Read Mary Grabar’s and David Swindle’s debate on marijuana, conservatism, and counterculture here.
The difference of understandings between Mary Grabar and myself could not be more clear by her most recent response. The root of our disagreement is not on marijuana itself but on our different understandings of the nature of the Left.
But the counterculturalists voted and campaigned for Obama and company, who are sending Guantanamo detainees to Illinois. And though it is true that Harry Reid and Howard Dean adopt the veneer of respectability in terms of their lifestyles and appearances, they are the ones carrying out the counterculture’s aims. (And how much more counterculture can you be than being a “community organizer”—the first profession of Bill Ayers?) And it is the counterculture that is instituted in education at all levels that very deeply indoctrinates future voters (and at levels most have no inkling of). I’ve seen that and written about it.
What this paragraph makes clear is that to Mary the Left and the Counterculture are entirely synonymous. (And she’s certainly not the only conservative with this misunderstanding.) I thought I’d made clear the two movements differences when quoting from a previous blog I’d written. But it appears I’m going to need to elaborate on this a bit more.
What is the counterculture? Or more importantly, who is the counterculture? How does the counterculture pursue its objectives? How is it different from the Left?
The “counterculture” refers to a number of interrelated cultural movements throughout the 19th, 20th, and now into the 21st century. Counterculturalists seek to change the world through new kinds of art, spirituality, and lifestyles. Examples from modern history include the Bohemians, the Transcendentalists, the Romantics, the Beats, the Hippies, the Punks, the Goths, and the Ravers. Examples from ancient history include the Jews, the Christians, the Socratic counterculture of Ancient Greece, the Sufis, and the Zen Buddhists. (A great history of counterculture is Ken “R.U. Sirius” Goffman’s Counterculture Through the Ages: From Abraham to Acid House.)
The most important book, though, for understanding the nature of the counterculture today is Richard Metzger’s Disinformation: The Interviews. His Disinformation TV show and DisinfoCon (both available on DVD here) provide a useful audio-visual companion. Disinformation: The Interviews features discussions with quirky artists (Joe Coleman, Norbert Kox, Kembra Pfahler and Paul Laffoley) and innovative writers (Robert Anton Wilson, Grant Morrison, Douglas Rushkoff, Howard Bloom.) This is the counterculture.
Now who is the Left? David Horowitz’s summary from Left Illusions is accurate:
Among the intellectual leaders of this left are Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Gore Vidal, Edward Said and Cornel West; among its figureheads, Angela Davis and Ramsey Clark; among its cultural icons, Tim Robbins, Barbara Kingsolver, Arundhati Roy and Michael Moore; among its political leaders, Ralph Nader and the heads of the three major “peace” organizations (Leslie Cagan, Brian Becker and Clark Kissinger); among its electoral organizations, the Green Party and the Peace and Freedom Party; among its elected officials Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-California) and Congressman Dennis Kucinch (D-Ohio); among its organizations, the misnamed Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild; among its publications and media institutions, The Nation, Z Magazine, The Progressive, Counterpunch, Pacifica radio, Indymedia.org and commondreams.org. Like the Communist Party in the heyday of the Soviet empire, the influence of the hard left –intellectually and organizationally – extends far beyond the institutions, organizations and publications it controls.
To clarify Mary’s paragraph… This is the movement that campaigned for Obama. This is the movement that, inspired by the theories of Stalinist Antonio Gramsci, has embedded itself in our universities. This is the movement who trains community organizers. (Counterculture occupations would include artists, poets, New Age shop owners, etc.)
The differences between the Left and the Counterculture (and why conservatives should not be default antagonistic toward the latter) can be demonstrated with a case study. Let’s consider one issue and then examine how figures from both movements respond in dramatically different ways: the corporation.
The Left regards the corporation as an evil entity that is destroying the planet and killing people. Its prescription is predictable: government must step in to reign in corporate power. The Left’s recent manifesto on the matter is neo-communist journalist Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. For a broader view of the Left’s perspective watch The Corporation, a documentary by the same team that created Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media.
But the counterculture has a different understanding of the corporation and how to challenge it. Rushkoff’s Life Inc. articulates a more nuanced view of corporations. (I reviewed Life Inc. for FrontPage in July. In my review I explain how Rushkoff is pro-capitalism, pro-founders, pro-freedom and does not preach government solutions to curbing corporate influence.)
Rushkoff commented on one of my posts recently:
Thanks for “getting” it.
The problem, of course, for someone like me is that I find no home in either camp. And Life Inc didn’t reach the number of people it could have because it attacked both leftist and rightist entrenchment.
It’s as if, if you don’t pick a side you don’t get heard.
But it shouldn’t be that way — at least not on the Right. Conservatives need to stop lumping the Counterculture and the Left into a single entity that must be opposed at all costs. As long as conservatives do that they’ll be:
A) Cutting themselves off from a world of engaging ideas and exciting art — both of which can inspire them to discover new strategies for how to defend the American Idea.
B) Promoting the false notion that one cannot be both alternative in one’s culture and conservative in one’s politics. This gives strength to the Left. It makes people think that if they like rock music, marijuana, or non-Judeo-Christian religion then they have to be part of the Left. Why would anyone want to hand the Left a recruitment tool as powerful as the Counterculture?
Thus, I cannot embrace Mary’s principle reason for marijuana’s continued criminalization. “Fighting the counterculture” in no way trumps constitutional principles and the fiscal sanity of ending the tens of billions of wasted dollars every year. If Mary thinks that marijuana use is a danger to America then I encourage her to take a lesson from counterculturalists like Jesus of Nazareth: fight it with culture, not with politics. Don’t use the force of government to try and shape the culture in the direction you want it to go. That’s what the Left does — and it doesn’t work and it’s why we must fight them.