The Marijuana and Conservatism Debate, Part 2: Counterculture – by


Click here for Part 1 of this debate between Pajamas Media’s Mary Grabar and NewsReal’s David Swindle.

Mary Grabar:

David, thank you for letting me reply once more.

You’re right:

“It’s not pot-smoking counterculturalists that are sending Guantanamo detainees to Illinois.”

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.

You are right:

McCain was an uninspiring candidate with a poorly run campaign.

But if our culture had not produced a generation whose majority believes that socialism is okay, we would not have elected a president who openly talked about “spreading the wealth” and being a “global citizen.”  Would someone like Obama have been a serious candidate before the counterculture movement?  Successful campaign managers know what will appeal to voters; in other words, they get their cues from voters and shape messages accordingly.  Voters are not blank slates, but carry with them certain values—values that are shaped by the culture.

The Constitution may be neutral, but the founders and Alexis de Tocqueville repeatedly invoked the importance of religion and morality in maintaining the republic.  Libertarians’ eagerness to defend “freedoms” regarding vices like drug use and prostitution, and attendant disregard for the moral fabric of our culture (enforced by reasonable laws) is dismaying.

David Swindle:

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.

[emphasis mine]

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, and 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.

  • Cowfy Kaufman

    i as a generality agree with about 90% of coulter and 95% of dennis miller however i believe that drug usage should be decriminalized.i think mc carthy a pig and yet i can't stand to look at obamas pompas pus or think his policies are anything but an attempt to control.i try to be a realist without realspeak.if drugs were to be legalized tommorow how many million law inforcment people would be out of work and armed,and angry? hey what about the gang bang culture without illegal drugs to BASE IT on it could just fizzel.really with gentleness not with hate as the muslem nation would have it.

  • seek

    Excellent response from David Swindle; he understands why the counterculture and the Left overlap only fitfully. I might also add many counterculturalists are on the Right — think Reason magazine, among other institutions.

  • jack

    When I first started commenting here it was as a 'countercultural' conservative(I don't even call myself a conservative, I prefer 'Rational Anarchist' a la Heinlein's 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress'). I am polytheistic, have made anti-Christian(but conservative) arguments, I am an artist(a field crawling with leftists) and hold quite a number of unorthodox views.

    My signature–'in your midst' refers to my point to more traditional conservatives that we are among you.

    I pointed out after 9/11 that the Church of Satan had issued a verbal condemnation the like of which would never issue from a Christian church–one that was unambiguously against the terrorists and Islam.

    I've argued with Laura Ingraham when she laughed and ridiculed the fallen pagan veterans whose families had finally won the right to have their religious symbols placed on their graves in Arlington.

    David Swindle nailed it.

    We are here. We are far more numerous than anyone might think.

    in your midst

  • John Toradze

    I voted for Obama. I consider a national health care system like that of every other civilized western nation an absolute necessity. I am appalled at the destruction of the banking and finance laws and regulatory apparatus. I think we must end the drug war immediately both for humanitarian reasons and because the drug war finances jihad. The drug war is a price support system for economic parasites who produce nothing, just take risk.

    And I am also activist as I can be to fight islam. I read Koran and ha'dith and islam is nothing but a war cult founded by an evil man worse than Jim Jones of People's Temple. I am absolutely clear that islam is a doctrine that can only produce new jihad, generation upon generation.

    The Right does more harm to the fight against islam than anything the left can do. The Right does it by identifying certain positions as necessary to hold together, as if one political pre-packed “Happy-Meal” was required. If the right wants to be heard again, then the right must start debating its issues one by one, and not bundling them together this way.

  • Bellerophon

    Grabar's error isn't only in identifying the Left with the Counterculture, it is deeper than that. Grabar, by her own statements, believes that the only positive source of western civilization is Christianity and her condemnation of the Counterculture is a proxy assault on non-Christian ideas.

    For certain Christians, consciousness has a divine origin. To interfere with consciousness is to sever man's connection with God and thereby leave him morally unguided.

    Alcohol Prohibition had primarily Christian origins in Billy Sunday and the Women's Christian Temperance Union as well as with the fascistic Progressive movement of the early 20th century. These movements were predicated on the idea that alcohol reduced the connection between human beings and the source of moral law – the creator. (There is also a secular version of this where alcohol or some other consciousness bending drug severs the connection between individuals and society by lowering the psychological power of societal taboos. This version became popular again in the 1960's)

    The banning of alcohol was predicted to have consequences better than those of the Second Coming. Crime would disappear, families would be strengthened and the increase in productivity would lift man to undreamed of heights.

    In reality, the consequences of the attempt to enforce sobriety fell short of these fantastic predictions. The streets of Chicago ran red with the blood of bootleggers and innocent civilians alike. Alcohol consumption rose every year from 1919 onward after having fallen in the decade preceding Prohibition. Entire police forces were corrupted by the bribes of bootleggers. The murder rate rose and remained high until the repeal of Prohibition.

    Grabar style Christians believe that man, cursed by the Original Sin of Eve, is prone towards evil and can only be kept from debauchery by the rigid enforcement of the word of God. Anything that clouded the mind or lessened inhibitions could lead only to criminality, sin, chaos, societal decay and ultimately to the same fate as Sodom and Gomorrah. Without the direct connection to God through man's divinely based consciousness, man is morally helpless.

    “By their fruits ye shall know them”. What then are the fruits of marijuana prohibition? Are family values strengthened when the only time the family gets together is on visiting day? Is the wholesale corruption of law enforcement agencies the best way to further civil society? Are gangland killings over drug territories conducive to the safety and security of the nation?

    Grabar need not abandon Christianity to support the legalization of marijuana. She need only ask herself if she really believes that mankind sits poised on the edge of moral depravity needing only a trifling tap to send society into chaos. If she looks for a moment at the strengths of human beings instead of at their faults, she may realize that moral uprightness is an individual quality and one that cannot be furthered by the force of the state.

  • kenspiker

    My experience in the 60s convinced me that there were two types of counterculturalists, or hippies if you will. There were the loud, aggressive activists and the more inward collection of spiritual seekers, back-to-the-landers, anarchists, artists and libertarians. The latter were often as not anti-government because they saw government as a threat to liberty but had no interest in using government to impose their ideas on others. Many of them believed in armed self-defense and some had romantic ideas about revolution, but few actually believed it. In this way they overlapped often with moonshiners, tax-evaders, draft dodgers, bikers and rightwing religious fanatics.

    Marijuana was a common link between those countercultural groups and symbolized their vote for freedom as opposed to government intrusion. The socialist/activists on the other hand, condemned the use of marijuana and other popular drugs like LSD declaring that stoned citizens didn't make good revolutionaries. And the activists didn't want less government, they wanted more, often complete government control in the form of the totalitarian socialist state. David Horowitz was one of them until he got wise.

    In the debate about marijuana it's clear that compared to alcohol the weed is far safer to use than the booze. Booze causes horrible problems both to society and to the individual, mentally and physically. That's not to say that marijuana is good for you, or that kids should be allowed to smoke it. It tends to make people stupid for the period that they're stoned and to allow it to effect young, developing brains would be criminal. But nobody even died from smoking too much pot and it does't rot your liver and pot smokers are more likely than not to space out in an easy chair than go around crashing their cars or looking for a fight or beating their wives.

    Drunks are noisy and socially disruptive, pot smokers tend to be contemplative and spacy. Perhaps that's why alcohol drinkers don't like pot smokers and why weed is still illegal, they can't understand how somebody can have a good time without making a fool out of himself.

  • hughk

    Fantastic read. The last thing I expected from yet another debate on the pros and cons of legalizing pot was an excellent and informative article shattering the widely-held misconception that counterculturalism and leftism are one in the same….my own misconception included. Thanks for the education David.

    The distinctions between the two concepts are important in many ways. Not least among the lesson is that lumping counterculturalists with leftists relegates many countercultural conservatives to the unfortunate (if not unfair) position of 'a man with no country''.

    But rest easy Mary, pot will not be legalized anytime soon. Not for any of the reasons you cite but simply because ot the vast amount of money involved – on both sides of the “war.”

    From the supply side – Pot is called weed for a reason. It can be grown relatively easily in every State of the Union indoors or out. It can be propogated easily from seeds or cuttings. In short just about anyone anywhere can grow this weed. If pot was legal, based primarily on the reasons stated above, the supply would quickly outpace the demand even if the whole US should become chronic stoners. All of us (even leftists that won't come clean) know what happens to price when supply is greater than demand – it falls. Such a scenario doesn't even include the numerous people that would simply grow their own should it be legalized. The last scenario will take on more meaning in the summary.

    The State – Governments currently rake in billions from the war on pot. I concede that in most cases a guy busted with a small amount for personal use won't go to jail for simple possession in most States. However, there remains court costs, fines, taxes and the like. In many States even if a small amount is discovered in a vehicle, that vehicle can be confiscated and sold at auction. With larger (and sometimes not significantly larger) amounts the bustee can count on the vehicle, a home, private property, personal property, etc, etc being confiscated and sold at auction. Then consider the the many suitcases and other assorted containers crammed with hundred dollar bills discovered weekly by law enforcement that are confiscated (that certainly saves on any auction fees). Then there are the enforcement/judicial costs funded with our tax dollars (it's to protect the chilruns doncha know). These funds not only provide salaries and equipment issued to law enforcement personel which are then taxed but planes, helicoptors, boats and all other assorted vehicles which are taxed. Then there is fuel and gadgets needed to make the vehicles functional which are taxed. The pot laws are presently the golden goose laying multi-billion dollar eggs for the State either directly by seizures of money and/or bling or through taxation.

    In summary, as far as the supply side goes the return on dabbling in the pot trade will remain high (no pun intended) as long as pot remains illegal. If leagalized, there will be an overabudance of growers looking to make an easy dollar or simply looking for a free stash driving down the cost and consequently any potential tax windfall – which brings us to the State. I contend that the amount of pot related funding (as noted in 'the State' section) presently flowing into State coffers far surpasses any potential tax revenues the State might enjoy through legalization/taxation (I have searched for a number but evidently the State doesn't want us to know). Following basic economic principles (or following the money if you prefer), the status quo makes better sense to both the supply side and the State.

    Yes, rest easy Mary. For the immediate future, the pot laws will not change anymore than the number of stoners giggling in the back row of your classroom after lunch year after year after year after…. Currently the immeasurable amount of money flowing into the coffers of BOTH SIDES of the great debate on to-legalize-or-not-to-legalize far outweigh any perceivable “minor” issues like individual freedom.
    However, for those without a horse in this race that champion individual freedom more than money. rather than pointing the fickle finger of fate at countercultural horticulturists with a magic garden, I would suggest holding power hungry leftists accountable – Those same leftists appear to hold all of the political power these days and along with that power the sole ability to legislate what Americans can and cannot cultivate/consume.

  • ryanXXX

    As a “strict interpretationalist, civil libertarian”, I see smoking marijuana the same as smoking tobacco – a disagreeable personal habbit. States, counties, townships and cities may regulate, zone or ban outright activities they deem undesireable, but under no circumstances does the federal government have the power to interfere with an individual's liberty in that regard. In the broadest sense, the federal government of the United States is granted absolutely no police power inside a state anyway, so the entire argument is moot.

    If the US would only adhere to its founding documents in letter and spirit, there would be no need to distinguish between the Left and the Counterculture. The federal government simply wouldn't have the authority to do about 70% of what it currently does and the enormous amount of money it wastes would be returned to the states where it would be put to the uses that the citizens there deem important.

    If California wanted to institutue a Marxist utopia, they would be entirely free to do so. The citizens of that state that either didn't like the theory behind Marxism, or the outcome of its policies could simply move to a state that better fitted their political outlook. If Mississippi wanted to establish a Baptist Theocracy (the First Amendment doesn't apply to the states) it would also be free to do so.

    The states are soverien, nothing in the powers ceded to the federal government have changed that. In our system there are large individuals and tiny governments, this is how it is designed to work. The farther we get from our Founder's original intent the more problems we have.

    The real issue is whether the Constitutional Republic instituted 230 years ago in the US is now and forever dead. What politician could advocate the 70% reduction in the federal budget that will be necessary to remain solvent? What political party could survive advocating the entire dismantling of the monstrous aparatus that has been errected in Washington since the end of the Civil War? These are the minimum and necessary steps to insure the very survival of the “Republic For Which It Stands” and even to mention them will get you disregarded in civil discourse. To say these things are necessary gets you labled an extreemist, even in light of the obvious train wreck comming when the $65 Trillion in unfunded federal liabilities comes do in the next 30 years.

    Our elected leaders have deliberately distorted the “Interstate Commerce” and the “General Welfare” clauses of the Constitution to create more a opressive entity than King George's Britain ever was and we were prepared to fight and die to throw off that opression. Now we're reduced to such a debased circumstance that we're left to argue about which type of opression is most desirable.

    Have we at last lost that flame of liberty that saw us through the last two centuries? Is this finally how the great experiement ends, with a wimper? A slow, and gradual collapse from the inside? Rendered soft and pliable through decades moral decatance, monetary excess and political indoctrination is this the generation that fails to live up to the obligation it has to the ideals that created the greatest and most free nation the world has ever known?

    I, for one, would rather die than be part of wretched generation that destorys the only freedom left in the world and bequeath to my children the petty slavery of the soft tyranny of a nanny state. Are there any american patriots left?

  • Renee Rogers-Perry

    Great article david!

  • cynthia curran

    Agree, William Jennings Bryant was an evangelical leftist in his day while William Taft was more of a conservative Unitarian. In today's Republican world Mormons and some gays even if one disagrees on the gay marriage issue are not welcome. There are agnostic patriots while some Evangelicals like Jim Wallis are not as patrotic.