The Ulysses Contract :: Desperate Measures


Today, some time before 8pm, I will stop smoking tobacco. As in, forever. 

I have said this before. And I have failed to make it so. This time, however, I believe it will be different. Thanks in the main, to the monstrous sociopath pictured above. Although really, it could be any monstrous sociopath.

The reason I believe that this time I will never smoke tobacco again is that this time I am taking a leaf out of Zelda Gamson’s book. Zelda Gamson features in this Radiolab story. She was a civil rights activist who had tried to stop smoking all of her life, but had never managed it, until she made the following pact with herself and with her best friend: ‘If I ever smoke again, I’m gonna give $5,000 to the Ku Klux Klan.’

Today, I make a very similar pact with myself and with you, the internet:

If I ever smoke tobacco again, I will donate £1,000 to Donald Trump.*

The idea behind the pact is that – normally – no matter how badly you want to stop smoking, there will come a time when it just doesn’t seem so important. In my case, that time generally comes when I’m in a pub with friends, one of whom will roll a cigarette and in that moment, my desire to smoke will be stronger than my lifelong, deeply logical desire to never smoke again.

So what you do is you make a deal with your weakness and you bind yourself to the future. Like Ulysses, after whom this kind of deal is named. Ulysses wanted to hear the Sirens singing, but knew he’d be too weak to resist them, so had his men tie him to the mast of his ship to stop him following the Sirens’ song to his death.

So by making a pledge to do something I find utterly repugnant, I bind myself and my desire to beat the addiction to the future. So that in that moment, when the urge to smoke is upon me, there is also something more powerful than that at work: there is disgust, and there is shame and horror in the knowledge that if I smoke that cigarette, I will have to give my financial support to something I detest.

Zelda Gamson has never smoked again.

And nor shall I.

Here are two more reasons I believe I will never smoke tobacco again:

1) Today is my birthday and I have just been gifted an electronic cigarette.

2) This evening at 9pm, I will catch a bus to Amsterdam, where the smoking and consumption of marijuana is tolerated. In the past, my undeniably powerful penchant for marijuana has always dragged me back to tobacco. But in Amsterdam, tobacco seems to be more frowned upon than marijuana, which is exactly how it should be, so I’ll be able to indulge my penchant (once in a while) without tobacco (always).

So yeah. There it is.

No more tobacco.

Happy birthday to me.

*In the event of Donald Trump retiring from politics, my pledge will be passed on to The (equally despicable) Conservative Party.

About the Author

I am Karl Webster. I wrote these words. If you liked them, you'll be overjoyed to know that there are plenty more where they came from. So you should definitely sign up to my newsletter if you haven't already.

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