Where Bob was wrong

Robert Nesta Marley 

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.


Filed under Digressions, Essays

10 responses to “Where Bob was wrong

  1. Surely weed is to be used to encourage mental strength and the development of cognition. Sure it can be used by the lazy to waste their lives away but for the mentrally active it can give those little daily spiritual insights that keep us connected to life. Rastafari grew out of Garvey’s self-determination philosophy, surely an excellent outlook for anyone. Selassie, unlkike Jesus, wasn’t some rebel wanting to do good but the Emperor of indeed one of the poorest countries on earth, but you cant blame him for the conditions of Ethiopia, indeed he did the best he could to raise Ethiopia’s profile in the world and make it it more humane, richer country. By dismissing him you show little understanding of how difficult it is to woeld power in an impoverished country and just seem to be joining in the leftist rabble who call him dictator. And, yes, Rastafari produces some good music, makes much of your criticisms seem pale and weak.

  2. eric

    Thanks, SqueakBox, for your comments.

    I agree that Haile Selassie gave a very moving speech to the League of Nations in 1935 regarding Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia (which later was reproduced as Bob Marley’s song “War”). This speech highlighted the organization’s impotence and a lack of willingness on the part of the wealthy nations to protect the weaker ones. Furthermore, the overthrow of Haile Selassie, most definitely, did more damage than good to Ethiopia. This, though, does not justify a dictatorship.

    I am still a fan of Rastafarian music, but the quality of the music or art does not necessarily make its message 100% valid. There are nuns that bake wonderful cookies and pastries in Spain, but that does not (in and of itself) make Catholicism’s message convincing. Nor does, say, a movie director’s excellent films justify his stance on various issues or make his personal lifestyle commendable.

    The “better of two evils” argument doesn’t really work. The road to hell is often paved by good intentions. In the extreme, we can imagine the war in Iraq. The American people or American soldiers could at a time very well believe they are acting for the good of the Iraqi people. But, all fruits are tainted by the poisonous tree where any good is produced based on false assumptions.

    And as mentioned, the positive quality of the Rastifarian movement that I applaud is the right to self-determination and self-expression within the confines of an externally imposed culture.

    Thanks for visiting my blog and posting your insight.

  3. connor

    i response to the first question maybe ganja is not a sign of weakness in the human mind but simply a means of provideing the user a different perspective on things rather then a crutch to rest the febble mind as you say and if you wish to put a more buddist perspective on the strenth of the unintoxicated mind you are a hipocrite because you are depending on an “outside” force i assume this means anything that does not come from the individual human mind you said “Are humans so fraile that they are incapable of concentrating or meditating without the use of external stimulants be them natural or synthetic” if you truly mean this “external stimulants” is not the right phrasing and so iam not taking this out of context i will use another qoute “Finally, the dependence on marijuana (or any other external stimulant)” again you say external stimulant do you relize that everything in our physical world is a stimulant or any thing that the sences are aware of and from the moment you are born you are constantly effected by “outside” forces this included that book you read about buddism that discribes the reiligion that should depend on the strenth of the undelutied mind and the neditatuion you would have otherwise not known. in fact ganga and that book you read are one in the same an “outside” force or External Stimulant and the fact is a human mind uneffected by anything is febble and weak it is empty,a shell. the human mind is built out of information and outside forces the only thing uneffected by these forces is your soul. and the second question i know nuthing about and i don’t care about politics
    thanks for writing about something intersting


  4. connor

    i just had a thought about the second question rastas beilve Haile Selassie is king of kings and lord of lords “what does he dictate?” is a perfectly acceptable answer because if he is a king how can he be a dictator ? is the king of england a dictator No, because he is chosen by by god to lead the country. and all that other doing good for ethiopia doesn’t matter what matters is weither or not he should be there and to marley and the rastas he should.

  5. eric


    Thanks for all of your comments. I think I probably thought pretty much the same things when I was 16 and was a major Bob Marley fan. You are correct that everything in the world is an external stimulant. I think that, in summary, my general feeling after listening to Bob Marley interviews 20 years later, was that he didn’t give satisfying answers to either question. With regards to ganja, I simply believe that humans have great minds that we can explore and develop on our own without drugs. And with regards to kings, the Queen of England is not a dictator because she does not have absolute power. England is a democracy. Ethiopia was not a democracy. Who decides whether a king with absolute power derives his power from God? Do we simply take his word for it? A king is always a dictator in the absence of independent legislative and judicial bodies. How much of a difference is there between having one single person rule a nation because of his ancestry, and denying people basic human rights because of theirs (as happened in the US with slavery)?

    Thanks for reading. I look forward to your comments in the future. I hope your are also listening to Burning Spear and Jacob Miller. They were amongst my favorites as well.

  6. connor

    question: is it not possible for a person to explore and develop with and without drugs? for example the first nations would take trips into the wild with nothing to eat for days on end and they would only come back when they had a vision these “visions” were generaly discribed as euphoric experiances where they gained an Immense amount of knowlage about their innerself in a short period of time and also returned more wise then when they left. i plan to take on of said journey’s beacuse i know someone who has and as part of my native haritage i feel it nessacery.

    also the use of a drug called payote is said to have the same effect and also as part my native haritage i feel it nessacery to try this which is legal for me to do so. i however do not think drugs should be used as a means of trying to escape your problems somehow and i know it will only catalyst the effect of your problems

    all this is in a effort to expand the mind because i feel that narrowmindedness if far too common

    and on the second question if you think about the subject from the point of view of bob marley and rastas if you thought there was a person that was sent from god to rule the world would you question him and call him a dictator ?
    as you know Bob Marley was an exetremely religious person in fact he died for his religion( refusing surgary because of rasta rules) so the question is not “is Haile Selassie a dictator” but rather ” does bob marley bielve that Haile Selassie is a dictator or a king” so when bob marley says what does he dictate? he is saying how can he dictate if he is a king? because kings are holy and dictators seise power for them selves. and in the being kings were “dictators” untill the people of england began to fear the king and made him/her release some power.

    to some people they veiw Haile Selassie as a dictator and to others he is viewed as a holy “king of kings” is all that i am saying

    thanks again connor

  7. eric


    Thanks again for your comments!! When I was your age, I was the only one I knew who listened to reggae and no one to share it with. Now, 20 years later, I have people I have never met sending me emails to discuss my “after-thoughts”. I think it is very ironic and nice.

    Now, to your comments. I am not against legalizing drugs (especially those that are natural), but I believe that if you really like, appreciate, and trust yourself, you will see that it is much more interesting to view the world through your own non-drug induced thought process. Yes, pot can help you relax, and caffeine can wake you up, but at the end of the day, I think it is more rewording personally to know that you relaxed on your, were motivated on your own, and discovered yourself on your own. If you look at all of the great artists that used drugs (be it heroin in the case of Jazz musicians or ganja), their art was great despite the drugs, not because of it.

    Finally, gods dictate. That’s what they do. They tell you what to do and what not to, and what the consequences are for not following their morality. The key is to find the right benevolent dictator god. Or to live without any.

  8. Pingback: Grave Error » Bruce Lee and when NOT to be like water

  9. From a Daoist perspective, Marley represents the anathema that is the largest and broadest part of human existence: the incessancy of excuses and absolution of personal responsibility through delusion, (drug enduced or ego enhanced).

    Before dismissing Mr. Lee, it is important to understand the cultural underpinnings of the Chinese mind: exceedingly ethnocentric. He was an interesting dichotomy of this ethnocentricity and the need of acceptance as a “normal person” in the Western culture. He wasn’t as much “driven” from the egocentric aspect, as he was in trying to fight his way to an equilibrium between the two instances, both of which were antagonistic, not only to him, but to any ideology that might be considered similar.

    (**you weren’t any more strange as a child, than any other humans. They are all rather peculiar in their own way.**)

  10. eric

    Thanks, James, for your comments. Yes, I think you are probably right about Lee having this need for acceptance in the West, especially considering that I do believe he felt discriminated against. As a matter of fact, the majority of his movies have discrimination as a major theme.

    And thanks for being the only person to comment who “got” what I was trying to say about Marley.

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