Academics at its highest 2

This is a gem from The Chronicle of Higher Ed’s “First Person” series of anonymous essays. “Pothead Ph.D.” is from a PhD candidate who is espousing the use of marijuana. A bit of philosophy is thrown in to make this all seem legitimate.

Of course I’m not arguing that one should smoke out every day. In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Aunt Polly commands Tom to whitewash a fence. Pretending to enjoy it, Tom is able to unload the job on a friend with surprising ease. The narrator then remarks: “If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

If you feel obliged to get wasted every time you’re stressed, then smoking will become a part of Work, and will increase your dissatisfaction with graduate school. But if you use the substance judiciously, marijuana can remind you that “intellectual labor” is really a form of Play, and infinitely preferable to most of the jobs your peers are drudging through.

His primary defense is that the use of marijuana inspires its users, makes them creative and thoughtful (not to mention hungry, so they say). He tells us (after relating a story of Michel Foucault being paid for a debate in hash) that “No one could have written History of Madness or Discipline and Punish while sober.” The drug makes the mind apparently. From his own experience he relates that he had writers block for an important paper in his first year of graduate school.

Finally I thought, “Screw this.” I decided to shelve the project for a few hours and toked up instead. Of course I immediately began thinking about my paper again. But now it seemed like a privilege to consider economic globalization and its relation to British poetry. Instead of frantically rearranging sections of text, I started to imagine the theoretical basis of my essay in holistic terms, and saw a connection between arguments that I hadn’t noticed before.

A few minutes later, I was at my computer, typing a series of notes that became a satisfying conclusion to my essay. I was very pleased when my professor told me it was publishable. It certainly wasn’t something I could have come up with while drunk.

But was it something you could have written while sober? He goes on to urge graduate students to use more pot, instead of the prescription drugs and hard partying that he sees going on. Of course, I never used any drugs stronger than caffeine and an occasional puff on a tabacco filled pipe. I wonder how brilliant I might be if I smoke pot, but I think I would rather make it through on my own merits.

His emphasis upon how creative and productive he is when high makes me consider atheletes and steriod use. Should we put an asterisk on Foucault’s work? On this scholar’s? Recently the Chronicle ran a story about faculty using drigs like Provigil and Modafinil to give them a leg up. I find this all immoral and unethical. But maybe I am a prude.

When I was just starting out in my profession I was at a meeting of department chairs and we were discussing a case of two high school students that we had admitted (and to the honors program, but this was before I was in honors) but they had been caught on a senior trip for smoking pot. Their high school would not let them graduate. They were going to get GED, should we still admit them? One of my colleagues said it was ridiculous, “after all, who among us hasn’t smoked dope?” I said nothing while everyone else laughed in agreement. So I guess I am a prude, but I am a prude who succeeds or fails on his own merits without the help of any drugs.


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