Both Abel and Spungen express some curiosity about my previous comment that the pot-smokers that I knew in Mormon-dominated Deseret were generally cooler than those I knew in southern Colosse and, for that matter, southwestern Estacado.

I first started smoking on a bet that went horribly wrong, but one of the things that kept me going was the social aspect of it. Many years ago, when such things existed, my family sat in the smoking section in a cruise ship dining room. Every time we did that there seemed to be at least one person or couple that didn’t smoke. Why did they sit at the smoking table? Better conversation. Better enough that they were willing to pollute their lungs for it!

Until I moved to Deseret, smoking was generally a social activity. This was particularly true in college at Southern Tech. To be blunt, smoking automatically weeded out the stick-in-the-muds. Not all non-smokers are stick-in-the-muds, of course. Most aren’t. But the number of members among the uptight population find it prudent and worthwhile to light something on fire and breathe in the fumes purposefully. So, in addition to the fact that we would light something on fire and breathe in the smoke, public smokers have something almost instantly in common with one another: Not likely to be stick-in-the-muds.

The same is true, to an extent, of drinking. Other than those that like the taste, people that drink want to relax. People that don’t want to relax don’t drink. People that are really concerned about getting a little too loose and doing something a little (or a lot) unwieldy don’t drink. So drinkers have in common the desire, to an extent, to cut loose.

Though I’m sure social scientists have a precise term for it, smoking and drinking are what I will call social identifiers.

Pot smoking is also a social identifier. However, due largely to the fact that it is illegal, it identifies a different social group. In addition to those that just like pot but not alcohol, it includes people that find some Higher Purpose in flouting the rules. It includes people that don’t want to do what Daddy tells them to do. It includes not just people that want to cut loose (cause most could do that with alcohol, if they wanted to) but people that have their priorities positioned in such a way that they are willing to risk a criminal record in order to do so. Following society’s rules when it comes to drugs and alcohol is not a particularly difficult task from the outset (different of course once you’re addicted), but they decline to do so.

In the land of Deseret, smoking and drinking have entirely different implications than they do in the rest of the Land of the Free. First and foremost, they signal that you are either not a Mormon or not a very good one. The significance of this cannot be understated. If you are drinking or smoking, particularly in public, you are signalling that you are not a part of the dominant culture. But unlike society’s general rules with drugs and alcohol, being a Mormon is a much more difficult task. For one thing, it requires a particular set of beliefs. You believe in the Bible, more or less, as well as the Mormon addenda thereto. Furthermore, you believe the church is the ultimate arbiter of things that are theologically true. If you’re a southern protestant, you can bounce around until you find a church that reflects your beliefs. Not so easy if you’re LDS.

So while you have to actively do something to become a social outlaw (using the term loosely, of course) in most of the country. In Deseret, you simply only have to not do enough. Stop going to church in the South, people may assume you started going to a different one. You generally don’t get to choose which LDS church you go to (it’s districted off like schools) and it’s quite possible you’ll end up with a Missionary on your doorstep if you stop going to church there (as happened to a couple pot-smoking friends).

I mentioned in the original comment that my coworker Simon thought that there were as many potsmokers out there as drinkers and more pot smokers than cigarette smokers. Why? Because everyone he knew that drank did pot. I had to actively convince him that it was just not like that across the country.

Once you’re outside social normity, it’s a lot easier to stray further from camp. The punk movement is absolutely huge in the Mormon capital at least partially in backlash to what is percieved to be (though isn’t really, anymore, at least in that city) the dominant culture. When you’re already crossed the line, there’s much less holding you back from going further.

The Deseretian pot-smokers are cooler because they’re former Mormons. Being a former Mormon (or a non-Mormon) in itself doesn’t make one cool. It’s certainly not the pot-smoking that makes them cool. It’s that, generally speaking, the socially relaxed people that are drinking and smoking in the south are also smoking pot in Deseret, whereas pot smoking in the south is more generally reserved for the agitated and the completely disaffected. In short, people like Carol Goddard are the unusual rather than the typical.

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