Thursday, July 10, 2014

Part II: 11 Songs That Confirm My General Reservations About the Legalization of Marijuana (Songs 6-11)

This is the second part of my two-part post on why I have serious reservations about the legalization of marijuana. I received some criticisms after my first post, especially because some thought that I put too much emphasis on the negative effects of the drug, while ignoring all the positives. One individual outlined the positives in this way; "Here we have a plant that brings serenity and clarity to the mind, relaxation and appetite to the body, which makes music, movies, games, food, sex, and experiences better, which can be eaten as food, or built into a shelter, but we react to it by banning it. We're foolish and future generations will judge us because of it." To clarify, I in no one way meant to indict the right use of hemp or marijuana for any good purpose (note: "Hemp" is also in the Cannabis family, but is not used so much to smoke as for industrial purposes), whether it be for shoe laces, building houses, or even when it is used to give to people who are dealing with debilitating diseases. Indeed, I would regard it as a good thing- the manner in which this drug can at once help individuals cope with serious pain, while simultaneously helping them maintain an appetite (which is frequently a problem for those in these circumstances). Consequently, as opposed to people sitting around idly devouring a bag of Lays Potato Chips, we can see the true purpose behind the existence of these "pot munchies".

Another criticism I received comes down to the idea that my arguments are purely subjective, and that one could simply refute them by pointing to a different experience of smoking pot (i.e. it brings me serenity and clarity of mind). This is precisely why I chose the format that I did in criticizing recreational marijuana. I chose one of the most universal things known to man (viz. music). And in choosing it, I did not look to a bunch of religious moralists to present my critique of drugs, but rather to a bunch of secular moralists. Anybody can endorse anything for any reason, but the endorsement of an artist, coupled with the general populace who evidently find a particular message compelling, is far more of a convincing case than any that I could make myself, no matter how reasonable the claim. Where are the pot songs that celebrate the "clarity of mind" that it apparently brings? Where are those fabulous "pot songs" that make as virtuous a case as did the man who criticized my post? There are not many positive songs out there about marijuana, and the ones that are tend to be profoundly childish and self-serving. However, what you do tend to see (on this particular subject) is a litany of examples which inevitably re-enforce, not how harmless and insignificant the drug is, but rather how dangerous and fundamentally threatening it is to one's own personal development.

Because we all know that marijuana is what put him over the top

The final criticism (against my criticism) involves the inevitable comparison between beer, wine, whiskey, and smoking marijuana. The argument goes something like this: alcohol is actually far more destructive than marijuana (exhibit A: Michael Phelps and that sad "bag lady"). The truth is I could give just as much of a scathing critique about alcohol abuse as I could about smoking marijuana. That said, abuse is the key word here. I would not defend beer bonging, anymore than I would defend smoking a bong. Ironically, as my critic himself points out, you can use this type of argumentation with just about anything in creation. His example involved using a fork as a means to hurt someone. After all, forks are great for food, but one can inflict horrific damage simply by misusing them. I would argue that a more serious example would involve sexual intercourse. I am not sure about the kind of carnage that dinner forks have wrought throughout history, but I am almost certain of the psychological, emotional, and physical damage of those who have misused the gift of sex. This doesn't negate my point, but only further validates it. Yes, if the world consists only of Puritans and anarchists, then these are your best options (legalize everything or ban it). I'm arguing that things exist for a definite purpose, and our job is to figure out what that purpose is. Everything can be abused, of course! The question is, does it have a proper use? Hence, for the reasons outlined in this post, as well as the previous one, I have argued based on the general observation that even while there are plenty of abuses that accompany the consumption of beer (for example), beer can genuinely serve a positive function in society, whereas marijuana consumed in social settings ultimately winds up leading to anti-social behavior. Laws concerning alcohol exist to curb abuse which presumably are meant to lead to more responsible usage, while laws in Colorado exist now only to delay abuse, which is inevitable by virtue of what the drug does. Obviously much more could be said about the dysfunctional use of alcohol in our culture. The truth is we do consume it like a drug all too often. But rather than ban it, I would argue that we would be better served to see it not as some dirty secret, only to be enjoyed after you turn twenty one (like "Adult Entertainment"), but more in the European spirit. The abominable Frat model is to be condemned, while the communal/familial European model is to be commended. We have a positive model for drinking wine and beer, while we do not have the equivalent on the other side.

6. What I Got - Sublime (The Argument From Marijuana as a Gateway Drug)

Let's face it- there are not too many tales of triumph surrounding the use of drugs in music, though there are plenty of tragedies. About the best you can say concerning the use of recreational drugs is that you survived them, or that you saw "some interesting sh*t" while you were under their influence. The worst case scenario obviously involves some kind of drug overdose; "It all comes back to you, you're bound to get what you deserve. Try and test that, you're bound to get served." Just before the band found success, the lead singer overdosed on heroin, which makes the words to this song all the more tragic, and all the more ironic. Nevertheless, whenever someone "dabbles" in drugs, somewhere in the back of their mind they certainly have a sense that they are playing a bit of Russian roulette with their lives. And try as they might, people who defend drugs can really only do so in the negative sense. For example, the dabblers and devotees often say things along the lines of "alcohol causes far more problems than pot," or the "psychological effects of marijuana use are in the end inconclusive", or better still, "there is no direct evidence that marijuana serves as a gateway drug." Many reject the idea that marijuana is a "gateway" drug because, as they say, immediate causation cannot be proven based on the "slippery slope" form of argumentation. Yet making this claim is a little bit like saying that since foreplay doesn't always lead to sex, it is therefore proven that there is no direct link between the two. It may be true to say that there are some out there who have gone straight from never smoking anything, to smoking crack, but how much more likely do you think it is that someone might begin with dipping their little toes in the shallow end of drugs, to subsequently submerging their entire body in the deep end? Does it seem more likely that one would try a "mild" hallucinogen before trying a major one, or vice versa? Things happening in a vacuum seems to militate against everything that the social sciences teach (or the natural sciences for that matter). Obviously on one level it is circular to point out that using marijuana leads to using LSD (or some other drug), but it is not circular to argue that when once someone is willing to try drugs in the first place, they are certainly more likely to up the dosage afterwards. To put it another way, one does not ordinarily go from the ground level to the high dive- they build up the courage as they progress upwards to the various platforms. However, before we conclude that marijuana is simply a kinder, gentler version of the real stuff, we should remember that it is a psychotropic drug, that is, it capable of altering the psychological make-up of your mind in ways that can be quite terrifying. New York Times reporter Maureen Dowd found this out the hard way when she went to Colorado in order to do some "investigative" reporting on the issue. As a result of her "investigation", she wound up having something equivalent to a bad trip. According to Ms. Dowd, she consumed a chocolate pot bar, after which she was firmly convinced she had died (not in the good sense). I am not arguing that this happens to everyone (it doesn't), but any drug that has the capacity to convince you that you're dead is probably not something to play around with. The song What I Got by Sublime is a not so subtle reminder that once you take on a drug mindset, you ultimately shed that healthy sense of fear and trepidation that initially surrounds it; "I've got a dalmatian, but I can get still get high…" There is something frighteningly capricious about the way he regards his life; "Life is short so love the one you've got, 'cause you might get run over or you might get shot…"; it's almost as if he has no expectation of living very long, but neither has he the capacity to take it terribly seriously either (YOLO man). "I don't cry when my dog runs away. I don't get angry at the bills I have to pay. I don't get angry when my mom smokes pot/ Hits the bottle and goes right to the rock… f***ing, fighting, it's all the same. To live with Louie dog (his dalmatian) is the only way to stay sane. Let the lovin' come back to me." The larger point is this: the gateway drug hypothesis is not simply about individual experimentation, but about the gateway culture in the larger sense. If the people closest to you are going down that road, even if you yourself despise their behavior (indeed, who would ever want to see their mother stoned), then how much more of a temptation might it be for you to fall into that same trap?  When once you enter into the front door of drugs, the difference between moving onto the next option (as is clearly the case here) is a far smaller leap than the original step of going from never using anything at all to using even the most "minor" of hallucinogens.

7. Because I Got High - Afro Man (The Argument From Pot Smokers Are Not So Hilarious When You Get Right Down To it)

"I was gonna clean my room, until I got high… I was gonna go to class, but then I got high. I was gonna go to work… but then I got high... I was gonna make love, but then I got high. I lost my kids and wife, because I got high. Now I'm sleeping on the sidewalk and I know why…" You can tell a lot about a drug from the sort of humor associated with it. As far as "pot humor" goes, it's pretty consistent (even among those who defend its use). According to this humor, pot makes you stupid, causes memory loss, leads to laziness, lack of motivation, narcissism, munchies, and not infrequently can turn you into a slack-jawed laughing idiot. But before you get angry at this "unfair characterization", remember that it is all too frequently the people who smoke pot who are most inclined to make these jokes. What makes this song by Afro Man so interesting is that it incorporates all of the aforementioned light-hearted humor with just how "unfunny" some of the consequences can be. Tragically, I can think of a few friends from high school who fit this description perfectly. And whenever I think about them and where they are today, laughter is the last thing that comes to mind. At any rate, the video for this song is a prime example of just how people tend to laugh at the ridiculousness of the stoner, while failing to acknowledge how sad it is when people throw away their lives in the name of something so meaningless.

8. Gin and Juice - Snoop Dogg (The Argument From Not Everyone Who Smokes Pot Is All About Peace and Love)

Of all the reoccurring themes that appear in Snoop Dogg's music, the "Chronic" is probably the most common; "Rolling down the street smoking Indo, sippin' on Gin and Juice. Laid back (with my mind on my money and my money on my mind)." Boy, that sounds legal. In any case, if he does choose to get "crunk" and drive, I would prefer that he did it with his mind on the road, as opposed to "on his money." Yet the reason I selected this song was not just as a means to state the obvious (i.e. that as a society we tend to glamorize these awful people, along with their abhorrent behavior), but rather I selected it to briefly examine the so called "gangsta" side of marijuana use. People spend a lot of time arguing that marijuana is basically the key to people becoming more peaceful and loving. Is that so? Because we all know that Snoop Lion and Dr. Dre were all about peacefully unloading their GAT into the chest and/or mouth of their enemies, notwithstanding their plan to go "187 on the undercover cop"; who, God forbid, may have actually been suspicious about that ounce of Indo they were planning to smoke. There is a darker side to this psychotropic drug, and depending on your psychological makeup, it may operate as a sedative, or it may not. In some people it can provoke a sense of agitation and paranoia that can be quite dangerous (as should be apparent here), potentially even leading one to act in a hyper-aggressive and violent manner.

9. Long Haired Country Boy - Charlie Daniels (The Argument From Hedonism)               

"People say I'm no good and crazy as a loon, cause I get stoned in the morning, I get drunk in the afternoon. Kind of like my old blue tick hound, I like to lay around in the shade. And I ain't got no money, but I damn sure got it made… A poor girl wants to marry/ A rich girl wants to flirt. A rich man goes to college/ And a poor man goes to work. A drunkard wants another drink of wine/ And a politician wants a vote. I don't want much of nothing at all, but I will take another toke… 'Cause ain't asking nobody for nothing, if I can't get it on my own. If you don't like the way I'm living, you just leave this long haired country boy alone." You certainly can't accuse Mr. Daniels of being a mooch in this song (a common stereotype of the unmotivated pot smoking figure that lays around all day). Interestingly, the type of smoker that Mr. Daniels describes here is not one who lacks commitment. To the contrary, he seems passionately devoted to this wayward endeavor. Hedonism is his game, and if you don't like it, well, you know what you can go do. The idea behind smoking a joint is nothing like a short lunch break with a friend, or stopping by the pub after work for a pint or two, rather it's more like watching TV for several hours, while never watching anything in particular, or perhaps like watching a channel intently after it's gone off the air. The goal of getting high is mindlessness for mindlessness sake. The reason for this foray into the "nothing box"? It's fun to get high. Consequently, it is easy to see why some try to make a lifestyle out of it if they can, just as some might want to be on the golf course all day if possible. However, in defense of golf, at least there is some kind of larger aim to it (however minimal)... being perpetually stoned and drunk involves little more than making inebriation and self-stimulation your only purpose in life. Now some may point out that in the previous two songs, the artists include getting drunk as part of their regimen for "getting stoned". Ironically enough, this only further makes the case, for no one would think to mention having a nice "J" with a lovely glass of Cabernet, but they might mention smoking a blunt, alongside a "gang of Tanqueray" (as Snoop Lion so poetically put it). The people who talk about alcohol in these songs may as well be consuming hand sanitizer, for there is no other purpose to its consumption than to get smashed as quickly as possible.

10. Legalize It - Peter Tosh (The Argument From "Blah Blah Blah, the Health Benefits"… You Just Want To Get High)   

Released in 1976, this reggae classic from one of the founding members of The Wailers (which also included Bob Marley) is a straight forward attempt to argue that the legalization of marijuana is just common sense. The song in essence argues "everyone is doing it" so why don't you just "legalize it"? "Doctors smoke it, nurses smoke it, judges smoke it, and lawyers do too…. Birds eat it, ants eat it, fowls eat it…" According to Mr. Tosh quite literally all of creation is doing it. One wonders, if this is the case already, why legalizing it would even be necessary? Anyhow, it has always seemed to me to be a bit of flimsy argument to suggest that because something is so widespread, we should therefore have no suspicions about it. Bad weather can be widespread, sex trafficking is widespread. What about a measles outbreak, or hunger in Africa? Indeed, not everything that spreads spreads as a result of its inherent goodness. Mr. Tosh also argues for its legalization based on its purported health benefits; "it's good for the flu, good for asthma, good for tuberculosis, even umara composis (now he's just making stuff up)". In other words, I don't want it legalized simply because I like getting high, or even because everyone is doing it- my reasons are purely humanitarian! I want to save the world, the whales, the oceans, and this drug is really the key to all of it; it is the fountain of youth, the medicine of immortality, and the nectar of the gods. I want it legalized because it will end all wars, feed the hungry, and cure all diseases. Or, I just want to be stoned all the time, and this is the best way to justify my lifestyle.      

11. Who Says? - John Mayer (The Argument From John Mayer)

John Mayer is in many ways the narcissistic embodiment of what makes the culture of casual drug use repugnant. Mr Mayer is without a doubt a very talented and successful artist, but when it comes to actually having scruples, it is difficult to argue that he has too many; "Who says I can't get stoned/ Turn off the lights and the telephones/ Just me in my house alone/ Who says I can't get stoned? Who says I can't be free/ From all the things that I used to be/ Re-write my history/ Who says I can't be free. Who says I can't get stoned/ Call up a girl I used to know/ Fake love for an hour or so/ Who says I can't get stoned?" According to a recent interview, he wrote this song, not so much about smoking dope, as about "being in control of the pleasure in his life". Yet the message still speaks volumes; "Who says I can't do whatever the hell I want…" You tell 'em John! This hits directly at the heart of what is so galling about the growing cries to legalize pot. Smoking pot for recreational purposes is little more than a drug induced retreat into yourself. The central figure in the Captain Jack song (which appeared in the previous post on this subject) is actually described as "pleasuring himself" at one point in the song, as if masturbatory behavior were part and parcel of this self-serving mentality. I do not think it is an accident that Mr. Joel made this connection to drug use. In the same way, I think it is perfectly relevant here as it relates to Mr. Mayer. My body and my life belong to me alone, and however I choose to manipulate them so as to heighten my own pleasure, is my choice (me, me, me, me). And besides, if I'm not harming anyone, what's the danger in it all? Who cares what kind of mediocrity and meaninglessness I beget in the process, as long as I am not a mass murderer? Congratulations, you made it through your entire life without murdering a bunch of people! Indeed, you were a good person because you really didn't feel too much like being a bad one. Isn't that the definition of goodness? Of course marijuana has its upside; it was made to have an upside. Marijuana is designed to make you high and numb the pain (that's what anesthetics do). But there is also a trade off, as with most anesthetics; while making you high, it also makes you distant from yourself and your emotions- not to mention your loved ones. There is a reason people do not want to be stoned at the most essential times in their lives, because however wonderful it may be to feel high, or even how terrible it is to feel pain, no one wants to be distant from a loved one- much less the very senses that would put you in contact with them. Getting stoned may allow you to "be high on yourself", but in most cases it only makes you lukewarm to everything else.

Perhaps it is true to say that the legalization of marijuana would take some of the exaggerated appeal out of it, thereby encouraging people to use it in a more disciplined and circumscribed manner. Nevertheless, I cannot help but to feel a sense of trepidation, especially when considering just how detached and disinterested we have already become as a society. How much worse will this disconnect become when we legalize a drug that is actually quite effective at encourage a sense of mental hibernation. We are not meant to be perpetually cut off from the world (we are communitarian beings after all), and if the rule of law exists for the purpose of serving the common good (not just the individual's pleasure), in what sense is there anything communally good about its recreational use? In other words, what exactly is being "re-created" here anyway? The face of the stoner speaks volumes as to the vacuity of the practice. If man is defined and distinguished by his reason and will, and both of these are compromised when one is stoned, then why would you make getting blitzed a viable practice. It would be the equivalent of telling a man- not that it is legal to drink beer (which of course it is)- but rather that it is legal to be wasted. Even if it is in a certain sense, then why would you sign that into law? You might as well legalize drinking bottles of NyQuil?

This "man-cave mentality" is already firmly entrenched in our society, why give further credence to it by enshrining it into law; a law that would inevitably invite people to say; "Why not make other drugs legal?" At one point in the Far East, "opium dens" were all the rage. Now in this new age of technology and recreational drugs, we might well be in for a new kind of "den"; the marijuana man cave. Let people find it on their own if they wish, but let us not go out of our way to become a kinder and gentler- more apathetic version- of the type of drug dealer that we were always warned to stay away from as kids.


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