As I mentioned in a previous post, I was a major reggae fan as an early teenager. My father introduced me to Bob Marley’s music, and he became one of my heros (along with Bruce Lee). As a kid, I would have done anything to get my hands on Bob Marley videos and interviews, and were I a kid today, I would have loved all of the Internet resources available. Yesterday, for example, I did a search in YouTube and discovered a bunch of Marley interviews. Unfortunately, after watching an interview or two, I was incredibly disappointed in my childhood hero. I found Marley to be completely mislead by promoting the fraility of the human mind and almost comical.
In response to two questions, in particular, Marley was wrong by underestimating the strength of the human mind and its ability to control its surroundings without the use of external catalysts, be them natural or synthetic. His solution is for the weak. The questions dealt with (i) how he justified his Rastafarian worship for Haile Selassie who was the totalitarian dictator of an empoverished African nation, and (ii) why the use of marijuana was fundamental to his religion and daily life. Neither of his answers were satisfactory to me, and here is why:
Beginning with the latter question, Marley asserts that the use of ganja helps one mediate and is therefore spiritually important. He gives as an example its ability to allow one to concentrate in a city setting where there is a lot of noise due to traffic, etc. He also contrasts its effects with those of alcohol which only makes one drunk and is not condusive to concentration. Finally, ganja is natural and is a plant. While I would agree that there is no reason to criminalize marijuana for it is not more harmful than alcohol, I disagree with the promotion of its use as an important tool for meditation. I have always felt that the human mind is powerful, and that humans have a strength and ability to control their emotions and surroundings. Are humans so fraile that they are incapable of concentrating or meditating without the use of external stimulants be them natural or synthetic? Fine, if you are weak and cannot control your mind, often upset or distracted, and complain about trivial matters, then go ahead and become a RastaFonero. But, shouldn’t we be promoting the gift of human cognition instead of belittling it by depending on narcotics? Finally, the dependence on marijuana (or any other external stimulant) is, at the end of the day, a substitute for cultivating mental awareness through the mind’s natural abilities, and envitably does nothing more than debilitate us.
Now, to the first question: Marley’s response to the question about Haile Selassie as a dictator is “what does he dictate?”. In other words, an unsatisfactory response. Still, though, I do not deny a people’s ability to create a religion or an understanding of the world that aligns with their history and their culture. The Rastafarians have every right to reject the Western Christianity that was imposed upon them when their ancestors were taken from Africa as slaves. And in doing so, they have the right to create a God or spiritual leader in their own image, just as European Christians have created a blond Christ in their own image. Nevertheless, they are doing the same thing as smoking ganja. They are looking for salvation externally. Ironically, unlike Christ, Haile Selassie never proclaimed to be a savior or a God, and in 1974, he was dethrowned by the Derg. People are strong. We know right from wrong. We have inborn morality, the power to make decisions, and the ability to recognize whether we have made the right decision. Socrates said that when we see the Good, we will do the Good simply because it is Good. Not because someone dictated that it was good. So why do we depend on an external force for guidance? Why do we ignore what we know to be the correct decision? Is the answer to both decisions weakness?
I suppose the answer is that life is difficult, and we are often confronted with difficult situations. When our minds are not strong enough to handle our surroundings, we may look towards ganja or towards the sky. As Miguel de Unamuno wrote in San Manuel Bueno, Martir, “Give them opium, let them sleep and dream.” I would hope for a more Buddhist approach and look within to cultivate the strength of cognition. But, hey, it sounds like I have been smoking some seriously natural WiFi.
Now back to enjoying his music because “one good thing about music [is] when it hurts you’re feeling OK.” So, Bob, give me another hit of music.