Is Knute Berger just another stoned hippie?

A young Knute Berger in college.

A young Knute Berger in college. Credit: Unknown.

Maybe it's because I have frequently been accused of looking like Jerry Garcia. Maybe it's because I went to Evergreen and people often assume I have a stoner's proclivities. Maybe it's because I came of age in the late 1960s — a generational thing.

For whatever reason, I have been trying to escape marijuana for a long time.

My age and look — beard, often longish curly hair — suggest that I must have serious experience with pot. This is not the case. I don't smoke or consume it, hardly ever did even back in the day. Yes, there was teen dabbling and some college toking, but the truth is, I never liked being high. It turned out I was more of a tobacco and alcohol guy, Old Golds and Rainier beer.

I was passionate about writing in my adolescence, and drugs just seemed to get in the way. I remember once in a high school poetry class, I shared my work and everyone, including the teacher, was impressed. A classmate pulled me aside afterwards and said, "You only write that good because of drugs." The fact was, even in high school, I was drug avoidant and it enraged me to think that others thought my creativity came from a bong.

That might be true for some people — one thing I learned about drugs is that many aspects of highs are not universal. Some people get stimulated by them, others deadened or dissociated. Instead of helping me "find myself," drugs seemed more like an escape from self, or something designed to confuse my sense of self. As a budding writer, I was not interested in that, though I know creative people who have found drugs, marijuana in particular, helpful.

In the late 1960s, I identified with the counter-culture, no question. Being a hippie and being stoned were seen by the media as inseparable. The 60s were about getting high on something — dope, music, Jesus, meditation. I did hippie things, but I never felt like surrendering my individual agency to pick and choose among the new "freedoms" we sought.

If the era was about communal love, I chose individualism. If the era was about organic food, I chose cigarettes and junk food. If the era was about bubbling overflows of spiritual longing, I read about Buddhism but was more interested in politics, history, journalism.

There was the Time Magazine version of what a hippie was — and that's what has lasted in the public imagination: blithering, beaded, blasted, tie-dyed flower children. They did exist, but like all stereotypes, they leave out the true complexity and variety of individual experience. (For the record, I have never in my life worn anything tie-dyed.)

Being painted with the hippie brush because of my hair or clothes bugged the hell out of me. I remember the father of a friend of mine forbid him from going on a bike trip with me because my long hair made me suspect. I was likely a corrupting influence on his son. The irony was, his straight-looking boy probably took more drugs in a weekend than I had in my entire life.

While I embraced the rebellion of the counter culture, I hated to see it so narrowly defined. And because pot did nothing particularly pleasant for me, I resented that weed became a kind of cultural symbol for those "high" times.

I support marijuana legalization, decriminalization and an end to the Drug War and its inequities. I'm glad that Washington state is helping to lead the way. But I also can't get too excited about the details — the new pot stores and the lines of customers, the general media hubbub, the common whiff of smoke in the air these days. Partly, it's because of my history with pot; partly it's my ambivalence about people using it more or more people using it. While medical marijuana makes a lot of people feel better, I generally think that people, particularly young people, shouldn't use it much.

That's a personal bias and I have no desire to legislate it. People should get to make their own choices, especially about personal recreation. I greet legalization and the new pot stores with the hope that moderation will prevail. I think the world needs more sharper- thinking people and less dependence on drugs and alcohol of all kinds. We need to clear our heads, not cloud them further.

To each his own, but I won't be a customer.

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