The Silent Smoker: Pot and Personal Identity
Labels are powerful things. For better or worse, our society (and brains) love them. The term “pot-head” carries many connotations and conjures many images: the most charitable perhaps being the vision of a generally benign – if not dunderheaded – older hippie still clinging to the vestiges of some outdated movement; the most fear-mongering being the scowling, hooded specter of urban youth – faceless, ethnic and a mere two steps from committing a home invasion. Most people’s perceptions, in the USA at least, lie somewhere between these two extremes, but basically come down to the following: a lazy, slightly stupid, morally-unfocused waster, in dire need of some bootstraps and maybe even a Bible.
Back in reality however, the vast majority of pot-heads prove to be nothing like these caricatures. For every pot-smoker who plays up to the stereotype, there are a thousand others who don’t – and who eschew the label “pot-head” in the first place. I am one of those people – and this is why I don’t define myself as a “pot-head”, despite enjoying pot very much.
It’s not a matter of wanting to distance myself from the stereotypes mentioned above – although what I’m about to say will hopefully blow those apart anyway – it’s annoyance at the fact the term exists in the first place. First off, pot use is ubiquitous worldwide. As a species we’ve been enjoying it for at least four thousand years (almost certainly longer); people from all walks of life, all career paths, all ages, nationalities, creeds and colors enjoy it – including many famous scientists and historical figures like Shakespeare – to the extent that “pot-head” is pretty much a redundant term. Do we have special terms – and ensuing stereotypes – for people who enjoy coffee, smoking shisha, or drinking orange juice? Of course not.
Secondly, and more insidiously, the suffix “-head” implies addiction (compare to “smack-head” and “meth-head”), which is a byproduct of weed’s unfair categorization along with a range of very addictive substances, and its (mostly) illegal status – both of which are very objectionable. Nobody ever got called an “alcohol-head” for enjoying a beer or two, for example (despite alcohol being far more dangerous than weed). In this way people who enjoy cannabis are symbolically divided from the rest of the population, and categorized in a way which is implicit of criminality and addiction. Even if we’re lenient and assume that “-head” doesn’t imply addiction, at best it implies that the person involved defines themself by whatever it is – and once again, very few pot smokers define themselves by their love for cannabis alone.
Thirdly, it’s my innate distrust of labels themselves. As we saw above, they often conjure images that are nothing more than stereotypes. They manage to tar swathes of very different people with the same simplistic brush-strokes; they often become so repeated and their stereotypes so ingrained that they fail to describe anything remotely resembling the truth. Just so with people who smoke cannabis: we’re not lazy, we’re not apathetic, we’re not criminals – we’re human, we’re everywhere, and we’re a very, very diverse bunch.