To toke or not: Ancient Stoics & Hedonists had same debate

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To toke or not: Ancient Stoics & Hedonists had same debate

(Centennial Fellow) My post here a couple of weeks ago, “Marijuana Day at Boulder,” which juxtaposed an April 20 lecture on Puritanism and the Protestant ethic that I had given in my CU classroom with the thousands of pot smokers outside in the quad, has gone somewhat viral—but with notable inaccuracies.

The piece was accurately cited days later by Brittany Anas in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Colorado Daily. Unfortunately, John Tomasic of the Colorado Independent, a “news website” dedicated to “the common good and social welfare”, then distorted the account without ever having met me. The headline claimed, that I was “baffled and offended by pro–pot protest”, which was subsequently repeated by Medicinal Colorado, a marijuana advocacy website, and further exaggerated by the American Independent in their headline, claiming that I was “mystified

[and] outraged”. What fantastic examples of journalistic irresponsibility!

After mentioning that I was merely “an adjunct instructor at CU and a fulltime faculty member at Colorado Christian University”, Tomasic declared, “The apparent conclusiveness of the thesis Watson presented to the class on the religious ‘isms’ that ‘made America great’ would likely be opened up with counter narratives by most scholars of history teaching at major public research universities like CU–Boulder.” Each of us can cite “scholars of history” to prove our opposing theses. Gertrude Himmelfarb, History Professor at CUNY and formerly of the University of Chicago and Cambridge begins her book on Victorian Virtues by citing Margaret Thatcher, who when disparaged by a British journalist for approving “Victorian values” replied, “Those were the values when our country became great,” a thesis in which Himmelfarb would concur.

Comments attached to the Colorado Independent website referred to me as “a religious nut job”, “a misguided, self–righteous Neo–Puritan … degenerate demagogue”, a “taliban”, “an uptight, Christian Conservative Professor judgmental of students’ activities at a liberal party school” [Actually I am not very conservative, but more of a libertarian], “an insolent ninny”, a “myopic fool”, “frozen in the past”, a “repressed, fearful and domineering White Protestant Male”, “who supports the wholesale destruction of human life” [Actually, I am a strong advocate of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, walked door–to–door for Bobby Kennedy in 1968, refuse to own weapons, and recently spent several months going through government archives in Eastern Europe trying to discover what happened to my Jewish side of the family who disappeared in the holocaust].

On 4/20 I saw a great opportunity to bring relevancy to my CU Boulder Western Civilization lecture on the Protestant ethic and Victorian virtues. As for being “baffled and offended” or “mystified and outraged”, nothing could have been further from the truth. Forty years ago as an undergraduate at a Cal State campus I would have been in that quad participating, for I too smoked dope, especially at Jimi Hendrix or Jefferson Airplane concerts. By my senior year I grew weary of the subculture and decided to grow up. Many of my friends, however, continued to get “wasted” and several died, overdosing on more dangerous substances.

I was never baffled, offended, mystified or outraged when thousands of people passed around ‘doobies’ last week just outside the window of my classroom. I was a bit disappointed when some of my students decided to ditch class and join them. Were it legal and the university didn’t mind, they should be free to smoke to their heart’s content. However, I am also free to comment on their activity, teach the subject of my expertise, and encourage my students to responsibly attend class.What does cause me to be baffled, offended, mystified and outraged is that the government compels those who study and work hard to subsidize through taxation those who ditch class to sit around smoking dope in the quad. I was called a “Neo–Puritan”, but it’s as old as the debate between the Stoics and Hedonists in ancient Greece.

One Comment

  1. Clif haley May 18, 2011 at 11:31 am - Reply

    I agree about the responsibility point. I'm not a weed smoker, but I'm the oddball among my friends. I have NO problem with people smoking weed, and I think that it should be legalized and regulated, but that doesn't excuse irresponsible behavior.

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