Okay, it’s been at least a decade since you’ve dusted off Thorstein Veblen’s “The Theory of the Leisure Class” (1994 for me), but you see its content every day. Veblen wrote of a leisure class that rocked because it actually had some extra time it could use to screw off – think about how you behave on your lunch hour … only all day long! That’s what Veblen was talking about.
David Allen of the State Journal explains:
Veblen coined the term “conspicuous leisure” to mean the epitome of leisure for leisure’s sake. Because tobacco was afforded religious status, it also received leisure status. Tobacco smoking, then, is an act of conspicuous leisure. Had all the Virginia Indians chewed tobacco and spit tobacco juice on the ground, Sir Walter Raleigh never would have introduced tobacco to Queen Elizabeth’s court. Once tobacco arrived in England, it did not take long for tobacco to circle the world. And it is important to note that certain ritual behaviors accompanied the act of smoking. In Holland, for example, the bars and public houses featured long-stemmed, ceramic pipes. The stem, a foot long or more, would be snapped off after a patron finished smoking, thus leaving a clean mouthpiece for the next smoker. (Pass the peace pipe, please.)
Smoking is not about consuming nicotine, at least not for us. Rather, the act addresses our need to carve out a little leisure time and, depending on what’s on the band, engage in a little conspicuous consumption. Allen notes: “If smokers valued tobacco only for its nicotine, then I would submit that none of this ritual would have ever come about.”
So, how does Allen really feel about smoking? “For the record, I smoke. I am a man of leisure. I write opinion columns.”