Sunday, May 6, 2012

Cigar Festivals and Freemasonry

For those that don't know, I am a big cigar fan, smoking 2-5 a week.  I find cigars to be an enjoyable time, that allows for self reflection, indulging in a simple pleasure that have been around for centuries.  I always liked cigars, but really got into them after my long stint deployed.  Cigars became a facet of all things downtime while in country.  Men would congregate in from a couple to 100+ to enjoy cigars and each others companies.  We smoked cigars when returning from a mission, or when morning a loss, cigars were there for us.  Men who rarely or never smoked were suddenly smoking and drinking coffee, and reflecting on the current events in one of the most inhospitable places in the world.  Cigar smoking had become a comfort for me, that I cannot put into words properly.

The cigar industry has faced its booms and busts, in the mid 90s with the popularity of Bill Clinton (before the scandal) and then busted in the early 2000s.  Cigar consumption started to rise again with the industry moving from mild sweet cigars to medium and full tasting cigars.  Brands started to emerge with fast and slick names and companies that have been around for over a century (H. UPMANN) are relatively unknown to new cigar smokers unlike the flashy and hip brands like Gurkha that as of the writing of this have 62 different types of cigars (not including sizes), which are in my opinion, poorly made and hardly distinguishable from one to the next.  This boom and with the FDA wanting to regulate the premium cigars has caused cigar festivals to pop up in most metropolitan areas, showing a level of unity within the cigar smoking community.

The cigar industry has been touting itself as a semblance of moderation and that cigar smokers unlike cigarette smokers do it once in a while and the activity isn't compulsory.  Cigar smokers are constantly railing against studies of the harmful effects of cigar smoke as they are conducted with mass produced (Swisher Sweets for instance) products and habitual use.

The problem with the cigar industry isn't cigars themselves, but the people who smoke them.

I attended  the Lone Star Cigar Fest, in which vendors and cigar consumers get together to smoke the latest brands, enjoy conversation and fellowship.  My wife hates the fact that I smoke cigars, and hated my attending this festival even more.  So attending stag and with no friends, I was dismayed at what I saw.  While the event was everything it was advertised to be, I think I was one of a dozen men who wasn't obese or wearing an Hawaiian shirt.  The health problems of the individuals attending was palatable, and not the picture of moderation that the cigar industry claims its clients are.

You are most likely thinking (if you read this far) "Wow, you are a shallow jerk."

You are right, I am a jerk.

Still we are judged everyday on our appearance, I didn't grow a beard in Afghanistan as a fashion statement, but as a sign of culture respect (even though Afghans constantly accused me of being Al Qaeda, but that is a different story).  Appearance is a fundamental aspect of how we judge one another cross culture, and who we associate with, it's called Social Identity Theory.

So what does this have to do with Freemasonry?

Freemasonry also has tried to shake its stereotypes, in spite of it's members.  To remove the stigma as a secret society bent on world domination, lodges have open houses and community events to show that it is a society, that has secrets, not a secret society.  Still the lingering accusation of it being an "old mans club" isn't going away soon, and something much more difficult to remove.  The Baby Boomer generation all but abandoning anything that their fathers did, along with complacency has caused stagnation that our great fraternity will feel for decades to come.  There is no easy fix to this, not Traditional Observance Lodges or European Concept Lodges, not large and in charge on-line presence, and not flash in the pan advertising slogans.  Younger masons need to be proud of our Masonic heritage, and hold our elders in the utmost regard as they have worked long and hard in the Work, and have done much for spreading the light of our fraternity.  Still, we can't ignore the image problem that we have, and must find a way to tackle it in productive long term manner.

The elderly image we keep putting up is most likely causing us a lot more harm than good that can come from it.  We have to address this issue in a mature and respectful manner, not throw away the work of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers, for slick slogans and shunning of their participation in our great fraternity, nor lock them away or be ashamed of their participation.

I don't have a solution or a manifesto to fix Freemasonry, I work for a living.  But I do know that I will pick the H Upmann any day of the week over the flash in the pan cigar, with a kick ass band.  The same goes for my Freemasonry.

-Bro Vick (The Jerk) 

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