Perry de Havilland took this picture of the main entrance of Britain’s foremost cancer hospital. In the picture you can see an employee of the hospital standing on the steps and smoking a cigarette.
Like Perry, I find this image amazing. There are several possible conclusions that one might draw from looking at it:
- Nicotine is so incredibly addictive that smokers simply cannot quit, even when they know that the habit is terribly dangerous. (But people do quit every day; I’ve even known a few people who did it.)
- Some people are just really, really stupid. (But would they be able to find work at a hospital? Maybe.)
- Denial — the human ability to ignore the obvious, or believe that it doesn’t apply to us personally — is more powerful that we realize. (I find this one most plausible.)
A picture like this is a sort of moral/political Rorschach test. Some people will undoubtedly look at it and see an innocent victim of the evil tobacco companies — seduced into chemical bondage by their advertising, and powerless to escape from their clutches. I look at it and see a person who has made (and continues to make) a choice that I personally consider foolish. But it’s his choice to make. As Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle pointed out in Oath of Fealty, this is evolution in action.