Break Free From Your Echo Chamber — Start Smoking

by Douglas Haddow

 Caleb Friesen, 574

Caleb Friesen, 574

I would like to preface this article with the following: cigarettes are bad for you, okay? And the tobacco industry is run by a group of ashen old-money vampires who spend their days devising progressively creepier ways to convince you to pay them for the privilege of dying a slow and
painful death.

Now with that said, indulge me for a moment. 

I smoke. I love smoking. I revel in it even though I am well aware that it is a filthy, disgusting, and nihilistic habit that at its best is an ostentatious way to broadcast your death drive to the world. But as with all vices, it is not without its virtues. And perhaps, just maybe, one of those virtues is that smoking can save us from the rising tide of fascism that is currently sweeping the Western World.

This is a world where Donald Trump, a tangerine slum lord and failed casino magnate with a conspicuous taste for sexual assault is now President-elect of the United States. This is a man who before being paid by television networks to abuse desperate D-list celebrities, was best known for playing the rich asshole in movies like a Ghosts Can’t Do it, The Pickle, and The Little Rascals. A messy string of disastrous films that shared but one common thread: they were all certified box-office poison.

Much ink has been spilled in an attempt to try to figure out what in the fuck actually happened in the 2016 presidential election, with explanations numbering in the thousands. I won’t bore you with an exhaustive rundown of plausibilities, because we’ve all been choking on this shit for the better part of the last two years. But one of the most convincing arguments as to why so many were taken by surprise by Trump’s ascent to power is that we are now all living in tightly bound, self-reinforcing informational
echo chambers.

For a more local example of how echo chambers work, a recent Bloomberg Nanos Canadian Confidence poll found that only 20% of Canadians think real estate prices will decline, while over 40% still believe that they will continue to increase. Even with dire warnings of price decline from the Bank of Canada and numerous measures to rein in the prices by the federal government, a deranged optimism persists within the minds of Canadians.

Like a magical microwave that turns parmigiano-reggiano into liquid stadium cheese, our brains love to take extremely complex phenomena and transform them into easily consumed chunks of understanding. Social media has taken this microwave and jerry-rigged it with a nuclear reactor, supercharging the process and leading us to our current historical moment, where tribalism, post-truth, and a generalized myopia rule the day. 

The solution to escaping these echo chambers, we’re told, is to become more critical consumers of news and information. Just as people like to think they have a diverse friend group because they sometimes play hockey with that guy from Lethbridge who says racist shit when he drinks too much rye, they should also take pride in reading
diverse opinions. 

One shouldn’t compulsively believe incendiary headlines, and if a news item angers you, then you should seek out stories from the opposing side. And you should always consider the bias of the news source and try to empathize why someone may hold an opposing view to yourself as best you can.

But isn’t that just a lot of extra labour? And aren’t we too lazy to actually put in the requisite effort to become more conscientious consumers?

If you walk around the streets of Vancouver, you will notice a few things very quickly. One: architects here have a real hard-on for metal-rimmed glass. Two: this city’s economy will implode if luxury automobile leasers ever decide to call in their bills all at once. And three: most Vancouverites are perpetually lost in their phones, waddling around oblivious to oncoming traffic as they look downwards into an Infiniti pool of themselves, soaking up the reflection like a pasty retiree sunbathing at a dumpy
Mexican all-inclusive.

Now this is all well and good if you happen to be taking beautiful and captivating photos, say, for the Archive app. Or are turbo-texting on Bumble with that guy or gal that is gonna make you glad that you cleaned your apartment for the first time in weeks. But quite often, it also means you are divorced from the possibility of a chance encounter with someone you would otherwise never meet.

Echo chambers form because social media, the internet, and our beloved phones all capitalize on the dodgy, rat-like make-up of the human brain. So rather than expecting people to take a more enlightened approach to replacing our current addiction with another equally destructive
addiction: cigarettes.

When you start to smoke you are immediately enlisted into a ragtag band of brothers and sisters who are repeatedly forced out into the elements together. This provides a bonding experience between you and steady stream of perfect strangers, be it outside a pub, club, or the hospital emergency ward.

These people don’t share the same taste in music as you, their political opinions are probably ghastly, and they are often criminally misinformed. But by simply venturing into the terra incognita of nicotine addiction they will become your fellow travellers and you will be privy to all sorts of new and exciting opinions.

Most crucially, you will come into touch with information that could never possibly pierce your echo chamber, as I did while huddled under the awning of a congee restaurant in Joyce-Collngwood last week. A man who was enjoying a Pall Mall explained to me in great detail how Vancouver was being flushed into a moral sewer of violence and immorality and it was all a result of people not adhering to basic driving etiquette. “It starts with that turn signal,” he said. “Stop making turn signals and then it’s hell in a handbasket.”

You will also learn more about class from bumming cigarettes than you ever will from reading Marx or Chomsky. For instance; when your pack runs dry and you need to bum one, you’ll find that middle-aged white guys are extremely selfish and that squeegee kids and the homeless are some of the most generous people you will ever meet. Shocking, I know.

No man is an island, but demographics do trend towards archipelagos. Perhaps bringing an intensely addictive substance into your life isn’t the perfect solution to our current woes, but it sure does take the edge off.

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