, 2010 at 8:16pm
I'm not denying altruism. I just think that what is good for the species is good for the individual. I'm not saying you have to get something in return immediately. That's the whole point of mutual aid. What is good for the species as a whole is ultimately good for the individual. I do deny that there is any such thing as "selflessness." When you do something that you feel is morally right then you get a moral reward, a sense of self-satisfaction. There's nothing wrong with this. On the contrary, it's what motivates "selfless" acts. Kropotkin writes that the mutual aid found in the animal kingdom is not some moral sense of "love" or "sympathy." It is the plain fact that if you don't care for your fellow human then your species will not do well, and if your species does not do well then your offspring will ultimately die off. It's a matter of evolutionary law. Going back to morality, I think ethical morality exists because we all have to live together on this planet and if we don't get along and do "what's right" then we are hurting our species, which is ultimately not good for the individual. We are an interdependent species. We cannot continue to live as individualists, thinking that nothing we do matters. In the long run humans will become extinct if we don't support each other and that's not good for anybody.
Comment by Mitchell Jones on May 7, 2010 at 6:58pm
Perhaps altruism is the wrong word, but certainly mutual aid. The culture of addiction makes it so that you are benefiting others by giving them the pleasure they need right now, health costs be damned. Addiction creates a psychological need and thus by giving cigarettes you are filling that need. On free gifts, I don't believe there are free gifts. When someone gives to a charity they are receiving tax benefits as well as a sense of satisfaction that they are doing something good. The US government giving asylum to Cuban refugees gives the Americans good PR and thus translates to political power in the propaganda war.
Comment by Mitchell Jones on May 7, 2010 at 2:08pm
M Izabel, I think that's exactly what Mauss was talking about though! There is no such thing as a free gift. When you give it is with the idea that you will most likely be given something in return. It doesn't have to be religious. I think it is a law of nature. Kroprokin's Mutual Aid tells us that reciprocity is a part of evolutionary law. When you give cigarettes to control your habit then you are receiving instant karma. You gave a gift and you get something in return, but the gift was completely voluntary. As far as cigarettes having a cost, that is because we live in a capitalist society. You can't avoid it. But I see cigarettes as one of the last remnants of gift economy in capitalist society. Amiria, thank you for the suggestion. I will look it up.
Comment by ryan anderson on May 6, 2010 at 11:31pm
Amiria--that's a good chapter by Reed!
Comment by Amiria Salmond on May 6, 2010 at 8:58pm
Then you will probably be interested in Adam Reed's chapter "'Smuk is king': the action of cigarettes in a Papua New Guinean prison", in Henare, Holbraad and Wastell, Thinking Through Things: theorising artefacts in ethnographically, Routledge!


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