We could all get back to nature if it weren’t for these damned hippies, discouraging us with their weed!

by John Holbo on January 3, 2014

David Brooks really does seem to be getting weirder. Or is it just me?

What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.

Suppose the government started applying this Brooksian litmus test to products it pre-clears for sale on the market. ‘Yes, it’s a new sort of iPhone, I see. But does it encourage enjoyment of nature? Will it subtly make its users more temperate and prudent? If so, how so?’

Suppose you couldn’t legally sell something without making a showing, in a government office, that it fosters appreciation of the higher things in life.

Would it be legal to build suburbs? Would consumerism be permissible? What about capitalism?

Obviously Brooks is proposing no such utopian overturning of the established order. But, since not, what’s the point of picking out weed for failing to pass extraordinary muster, winning the approval of Brooksian would-be Philosopher Kings? (Isn’t weed more likely to promote appreciation of nature than capitalism, if it comes to that?)

“In legalizing weed, citizens of Colorado are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.

Paul Krugman is off today.”

I like that subtle dig at Krugman! Oh, we know what he’s probably ‘off’ on today!

Why is this interesting? I’ve said it before, and this column is a good example. In US politics, the conservative imagination is so loopily half-utopian. Prominent liberal pundits, by contrast, don’t go in for this sort of half-baked (no pun intended!) goofiness. (Maybe that’s why they don’t get invited onto the Sunday morning shows. They are less entertaining.) But maybe this is just my liberal bias. A challenge for our conservatives readers. Can you provide examples of liberal pundits who are as prominent as Brooks, who are as goofy as Brooks? That is, they defend some concrete policy proposal by sort of half-flying off to some vague Cloud Cuckooland, based on principles they would never seriously propose ratifying in the real world, because they obviously don’t even believe those principles?

UPDATE: Before someone points out that Brooks is just defending the status quo, I would point out that ‘lesser pleasures’ sort of gives away the game. Marijuana has always been banned on the grounds that it is somehow dangerous and bad, not that it is a merely ‘lesser pleasure’. The idea of organizing society around the banning of lesser pleasures, for the sake of higher pleasures, is a highly radical one.



David 01.03.14 at 8:45 am

Marijuana has certainly never encouraged anyone to appreciate art or nature in any way.


Jesús Couto Fandiño 01.03.14 at 8:50 am

Man, if I knew the path to money was to be a self-righteous, smug, pretentious ass with a command of language capable of putting rabid dogs to sleep…

So, let me get this straight, what its the subtle tip of the scale move in the whole war on drugs complex? Subtly putting somebody in jail for decades for having weed?


John Holbo 01.03.14 at 8:58 am

Ah, yes, the lesser pleasures of prison life.


idonthaveacoolname 01.03.14 at 11:13 am

I promise to watch BBC nature documentaries next time I smoke a joint. So there.

I would also suggest that right wing apologetics for criminal and anti-social economic and political behaviour also nutures “a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.”


MPAVictoria 01.03.14 at 11:16 am

“Marijuana has certainly never encouraged anyone to appreciate art or nature in any way.”

Man you ain’t kidding. I find the conservative opposition to legalized pot a complete mystery . Most of them drink! How is weed any different? It can’t be worse for you.


PJW 01.03.14 at 12:21 pm

The Devil Weed as a roadblock to the Nitzschean virtue of becoming who we are.


MPAVictoria 01.03.14 at 12:43 pm

All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.” – David ‘Spicoli’ Brooks, in high school.
/Stolen from a much funnier commenter over at the LGM post on the same article.


Roy 01.03.14 at 1:11 pm

Brooks is awesome isn’t he?

I know someone from Topeka who claims that Fred Phelps is the world’s greatest performance artist, but if that is the case he really suffers for his art.

Brooks, is that strange creature who has no constituency. The actual Right loathes him, the Left abhors him, he is a perfect fool. Other than serving as a weird pet of the Times, a “thinking conservative,” he speaks for no one. Every now and then I see an article lamenting the passing of our WASP overlords from the scene, other than reminding us, I fail to see his utility.


Andrew F. 01.03.14 at 1:30 pm

Pretty sure it’s an editor that notes Paul Krugman is off today as explanation for why his column isn’t there today.

The tricky thing about this column is that I don’t see advocacy of a particular policy. Brooks’s point – that government should encourage “good” lives – is compatible with various policy approaches to marijuana, not all of which involve criminalizing it.

In fact I think the point of the column is to simply to emphasize the importance of communitarian considerations in policy, using marijuana to demonstrate how consideration of a subject from a purely libertarian perspective can miss other important values that ought be included as well.


temp 01.03.14 at 1:31 pm

Aren’t you missing the word “subtly” here? The easy way to encourage “higher” pleasures while discouraging “lesser” pleasures is through tax and subsidy. Tax drugs at a higher rate than other goods, subsidize (or have the state run directly) art and parks and libraries. This is, of course, something most governments actually do.


MPAVictoria 01.03.14 at 1:37 pm

“Pretty sure it’s an editor that notes Paul Krugman is off today as explanation for why his column isn’t there today.”

The joke. You missed it.


bianca steele 01.03.14 at 1:57 pm

Is there any argument with any historical backing that defends higher pleasures on grounds of prudence and temperance? This is the kind of thing that makes me think he’s not serious. Not ever.


Adam Roberts 01.03.14 at 1:57 pm

I’m most struck by the compound verb ‘to subtly tip the scale to favour…’ Isn’t this the biggest fault line in Conservative thought, more so in the US, I’d guess, than the UK, which has a longer tradition of people being comfortable with bossy upper classes: viz., to square the circle of wanting both a more authoritarian, quasi-military model for society (get a hair cut! go to church! obey the 10 commandments! three strikes and your out!) and at the same time the more libertarian, no-nanny-state, we hate government, don’t-tread-on-me stripe of conservatism. There are various ways of doing this. One is to want the latter thing for white middle-aged men and the former thing for everybody else. Brooks seems to be suggesting a queasy sort of compromise: government should use its power to force people to behave in ways that conservatives approve of, but via influence and nudging and tipping-points.


bianca steele 01.03.14 at 1:59 pm

And I think Roy’s point that “the actual right loathes him” can’t be emphasized enough. All those R voters who think the government should subsidize more art museums and fewer NASCAR tracks. Right.


oldster 01.03.14 at 2:18 pm

Still, you have to admire his consistency. Not a week goes by that David Brooks does not decry the existence of state lotteries and legalized gambling casinos, inveighing against their demoralizing effects, their systematic, society-wide undermining of temperance, prudence, and the enjoyment of higher pleasures.

I remember those columns that he has written, arguing that any Republican who advocates for the spread of gambling and lotteries should be primaried and defeated. In addition to his numerous columns insisting that lotteries should be banned, and the revenue replaced by higher taxes on the wealthy. I mean, it’s a constant battle cry with him.

So it’s not like he only turns his Burkean ire on certain lower pleasures.


William Timberman 01.03.14 at 2:26 pm

Is mocking David Brooks meant to be a serious cultural obligation, or merely a cheap thrill indulged in when we’re out of weed? Let us poll a representative sample of conservatives — it’s the only way to be sure.


Belle Waring 01.03.14 at 2:28 pm



jake the snake 01.03.14 at 2:33 pm

I don’t know that the right loathes him, so much as mostly ignore him.
I regularly visit an college athletics site, that has a political message board among the athletic ones. In all the times I have visited there, I have never seen a reference to David Brooks. Will, Krauthammer, Steyn, etc. are well represented as well as WND and other conspiracy sites. I think that Brooks utility is as an irritant to the left.
As we are well aware, “pissing off liberals” is a universal good for conservatives,
along with the nuclear family, hierarchy, and submission to religious authority.


oldster 01.03.14 at 2:33 pm

You know what encourages moderation? Your comment-filtering software.

I think it’s a bit too eager for moderation, because it has stuck my previous comment in moderation for no reason I can imagine. (Mention of institutions that sponsor games of chance?)


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 01.03.14 at 2:37 pm

Ruth Marcus has put up similar center-right pablum on evils of pot over at The War Criminal Post.

Maybe she and Brooks got high and watched Reefer Madness together?


bianca steele 01.03.14 at 2:39 pm

I suspect that most liberal readers of Brooks’ column see him as proof the Republicans aren’t universally unreasonable, and take some of what he says seriously under consideration. I suspect that most Republican readers of Brooks’ column read him and see an example of the loathsomeness of liberalism. On the radio, at least, he’s not amusing at all, either. Those nifty turns of phrase only show up in print. When he talks, he’s all Republican electoral considerations, and explicit support for the conservative policies of the hour.


Belle Waring 01.03.14 at 2:43 pm

He and his friends should have gone to jail for 5 years? It’s nonetheless OK to smoke weed sometimes but it should still be against the law because reasons? “This one time, I got, like, wicked blazed in the HS parking lot in my friend’s mom’s Hornet because we were hotboxing, and then I like blew this major English presentashe, OMG LOL I seriously forgot who Mark Twain was. The funny thing is we were totally parked in my English teacher’s spot! Also this one friend of mine became, like, a total stoner and stuff? Seriously, he just started eating Hot Pockets and playing MMORPGs all the time with this party from Norway because they were up later and it was seriously sad and shit. He had to take a year off between HS and college, and in the end he had to take a job at Lazard Frères.” Couldn’t he even have lied and pretended he had a friend who went on to become a heroin addict? Seriously you guys, he is WASTED right now. I have a crystal ball and in it I see valium, xanax and vodka on the rocks. Paul Krugman has to step back into his role as the designated columnist so that Brooks can make it home safely. Yes, it would be charitable of us to chip in and FedEx him some White Widow to help him appreciate nature more. But David Brooks is shitfaced this actual second, for real.


oldster 01.03.14 at 2:58 pm

I think Bianca is right, Jake. Brooks’ role in the Right-Wing Wurlitzer is not to irritate liberals, but to enervate them, to take away their will to fight. Millions of NPR listeners who might be galvanized into political action are instead lulled into passivity by listening to Brooks and his ilk. “Well, I suppose the Republicans have a point, after all. I suppose it won’t be so bad if Romney is elected. I guess there’s nothing we can do about inequality. I guess it’s better to be civil than shrill.” He’s soporific; he saps the will; he’s good at what he does.


Bloix 01.03.14 at 2:59 pm

“in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship.In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned. ”

Which is why we spend billions subsidizing pro football stadiums and turn our universities into minor-league football franchises. Because watching steroidal gladiators bash each other into early Alzheimer’s is one of the highest pleasures.


adam.smith 01.03.14 at 3:09 pm

Is mocking David Brooks meant to be a serious cultural obligation, or merely a cheap thrill indulged in when we’re out of weed?

definitely higher pleasure. It can even be done while enjoying nature.


John Casey 01.03.14 at 3:22 pm

Maybe we should think of this another way: Brooks would have to be high to make such a crappy argument against legal weed; so your criticism of Brooks implies the very conclusion that weed ought to be illegal.


Consumatopia 01.03.14 at 3:51 pm

Maybe it works as a defense of decriminalization vs. legalization.

The problem is not just that this argument over “higher pleasures” is inappropriate in the context of drug policy. The problem is that people like the average politician, David Brooks, or the median voter are the last people I would ever want to determine which pleasures are higher and which are lower. Governments promote the middle-brow and/or the lowest-common denominator. Which, most of the time, is just fine, but not if you’re looking for higher-pleasures specifically.


P O'Neill 01.03.14 at 4:02 pm

Bobo a few weeks ago:

Economizers. The bottom 85 percent is likely to be made up of people with less marketable workplace skills. Some of these people may struggle financially but not socially or intellectually. That is, they may not make much running a food truck, but they can lead rich lives, using the free bounty of the Internet.

So the proles can and should get lost in the Internet but can’t go up in smoke?


adam.smith 01.03.14 at 4:04 pm

or the median voter are the last people I would ever want to determine which pleasures are higher and which are lower.

While you’re certainly right on the “higher pleasure” issue, I’m actually fine with the government deciding that smoking pot (or to a lesser extent other forms of consumption) is probably not a great idea in general. There are health risks. But if you want the government to “subtly tip the scales” against it, then what Colorado is doing – high taxes, limits on advertising, limits on ownership, age restrictions, restrictions on where you can consume – sound like the way to go. I don’t see what’s subtle about the criminal justice system. (And I don’t see any benefit to decriminalization over legislation).


roger gathman 01.03.14 at 4:05 pm

Isn’t subtly tipping the scale just Cass sunstein’s nudgery? I think the best definition of the politics of the Obama whitehouse is nudgery liberalism, and it is, perhaps, no surprise that Brooks is one of O.’s favorite columnists.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 01.03.14 at 4:23 pm

I don’t see anything liberal about the Obama-Holder DOJ. Or Obama’s economic policies, which are Reagan-style trickle-down. Or his continuation of the Bush-Cheney war on civil liberties.

Frankly, I think I voted for black Nixon-Reagan in 2008. I couldn’t do so again in 2012.


Main Street Muse 01.03.14 at 4:30 pm

I am wondering what happened on Brooks’ holiday break to get him reminiscing about his pot-smoking HS days of yore.

I bet he loves his scotch or bourbon or vintage vino.

NYTimes must love Brooks – his columns get the chattering class all a twitter…


Main Street Muse 01.03.14 at 4:32 pm

Like John Holbo, I am amused by the Krugman dig. But clearly, to Brooks, Krugman is “off” every day.


bianca steele 01.03.14 at 4:32 pm

Is the only argument that Obama is really on the right that Brooks and people who think Brooks is serious appear to agree with him?


Trader Joe 01.03.14 at 4:32 pm

Marx spoke of religion as the opiate of the masses – call religion the drug of choice for the right-wing conservative. Legalized pot amounts to the same thing for the liberal left – give the people what they want, tax them for the privledge and allow them to focus on something narrow and inconsequential rather than the myriad of more important issues which should be considered.


Ronan(rf) 01.03.14 at 4:48 pm

Well a weed based economy would largely be a throwback to an agrarian economy, afaict. Except not as much hard work. All that time outside tending to the plants. I guess if you regulated it right you could return to a country of small (weed) farmers.
What’s his problem?


CJColucci 01.03.14 at 4:50 pm

Marijuana has certainly never encouraged anyone to appreciate art or nature in any way.

What music were you listening to 40 years ago?


Jim Harrison 01.03.14 at 4:55 pm

Brooks is out of step with the Zeitgeist. As we move into the we-pretend-to-work, they-pretend-to-pay-us phase of economic and social decline, the powers that be will eventually decide that pot is an essential supplement to their low-employment, low-pay program for America. In an era when people had something to do, they complained that pot destroyed ambition; but if most people aren’t going to have many prospects, the bug becomes a feature. Of course, the current situation won’t last forever; but late capitalism might last a long, long time. If we’re all stoned, it will certainly seem a lot longer…


MPAVictoria 01.03.14 at 4:57 pm

“than the myriad of more important issues which should be considered.”

More important to who? You? What issues are more important than the hundreds of thousands of people currently in jail, or suffering from having a criminal record, for non-violent drug offences. Seems like a pretty important issue to me.


MPAVictoria 01.03.14 at 5:03 pm

Jim most people who smoke weed don’t become rejects from the set of the movie Dazed and Confused. Most people I know who smoke weed treat it like more people treat alcohol; as a pleasant, relaxing enhancement to good good company, music and tv.



Doug K 01.03.14 at 5:10 pm

on a tangent, the single weirdest thing about pot in CO is how the right-wing Denver Post has been enthusiastically boosting pot consumption. Not a week goes by without an article in the Style/Living section about using it, for example this on cooking with sweet mary jane:

They have also started a separate web site thecannabist.co, and are recruiting for a pot critic.

I voted for legalization, but I’m really bored of hearing about it..


politicalfootball 01.03.14 at 5:17 pm

David Brooks really does seem to be getting weirder. Or is it just me?

That’s what struck me. Sure, this piece an illogical, hypocritical expression of unacknowledged privilege, and in that sense is typical of Brooks.

But it’s also just strange especially coming after that Thought Leader piece. I wonder if he’s having some kind of breakdown.


mattski 01.03.14 at 5:24 pm

What music were you listening to 40 years ago?

You have something against Grand Funk Railroad?


phosphorious 01.03.14 at 5:29 pm

Conservatives are the REAL hippies, you see. . .


Peter K. 01.03.14 at 5:30 pm

@39 MPAVictoria, that’s been my experience. It’s analogous to alcohol. And for the youth it’s often associated with counter-culturalism and anti-authority (embodied by the legal system). It’s rebellious. For older people it’s different. One wonders whether the political activism behind it will move to other areas.

There’s also been surprising success on the gay marriage front, another socially liberal, “libertarian” issue. Has Brooks opined on that?


Watson Ladd 01.03.14 at 5:33 pm

Am I the only one who remembers John Stuart Mill defending a two-tiered utilitarianism? In the US this isn’t that radical: alcohol is sold only by state stores in several US states, and some of the rules exist to deter abuse. France raises book prices to encourage the existence of bookstores, and has massive cultural subsidies to films. Scotland bans the fermentation of corn.

Your strawman is a terrible argument: the costs of government bureaucrats approving innovation would slow the development of the leisure to enjoy the best things in life. One having argued for a 55-mile per hour speed limit to save lives need not feel compelled to extend the argument to 25 miles an hour.


Peter K. 01.03.14 at 5:38 pm

“In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned. ”

It would be nice if the government subtly encouraged more leisure time, like they do in Europe (specifically France.) Then maybe there would be less alcohol and drug-abuse.


mud man 01.03.14 at 5:39 pm

“goofy liberal pundits” … not a conservative reader here, but let me suggest Nicholas Kristof among many and their thing about the lower pleasures of paid-for sex.

@roy #8: clearly Andrew F. #9 is a member of DB’s constituency. And hey, he probably buys newspapers. Not funny ones. Actually funny.


mattski 01.03.14 at 5:42 pm

The idea of organizing society around the banning of lesser pleasures, for the sake of higher pleasures, is a highly radical one.

Hey, in fairness to Brooks, he was about ‘subtle discouraging’ rather than banning.

The weird thing–for me–is how does Brooks consider this idea in any way “conservative”? AND, as others have noted, how does Brooks manage to ignore the the freaking tax code as one of the simplest and best means of government nudging??

I gotta go shoot some zombies.


Peter K. 01.03.14 at 5:46 pm


“Brooks is awesome isn’t he?

I know someone from Topeka who claims that Fred Phelps is the world’s greatest performance artist, but if that is the case he really suffers for his art. ”

I believe FoxNews is performance art. It does seem that many of Brooks’s columns are directed at liberals and aimed at trolling liberals in a way. I could be wrong. As soon he was back from his book break he wrote about the logistical problems of healthcare.gov and how it showed that big government doesn’t work and can’t work.


bianca steele 01.03.14 at 6:02 pm

I wonder if Brooks read this:

Modern Boston is trying hard to break with the old Puritan ethic, all in the name of making the city more hip, progressive, and attractive to young professionals. But at least the Puritans stuck to consistent, easy-to-grasp principles. For a time, they outlawed “celebration” because it distracted from the all-important pursuit of work and religion. Games of chance were prohibited. Education was valued, because it enabled all citizens to read the Bible.


Dan Nexon 01.03.14 at 6:02 pm

@44 is right about JSM. But that’s Brooks for you: only in his world would the superiority of higher over lower pleasures justify overriding the harm principle.


Laurens Dorsey 01.03.14 at 6:08 pm

Is there reporting on the finance and politics of the Colorado initiative? Anybody followed the AgHemp money, fr instance?


Substance McGravitas 01.03.14 at 6:23 pm

Lesser pleasures:

The feel of what’s in the lint trap
Parking better than that person in front of you that can’t park worth a damn


burritoboy 01.03.14 at 6:36 pm

“Is there any argument with any historical backing that defends higher pleasures on grounds of prudence and temperance?”

I think you could make an argument that many (if not perhaps all) systems based on Aristotle could be described as such. Since the highest good is contemplation (“Man by nature desires to know” as at the beginning of the Metaphysics) and this good is good for man by his very nature, contemplation is simultaneously the highest pleasure for human beings.

Then, at least if you are Aquinas or Maimonides or Richard of St. Victor, the highest pleasure (contemplation of the highest thing, i.e. the divine) is simultaneously the most prudent and temperate thing to do, the most pleasurable and the best thing simply all at the same time. A lot of the medieval biographies of Aquinas, for example, extol him as the most moderate and temperate of human beings.

Not that Brooks is making an argument from Aristotle, or could even begin to do so.


TM 01.03.14 at 6:40 pm

“The idea of organizing society around the banning of lesser pleasures, for the sake of higher pleasures, is a highly radical one.”

In the US, not really. The US has an extraordinarily rich history of regulating people’s behavior for the sake of “higher values”.


Substance McGravitas 01.03.14 at 6:42 pm

Higher values are not necessarily higher pleasures.


Bruce Wilder 01.03.14 at 6:42 pm

Also, vitamin supplements


burritoboy 01.03.14 at 6:44 pm

And, I should add, there’s not much foundation within such an Aristotle – esque framework to strongly oppose the use of marijuana perse. On wine, Maimonides, for example, who was professionally an internationally famous physician of his time, warns only against drunkenness and suggests that wine drinking be limited to meals, which he thinks is a healthful and recommended practice.


commander) 01.03.14 at 7:04 pm

I think Brooks is right. Pot is a wimpy drug for wimpy people. We should all aspire to more worthy experiences. I suggest mushrooms of the psilocybin species. A much higher goal.


MPAVictoria 01.03.14 at 7:07 pm

“Parking better than that person in front of you that can’t park worth a damn”
Your welcome Substance
/Love to drive but due to growing up in a small town and never having to parallel park until I moved to the big city I must admit I am not the worlds greatest parker.


Bill Benzon 01.03.14 at 7:15 pm

An interesting take-down of Brooks:


Somehow Brooks & Co. managed to outgrow of their marijuana use, but he doesn’t seem to think others should be allowed to do so.


Jeremy Fox 01.03.14 at 7:41 pm

Andrew Gelman satirizes Brooks:


The best line is at the very end.


Plume 01.03.14 at 8:23 pm

Our government obviously never pushes what is best for society. It pushes what is best for its masters, the corporate and individual financial elite. If it did, it would have moved pretty much everything over to non-profit, truly public (fully democratic) ownership long ago. And with that it would have taught every American to fend for themselves to the degree possible. Fend for themselves via growing their own food and self-provisioning to the degree possible.

There is virtually no case wherein society overall gets a better deal from the private ownership of the means of production. First off, wages are lower and the gap between ownership and rank and file hundreds of times greater. Second, prices are higher. They must be to create surplus value for profits and obscene wages at the top. Third, there is no accountability for the quality of the good or service beyond that private ownership. Marketing came into being to hide that fact, to distract us from the useless garbage and waste produced ad nauseum.

As a particular example: If government actually tried to promote the well-being of society, pharmaceuticals would be publicly owned, as would the entire health care establishment. Profit does nothing but drive up costs for citizens, drive down quality, drive up the shifting of risk to so-called “third world” nations, where testing is done — or, in impoverished arenas here. Pharmaceuticals find their way into our food chain, because of private ownership, wherein they radically decrease their effectiveness and endanger all of us. Super-strains are created artificially through this process, etc.

The ACA? It is designed primarily to make corporations happy, with a few crumbs thrown our way. If making society healthier were the goal, we would have Single Payer and non-profit delivery systems as well. There is no earthly reason for paying fees for service plus profits when it comes to our health and safety — or anything else, for that matter. Profits add no benefits or additional value to the sick or to society overall. They subtract value and are completely unnecessary. They don’t increase quality of delivery or value of coverage. They just add costs and incentivize shortcuts and gouging.

What Brooks is talking about is government doing what is best for GM, in the sense that GM is a stand-in for corporate interests. Keeping citizens docile and subservient — the conservative dream of dreams — while making them think this means “freedom, liberty and security” is just so much lipstick on a pig. As always.

It’s one of the biggest cons in all of history.


Plume 01.03.14 at 8:38 pm


It’s actually clever to make this about Marijuana. Cuz that lets people who think they’re cool bash Brooks for his emphasis. Meanwhile, the cool kids on the center-left continue their complicity with the current system, never even thinking to question the root cause of the Brooksian disaster:

capitalism itself.

It’s not about MJ. That’s just a sideshow. If we had fully democratically controlled economy, we could have our MJ and eat it too. It would be ours to decide, not the 1% or the .01%, etc. etc.

I stopped being a liberal when the light finally came on for me that they just provide cover for conservatives and the right. They do this by trying their best to put a “happy face” on a truly disgusting and immoral economic system. They do this by dismissing all talk of alternatives. And they do this by preventing conservatives from getting their way on enough economic issues to finally seal capitalism’s doom. As in, if conservatives actually got their way, dismantled the safety net, cut taxes and regulations even more than they already have for the rich, we’d finally have that class revolution. The actions of liberal and moderates stave off that day of reckoning, without actually doing away with social injustice, massive inequality, deadly pollution and endless waste created by our economic system.

In short, liberals are the best friends conservatives could possibly have. They prevent them from killing the golden goose or proving, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that right-wing ideology is deadly beyond redemption. They string out the misery.

Our only real hope is that the center-left wakes up, joins the Green Left and finally goes to war against the right and capitalism itself. Short of that, we’re going to have one long, slow ride (perhaps) into oblivion.


Smith 01.03.14 at 8:59 pm

Brook’s narrative seems pretty accurate about life. People try pot when they’re young. The people who seriously stick with it usually wind up being losers. There may not be anything that government can or should do about that, so I don’t take Brooks’ article very seriously as a policy prescription. But as an observation it seems pretty true-to-life.

One more thing about that: in my – completely anecdotal! – experience, a lot of stoners wind up being not just losers, but also very angry people (frustrated potential and all that). Which would explain quite a lot of the vituperation about Brooks’ article. There’s probably nothing quite so infuriating for a stoner as pointing out what they’ve let themselves become, because even if you think that nothing should be done to stop what they’ve done, the sense of loserdom will always be them and they know it.


Lee A. Arnold 01.03.14 at 9:02 pm

Here is a picture I made of the basic impulses behind capitalism, if you really want to get started:


Lee A. Arnold 01.03.14 at 9:03 pm

Oh I didn’t mean to stick it right in the middle of the thing. Sorry if that’s an imposition on your electron clouds.


Lee A. Arnold 01.03.14 at 9:09 pm

I think what people should do instead is talk about their own marijuana use, and what it did or does. I realize some of us might find this to be an additional and unnecessary foray into the ongoing era of the confessional. I think instead it is quintessential, and now precisely indicated. Tell teenagers what it does! As short as possible.

For me, in addition to changing the audio quality of music, it always makes me imagine philosophical problems in rational cognition and the epistemology of mathematics. I run on the supposition that this is unique to me, but I don’t know for sure. The downside for me, is that it is an ego drug: I imagine myself in relation to the rest of the world, like perhaps a stage actor, and this starts an emotional displacement that avoids connecting to other people. That is actually really bad for connecting to an audience, because of course you finally lose track of where the audience is, emotionally. This emotional effect is perhaps also like early alcohol addiction, though that addiction thankfully is not in my experience.


Lee A. Arnold 01.03.14 at 9:21 pm

Oh it plays all of them! Is this Crooked Timber’s new commenting system? It did not do that before.

Well, for a new picture of the basics of capitalism (as well as every other type of directed organization whatsoever) hit the “series” link at the top left, and then watch #14, “Two Thinks at a Time”.

We are going to have to start from the premise that ANY step of organization unites two very different possible effects at the same time: (1) division of labor, followed by trade, and (2) reduction of transaction/ transformation costs by the context/ institution. These are the two different sources of efficiency.

Now I am glad I did not put A video link to Bill Hicks! A real artist, and his comedy bit on rock musicians and drugs is an ultimate answer to David Brooks. But definitely not safe for work or little ones!


Plume 01.03.14 at 9:35 pm

Metaphor: Cigarettes = capitalism. Liberals want filters. Conservatives want to smoke it straight.

Liberals understand that cigarettes make people sick, kill them, create inequality, etc. and some liberals understand how those cigarettes (capitalism) prevent social justice. Their remedy is to put (government) filters on the cigarettes, knowing people will still get sick, inequality will still be there, social justice won’t arise, but the ill effects will be slightly reduced.

We’ll build hospitals for the sick, the poor, the oppressed, etc.

Conservatives, OTOH, believe so much in cigarettes, they want nothing to stand between them and the user — no government filters, no attempts to offset the effects. Smoking capitalism straight puts hair on your chest, so that’s the way we should go.

Those of us on the anti-capitalist left are baffled by the refusal to look to the root cause. Instead of just building hospitals for the sick and the poor (after the fact), we need to get rid of the thing making them sick and poor. As in, those cigarettes.

Filters aren’t the answer. Abolition is.

P.S. This was also the case with slavery back in the day. There were many “liberals” in the 18th and 19th centuries who believed that if we just improved the conditions of the slaves, everything would be okay.

No, you idiots!!! It’s slavery, not conditions!! Abolish slavery, and you don’t have to mess around the edges with “conditions”!


mattski 01.03.14 at 9:48 pm

No, you idiots!!!

mcmanus has the guillotines, you have the persuasive rhetoric.


GRS 01.03.14 at 10:01 pm

All this detailed analysis when its really simple: weed is lame. Alcohol can be, but the constant analogies are lame too.


GRS 01.03.14 at 10:08 pm

Cigs are a worse analogy than either tho because they aren’t seriously mind state altering


bianca steele 01.03.14 at 10:25 pm

Love Chopra’s ellipses.


Stephenson quoter-kun 01.03.14 at 10:55 pm

Can you provide examples of liberal pundits who are as prominent as Brooks, who are as goofy as Brooks?

No, as she probably fails both tests, but Brooks does remind me of Polly Toynbee.


Random Lurker 01.03.14 at 11:31 pm

The point is not that society (or the government) subtly pushes toward hgher pleasures, the point is that those pleasures toward wich society pushes are defined as “higer”, whrereas those against wich it pushes are considered “lower”.
This is usually a way to reproduce society or sometimes social hierarchy.

I believe it is tipical of conservative thinking to reverse this causation nexus, so that people who have the right tastes, who usually are in the upper half of society, are perceived as morally better, and as a consequence the social order looks just.

I think that Seneca in “on virtue” commits this fallacy a lot when he circularly defines virtue as “good” simply because it is virtue, never explaining what virtue is but implying that it is the traditional “mos maiorum”.
This sort of rethoric trick strongly pisses me off.


Random Lurker 01.03.14 at 11:38 pm

Oh my maybe DB is the Seneca of our times! Seneca was a nasty, crooked guy apparently (maybe DB isn’t that bad).


garymar 01.04.14 at 12:37 am

You have something against Grand Funk Railroad?

Hitler! Stalin! Grand Funk Railroad! Or was it:

Stalin! Churchill! Grand Funk Railroad!

Can’t remember. I couldn’t listen to GFR stoned or straight, but they had the best liner notes ever.


PatrickinIowa 01.04.14 at 1:56 am

At 66: “People try pot when they’re young. The people who seriously stick with it usually wind up being losers.” References? Or are you making it up? I’ll tell you what, you give me one anecdote, and I’ll give you another. I bet you run out before I do. I’ll even throw in Keith Richards to start things off.

Even if I were stoned as hell, I would recognize an unsupported assertion.

Here’s another, more plausible one: “People try alcohol when they’re young. The people who seriously stick with it wind up in the hospital with dementia, cirrhosis, and other illnesses.” (VA hospitals are full of people who are there because they’ve abused alcohol. Marijuana? Not so much.)

I’ll bet you $25, to your favorite charity (NORML for me) the long term consequences of “serious” marijuana use are less severe than any legal intoxicant, including tobacco. Take your shot.

Meanwhile, let’s work on taking the racism out of the drug war. It’s not enough, but it would be a nice start.


Collin Street 01.04.14 at 2:24 am

Meanwhile, let’s work on taking the racism out of the drug war.

The whole point of morals laws is to punish/dissuade “bad people”. You can’t take the racism out of it because there’d be nothing left.


roy belmont 01.04.14 at 2:42 am

weed enters the legal marketplace at an illegal price point, and stays there, which is nice for people in the business ($100billion annually, going somewhere) and no change at all for the consumer, except relief of, for some, paranoia.
real progress will be when you can grow your own in your own backyard, unlicensed, unregulated, like tomatoes.
plump, juicy, glowing that deep vibrant sun-filled red that’s scarlet and crimson, ruby and cerise, with little highlights of… uhm… alizarin, you know, that seem to be almost offering something, like something more than just vitamins and minerals, more than that rich tart satisfying mouthfeel, a beckoning, like the promise of another world, close, right alongside this one, waiting.


PatrickfromIowa 01.04.14 at 2:56 am

@81 Got it in one. Good for you.


Belle Waring 01.04.14 at 3:27 am

78: I don’t think that David Brooks is as bad as Seneca, but honestly, that’s an extraordinarily low bar to clear. Seneca was a conniving, evil, conspiring with Nero motherfucker.
79: No one should listen to Grand Funk Railroad, ever, except under certain limited circumstances, such as when they are driving on a long highway trip, and it is late at night, and they are listening to a “Classic Rock” format station, and “We’re an American Band” comes on. If you are hella stoned you may even sing along at that point. I am given to understand that they were a popular live act despite blowing goat balls, but I maintain you could have been going to see Led Zeppelin or something. You know, like how David Brooks was doing.


godoggo 01.04.14 at 3:28 am

Grand Funk Railroad would be a really good name for a funk band.


godoggo 01.04.14 at 3:41 am

Yes, I win the thread, if I do say so myself.


bianca steele 01.04.14 at 3:44 am

I guessed Grand Funk Railroad was one of those bands where you know the song but don’t know who did it, and I was right. I’ll claim they’re good for cooking to, though, and even singing along while you cook, even sober. And the station that plays them always has a strong signal.


clew 01.04.14 at 3:52 am

temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship

It’s consistent if he meant `employee-ship’ instead of `citizenship’. Suburbs and sports and big mortgages and alcohol do an adequate job of making people do little except work. Jim Harrison’s prediction that pot will keep us placid while everything crumbles seems plausible… It’s the tomatoes that would bring us into the gardens together to build a new world. I guess I just became a slow foodie.

Anecdata: Since Washington changed its pot laws, I’ve discovered that successful friends from many walks of life — research, commerce, good works — have been smoking the weed for decades. They just didn’t used to mention it to me, because I’m very very square and it’s not polite to make squares complicit. (Funnier, more annoying side effect: people who need to be talked through the reasoning that `no smoking’ still means `no smoking’ even though there are now more things to not be smoking there.)


mattski 01.04.14 at 3:59 am

Yes, I win the thread, if I do say so myself.

Fine, but I want an assist.


bianca steele 01.04.14 at 4:10 am

@clew and someone else earlier in the thread

Actually, I’ve worked with one or two people who I eventually suspected were enabled in being bigger a-holes than they might have been, by the fact that however unpleasant and intensely stressful work became, they were going to go home and toke up and forget it all, and thereby attain an advantage over their coworkers whom they were unduly stressing.


Plume 01.04.14 at 4:12 am


It’s amazing how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Classical Political Economists like Steuart and Smith, along with many an enlightenment philosopher (Benthem, Hume, Mill) were constantly getting on the peasants for being lazy. How dare they content themselves with growing their own food, making their own clothes, building their own homes and staying out of the factories and any wage slavery!!

It didn’t take long before they were kicked off their lands, and enough laws were put in place to force them to go to work in those factories, while the destruction of the commons did away with their other potential sources for self-sufficiency.

Primitive accumulation forced mass dependency on wage labor, and little by little destroyed the ability of pretty much everyone to self-provide, build and fix their own tools, gear, etc. etc. Their world changed from one of relative independence and cooperation to deadly competition, with their survival skills eroding in the process.

Today, we’re called lazy and shiftless if we don’t work endless hours at rotten wages. Though now we actually have to to survive. A coupla centuries ago, that wasn’t the case. But the powers that be made certain we could never go back home again, leave the wage slave dynamic, fend for ourselves, independent of the nexus of divided, specialized labor, commerce, markets, etc.

I’m attempting to (beginning this), to a degree, right now. But it’s impossible to miss how much of our lives are out of our hands and how much we need all of those specialists, etc. The layers and layers between us and nature have exploded.


clew 01.04.14 at 4:14 am

@bianca steele : And you think they’d have been less a-holish (or less employable?) if they went home and drank?

Perhaps being dreadful to your coworkers is a higher pleasure. Lower? So hard to tell.


bianca steele 01.04.14 at 4:16 am

Who knows?

I want to know about the pleasure-height of board games. And grilled cheese sandwiches.


clew 01.04.14 at 4:21 am


I can’t remember the dates, but for some stretch of the Industrial Revolution English workers gnawed on opium stick because it was cheaper than food but left them more employable than gin.

On the other hand… I have also spent enough time with wood and water and leather britches beans in mostly-off-grid houses, even starting with a sound roof a full larder warm clothes and good boots, that I really don’t think of the peasant life as being less work than the specialized one. I can hope that this is because of the `300 slaves’ fossil fuel provides me, though I know it’s also living human ones. But peasants put an orphan into the fields all night to clap crows.


clew 01.04.14 at 4:23 am

@bianca steele: High or low, I recommend the newish game “Timeline”, which is that simple: deck or cards naming events or people, dates on the reverse of the card, goal to correctly insert your card into the condensing common timeline. Quibbles ensue. Lots of fun.


Anarcissie 01.04.14 at 4:34 am

Given that the Times stands in the same relation to the U.S. ruling class as Pravda did to the Soviet ruling class back in the bad old days, I think it is probably a mistake to interpret a Brooks article, like the one considered here, generally in a straight or square manner. The Times is a vehicle for conveying signals from one layer of the ruling class to another, or to the lower (but comparatively high) layers of the lower orders who are the r.c.’s direct servants. Its purpose may be to convey not reasoned thought but a mood or manner, or may indicate some stirring in the invisible depths (or heights). In this case, for instance, the irrational foolishness of Brooks’s piece is not the point; the point is rather the sniffish disdain for opposition to the Drug War. The r.c. can be assumed to like the Drug War because it keeps the proles fighting one another over a peripheral issue, but its manifest roots in racism, sadism, and superstition are becoming more and more repellent to the lower-downs. The article can serve to slow down and counteract any movement toward its abolition, by showing that the Brooksian man disdains abolition in a civilized, almost elegant manner.

One needs to practice a kind of Kremlinology with the Times.


Lee A. Arnold 01.04.14 at 4:38 am

Everly Bros. “Mary Jane” (1967)

Clouds so sweet, cloud my mind girl
And I don’t know, what way I’ll go girl
But I don’t care no more
I’ve got my Mary Jane
And I’m secure once more
I’ve got my Mary Jane
In the light of things gone past girl
The darkness glows and the curtains close girl
But I don’t care no more
I’ve got my Mary Jane
And I’m secure once more
I’ve got my Mary Jane
I’ve found the key to tomorrow
Through a chauffeur from the past
I’ve begun the end of sorrow
I’ve found it, I’ve found it, I’ve found it


PJW 01.04.14 at 4:59 am

RIP Phil Everly.


Ed Herdman 01.04.14 at 6:21 am

Distinguishing “higher pleasures” and “baser pleasures” goes way back with conservatives. If you ever have occasion to find a copy of “Goals For Americans,” a report commissioned by President Eisenhower and released after his term ended, look at the section on page 135: “Quality of American Culture – VI: The Maintenance of Excellence.” After a short introduction it goes on to say this:

“We list the following points […] as some of the basic presuppositions which a people must come to accept and respect if its culture is not to fall into mediocrity.

1. Art is a matter of professionals. [The section goes on to say that enthusiasm for the “do-it-yourself culture” and its practicioners – “Sunday painters, amateur actors, weavers, wood-workers, musicians, etc.–all have their value. But they do not attain, except in the most exceptional cases, the level of true art. The line between the professional and the amateur, between the artist and the audience, is one which any first-rate culture must maintain.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if even Brooks would be taken aback by this statement (personally, my objections to that passage multiply with every new line).

What is interesting here is how the elitist argument for art erodes. The Goals admits that “Puritan ancestors” (ha, mine was one of the “Sinners!”) would be horrified at theater, art or not – so by this time people admit a more secular purpose to art and start to discount a rigidly moralistic argument for art.

Maybe Conservatives have looked for new sources of inspiration in carrying the argument for tradition: Brooks certainly seems to be channeling Socrates or something similar here in his argument, but the argument is still defanged, a caricature of moralism which reduces the argument to telling a joke. All told, I’m not as disappointed with Brooks as I am with certain writers from the late ’50s.

But of course it was by no means the universal view at the time – the great James Michener’s own Report of the County Chairman (on the election of JFK), released at about the same time as the Goals, lays out a short argument for the private and public revenue generated by the nation’s small investment in his personal artistic employment and growth during the Depression – a great author’s humble beginnings in a riotous era. The story belies the top-heavy commandments for the discipline suggested by Eisenhower’s panel. We can be thankful for the New Dealers – and the hippies – for their continuing liberalizing influence.


krippendorf 01.04.14 at 10:43 am

@23: “He’s soporific; he saps the will; he’s good at what he does.”

In other words, Brooks is the THC of the masses.


Katherine 01.04.14 at 10:58 am

Pot is a wimpy drug for wimpy people.

Jeesuz, have you tried any of the new skunk strains recently? Gotta admit, it’s been a while for me, but the last thing I’d describe it as is wimpy.


Tim Worstall 01.04.14 at 11:35 am

“I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale”

Isn’t this the entire basis of “Nudge”? Bloomberg’s soda and fat taxes (did either of those ever actually get enacted?)? High taxes on booze and tobacco? Government subsidies for public goods?


Belle Waring 01.04.14 at 12:39 pm

Not wimpy: Beaverton man on meth fights off 13 cops in a bar, while masturbating. Fuck some amateurs taking shrooms. This guy is next level pro.


Layman 01.04.14 at 1:27 pm

“And grilled cheese sandwiches.”

Grilled cheese sandwiches! Doubleplusgood!


bianca steele 01.04.14 at 3:04 pm


oldster 01.04.14 at 3:11 pm


15 cops show up to subdue a guy who doesn’t respond to tasering–and none of them shot him dead. That’s very unusual! I’d sort of like to congratulate them for their restraint, only it’s depressing to think that abstaining from murder is grounds for an official commendation. A whole lot of dead black people are now raising their hands to ask, “what did he do differently that they didn’t just shoot him in the head? ‘Cause if it’s the masturbating thing, then I could have tried that, I guess.”


dsquared 01.04.14 at 3:23 pm

103: while allegedly masturbating, please! He is entitled to the presumption of innocence and it might all have been a terrible misunderstanding.


oldster 01.04.14 at 3:34 pm

Masturbation is entirely compatible with innocence–that’s precisely how I have preserved my own through all these decades.


JML 01.04.14 at 4:59 pm

In my experience, the lesser pleasure of marijuana has almost immediately led to the higher pleasure of Doritos.


bianca steele 01.04.14 at 5:04 pm

I have a comment in moderation, probably for proportionally excessive linkage, and to make up for the triviality of even mentioning it, I’ll also note that the paragraph quoted in the OP appears to have been cribbed from Brave New World. (Does the irony never cease?)


Jim Buck 01.04.14 at 5:43 pm

GRS @ 74

Cigs are a worse analogy than either tho because they aren’t seriously mind state altering

It may be argued that any addictive substance is inherently mind state altering. Me missing a cup of tea leads to unreasonable profligacy with time or money. And inhaled tobacco cranks up to a mind-altering substance when combined with a commonly used antipsychotic.


Plume 01.04.14 at 5:56 pm

A factor not yet mentioned, when it comes to pot.

I first tried it at age 15, at a Rock concert. I know. I was the first, evah, to do that.

It was very enjoyable. Smoked it here and there through high school — never religiously — and through college. Loved the way it enhanced music for me. For some reason, didn’t try it again until many years later, at yet another go round with college. And its potency had grown exponentially.

In the 70s, you could smoke a good bit in one session, and still be fairly lucid, functioning, while calmer and more relaxed, etc. “Buzzed” but not nearly catatonic. But into the 90s, it was too strong for that, for just a buzz. From my experience, there was no chance to pace yourself. No chance for incremental change in your mindset. It just stoned ya.

I am 110% in favor of legalization of MJ — and the decriminalization of the majority of drugs. We lead the world in highest incarceration rates, and more than half are in jail for minor, non-violent drug arrests. F that. That’s just unconscionable. But I am also in favor of regulating THC potency. One likelihood of full legalization is the usual profit-driven lust to claim bigger, better, stronger, more powerful, and that’s going to lead to problems, even with pot.


godoggo 01.04.14 at 6:02 pm

I don’t see any reason for the guy to lie about it, but the meth users I’ve known didn’t behave in a manner that was dramatically crazier than usual when under the influence. That sounds more like the angel dust stories I’ve heard.


godoggo 01.04.14 at 6:09 pm

I guess that would be “methamphetamine psychosis.” Haven’t had the pleasure.


PatrickinIowa 01.04.14 at 6:18 pm

@110, having quit smoking tobacco at the beginning of the eighties, I’m 100% certain that tobacco is mind altering in all the relevant senses. If I wanted to prove it, I’d go to the literature on the associations between tobacco addiction and various mental illnesses, for a start. You may not see a chorus line of Rockette-kicking R. Crumb Technicolor vegetables, but your brain chemistry changes perceptibly. (I pretty much quit doing acid after that one in 1972. How was I going to top it?)

@101 and above w/r/t “wimpy” many of the “losers” have spent the last forty years in basements working on cloning, combining strains, developing nutrition and lighting regimens and on and on and on. I used to doubt the government claims about increased potency, but I’m inclined to give them a bit more credence after a couple of conversations with people who…ahem…would know. I suppose growers might of dedicated their lives to “higher” horticultural goals, but who am I to judge? Some of them seem to think of what they’re doing as pretty close to art.

As for Eisenhower, let’s all remember that Robert Welch suggested he was a “conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy.” I have no doubt that if Eisenhower were to enter a Republican primary today you’d hear that again.


Plume 01.04.14 at 6:33 pm


It is definitely more potent today than it was when I was growing up. No question. It’s not an urban legend.

. . . .

And, yes, Eisenhower couldn’t win a Republican primary. Heck, he’s to the left of most Dems in the leadership right now. I can’t think of any Dem in Congress, except, perhaps, Ms. Warren, saying the following:

Workers have a right to organize into unions and to bargain collectively with their employers. And a strong, free labor movement is an invigorating and necessary part of our industrial society.

Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things, but their number is negligible and they are stupid.

Eisenhower also defended the top tax rate of his day, which was 91%.


Ronan(rf) 01.04.14 at 6:35 pm

Any chance of a guest post by this dude from Beaverton ?


bianca steele 01.04.14 at 7:01 pm

Okay my link was @99 Paintings by Dwight D. Eisenhower.

This is a good movie about the question whether it’s nobler to spend one’s life teaching philosophy (Martha Nussbaum was an advisor on the film) or developing new high-tech ways of growing super-strong pot. (It doesn’t pass the Bechdel test but does have a cameo by Rachel Menken as a rabbi, and Richard Dreyfuss as a criminal operator who gives his money to Israel so it’s all good.)

Does Christian Science approve of medical marijuana? A m.m. place recently opened up right next to the C.S. reading room near here.


bianca steele 01.04.14 at 7:03 pm

Now why was that moderated?

This is a good movie about the question whether it’s nobler to spend one’s life teaching philosophy (Martha Nussbaum was an advisor on the film) or developing new high-tech ways of growing super-strong [redacted]. (It doesn’t pass the Bechdel test but does have a cameo by Rachel Menken as a rabbi, and Richard Dreyfuss as a criminal operator who gives his money to [redacted] so it’s all good.)

Does Christian Science approve of medical marijuana? A m.m. place recently opened up right next to the C.S. reading room near here.


Chris A 01.04.14 at 9:25 pm

Surely the contemporary evidence for Seneca’s life is a little scant to condemn him as an evil motherfucker who conspired with Nero (whose own reputation for evil is probably overblown in the first place)?

If nothing else, as hypocritical moralizing goes, he’s one hell of a lot more fun than Brooks to read. Compare “Pot is bad because I blew this one high school English presentation” to the Hostius Quadra bit in the NQ!


alex 01.04.14 at 10:30 pm

Seriously guys, it’s 2014, you’ve got to up your game. Are we really kicking it off with ‘arguments’ about gays and pot legalisation? This isn’t the 90s – my Granny is okay with both of these now. Everyone agrees with each other and they just make jokes, go off on weird tangents, or pile on random nutters – it’s boring and no fun.

Can’t you figure out what are the cool kids are arguing about nowadays? Or, if that fails maybe you can at least get D2 to post something defending bankers, or try and invite David Graeber back? I’m only telling you this because I love you, but you need to know this isn’t going to cut it for much longer.


Plume 01.04.14 at 10:53 pm

I like Graeber’s work. Too bad the seminar didn’t go so well. Maybe they could try it again. A welcomed new addition here, Cory Robin, seems on the same page as Mr. Graeber on a lot of things. Perhaps he could MC?

Also, George Scialabba has a new book out. The seminar you had on his earlier work is what drew me to this site initially . . . .


GRS 01.04.14 at 11:04 pm

Jim Buck: I dunno about antipsychs+cigs. I just meant that weed/alcohol obviously alter your mind state while using. Immediate effect of cigarettes is pretty mild by comparison.


LFC 01.04.14 at 11:06 pm

A propos of not much, but fwiw. One of the reasons I continue to read CT, apart from irrational habit, is reflected in this little story: I started to write a post about the Eisenhower admin’s foreign policy in response to a couple of the things that were said about Eisenhower upthread. In the course of doing a tiny bit of research to avoid sounding completely uninformed, I was reminded of a book that came out recently, namely S. Kinzer’s The Brothers, about John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles. I just glanced at it via Amazon’s ‘look inside’, and it seems like something I might well want to read. (It has close to 100 reviews on Amazon, which I haven’t looked at.) If I hadn’t started to write the (unfinished) post, I wouldn’t have been reminded of the Kinzer book. Which I guess is a roundabout way of saying that one never knows what trains of thought or association might be prompted by a comment thread, even one attached to a post about D. Brooks and marijuana.


Substance McGravitas 01.04.14 at 11:49 pm

Dude, you just blew my mind.


Ed Herdman 01.05.14 at 12:35 am

For clarity’s sake: Ike just commissioned the Goals – you can’t pin the views expressed in that quote on him. Indeed elsewhere in the book it’s clear that some of the panel members didn’t agree with certain statements others signed onto. This isn’t about political policies: While in many respects the Eisenhower Administration was left of center by today’s standards (and especially left of the Republicans), that splits a range of policy issues, not the traditional conservative morality spectrum. I think it’s pretty clear that many Republicans today – and especially libertarians – actually tack a bit left of traditional moralists from that era when it comes to moral feeling.

I think the passage I quoted from the Goals is off-message even for that era’s spectrum of Republican views (let alone not in step with the great liberal traditions of art), since I wouldn’t attribute that elitism towards Eisenhower or the majority of conservatives from that era. Rather it illustrates how a certain brand of elitist might be associated with right-wing thought. Of course this is not a logical, inescapable relationship – elitists can hold any political or moral views. That oddity is what makes the passage stand out to me.

Well, that’s clear as mud…I tried!


alex 01.05.14 at 12:51 am

““People try pot when they’re young. The people who seriously stick with it usually wind up being losers.” References? Or are you making it up?”

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health has rates of 19% for past month use in 18-25 year olds and 5% for 25 and overs. People try it when young then give it up.

There’s also been a massive reduction in drug taking. Very few people used cannabis in 1960, it boomed in the 60s and 70s reaching a peak in 1979, when those who had used cannabis within the last month was at 13% of the population (32% for past month use in 18-25 year olds). This boom started a panic and the WOD kicked off in 1971. Use was supressed in the 80s, ran at 5% for the 90s and since 2000 has increased to just over 7% to 2012.

The WOD has successfully reduced drug taking. It’s just that, since every cohort born after about 1950 has been exposed to cannabis use in youth, the percent that have ever tried cannabis has continually increased since the 60s, has recently hit 50% and public support is collapsing. But the change isn’t because people keep up the habit as adults, and more people are smoking, use is actually very low compared to the recent past.


Bryan 01.05.14 at 2:01 am

I think it’s funny that when Krugman is off he turns into David Brooks.


Belle Waring 01.05.14 at 3:12 am

godoggo: like you, I am inclined to be skeptical about stories that run along the lines of “drug x turned this man into a fiend who could fight 15 cops at once!” (I would like to note that in explaining this story to our daughter just now I noted that it was probably a tiny, crummy bar and only two or three of them could get at him at a time, and nobody wanted to get real close to him, so it was pretty much like the 300, only way, way less dignified. And it wasn’t arrows. Actually, the first comment on the Oregon site for ages was, “did he cum?” which was, I think, uppermost in all our minds and I think not on the grounds that at that point, with the meth users, probably not.)

Ahem. Yeah, meth doesn’t with continuous regularity turn every user into a psycho. I’ve never seen anyone flip out like that. (Um. Because they were taking meth.) It’s more a) it’s cheap and often available to indigent mentally ill people who self-medicate and then when they lose it they really lose it b) if you stay up for too long you will go crazy. And, to be fair to the meth-haters of the world, a good number of people have short meth-using careers and go from, ‘hey, this is fun, and now my boring job is bearable’ to ‘bugs! There are bugs under my skin!’ in 4 months. They could have been a contender, etc. They should have been drinking more heavily! Of how many things in life is this not true! But anyway, if you stay awake for like…I don’t know 5 or 6 days, I think, you just completely go actually insane. And if you are just tweaking and never “trying to pass out” in an acquaintance’s classic term for going to sleep (we were like, “dude. DUDE. We’re ‘going to sleep’. We’re not ‘trying to pass out for a while.’ Jesus.”) So, yeah. And the cops never some to your house when you have your act together, do they? Or to the bar when you’ve got everything under control? So you read stories like this and you think, bullsheeeiiit, but there only need to be a small percentage of breakdowns for this to be a regular affair for cops.


Tony Lynch 01.05.14 at 3:22 am

“But anyway, if you stay awake for like…I don’t know 5 or 6 days, I think, you just completely go actually insane.”

Well, Keith Richards says in Life that his record for staying awake was 9 days – then he went to change a tape, fell asleep, and broke his nose.


JML 01.05.14 at 3:36 am

I think I stayed awake a max of 3 days, no drugs, but visual hallucinations by day 3. How one can go 9 days is beyond me.

There are drugs available now that purportedly can keep you awake indefinitely without the side effects of stimulants. Quite well known and well-used by med students, I understand.

I read Life, too. Two things that struck me: 1) no one buys your heroin for you; 2) the show *must* go on.

What I wish to hear most from these aging rockers is the reason they think why they can’t produce hits anymore. After all, my writers do their best work in their 50’s and beyond. Not so much pop musicians.


Matt 01.05.14 at 3:52 am

I am inclined to be skeptical about stories that run along the lines of “drug x turned this man into a fiend who could fight 15 cops at once!”

My father was a police officer for many years, working many different types of jobs in the police, including patrol and vice narcotics at different times. His stories of people wacked out on drugs fighting many cops (but never, I think, 15. I can’t say how many were involved, but I’d be surprised if it was ever more than 5, and it’s pretty hard to get 5 guys actually fighting at one time, too) involved people on angel dust. Do people still do that? Not so much, I think, though I don’t really know. My favorite story of his about a guy on angel dust, though, involved not fighting someone- seeing a guy walking down the street late at night in the winter, no shirt, no shoes, in the snow. My father thought, “hmm, this is odd. Let’s see what’s going on.” He pulled up by the guy, shined the light in his eyes, and saw the guy’s pupils bounding all around (a typical effect of angel dust) and said, “well, have a good night” and went on, thinking that he was not going to get in a fight with that guy that night. Given his other stories about fights w/ such people, that seemed like a good idea.


godoggo 01.05.14 at 4:01 am

I wish I could remember which of two books discussed this. It was either Not Fade Away: A Comparison of Jazz Age With Rock Era Pop Song Composers by Walter Rimler or American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950 by Alec Wilder, James T. Maher and Gene Lees… although I actually only read a little of the latter because it kept giving you fragments of piano scores to really obscure old songs, with no chord symbols, which meant you’d have to read it at the piano and you still wouldn’t find out how the whole songs went. Annoying. Anyway the comparison between writers of stand-alone songs and either classical composers or composers of musicals. Something about more complex forms allowing you to keep developing your craft throughout your life.


godoggo 01.05.14 at 4:02 am

that was to JML


PJW 01.05.14 at 4:50 am

JML, I’ve also wondered about aging rockers not being able to write hits like they did when they were young. I’ve thought that there might be some analogue with physicists and mathematicians coming up with the truly groundbreaking stuff in their 20s and 30s, but that’s just pure seat-of-the-pants speculation.


godoggo 01.05.14 at 5:06 am

Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure it was the 1st book I mentioned, I think. But Beethoven is the obvious example of classical composer who kept developing til (near) the end. Among the “standard” songwriters discussed in the book, Richard Rogers was the clearest example of this phenomenon, although, personally I’m really just a Rogers and Hart (not Hammerstein) fan myself.


godoggo 01.05.14 at 5:07 am

cut “I think”


Belle Waring 01.05.14 at 12:12 pm

After some reflection, I’ve decided to cut, “[c]ome to think about it.”


Mao Cheng Ji 01.05.14 at 12:16 pm

There are good business models and there are bad ones. If your typical customer earns $10/hr, it’ll be much easier to sell a bottle of smirnoff to him than chateau margaux, strip club cover than a ticket to opera. If the elites want to help, they should start distributing free opera tickets and $50/a piece cigars.


Peter T 01.05.14 at 12:43 pm


Sort of like they did in the Soviet Union (with opera, not cigars)?


mattski 01.05.14 at 12:48 pm

Here is what I’m saying. Can we all get back to nature and have Belle give us a little bed-time story 3-4 nights a week?


Mao Cheng Ji 01.05.14 at 1:00 pm

“with opera, not cigars”

Well, I believe they did sell decent Partagas and Montecristo no-filter cigarettes. No Bordeaux, though, just Tokaji. Too damned sweet.


LFC 01.05.14 at 1:49 pm

Plume @91:

It’s amazing how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Classical Political Economists like Steuart and Smith, along with many an enlightenment philosopher (Bentham, Hume, Mill) were constantly getting on the peasants for being lazy. How dare they content themselves with growing their own food, making their own clothes, building their own homes and staying out of the factories and any wage slavery!!

It didn’t take long before they were kicked off their lands, and enough laws were put in place to force them to go to work in those factories, while the destruction of the commons did away with their other potential sources for self-sufficiency.

I realize you may be following that Perelman book you mentioned earlier, but certainly in the English context the enclosure movement had pretty much “destroyed the commons” LONG BEFORE Steuart, Smith, Hume, Bentham, and Mill came on the scene. See, e.g., the first chapter of Barrington Moore’s Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, “England and the Contributions of Violence to Gradualism.” (Or, say, the relevant parts of Polanyi’s The Great Transformation, though I don’t remember that quite as well.)


LFC 01.05.14 at 1:54 pm

I’d be a mite surprised if Mill, for one, “constantly got on the peasants for being lazy,” but I’ll yield on this point to those better acquainted w his work on pol economy.

Tocqueville, on the other hand, might possibly be a somewhat different matter: see his Memoir on Pauperism (available in English w an intro by G. Himmelfarb) or his correspondence w Nassau Senior.


Igor Belanov 01.05.14 at 2:10 pm


You may have forgotten that there were two Millses. I’m not sure what J.S’s opinion on lazy peasants was, but I suspect James Mill was fully in approval of their being ‘encouraged’ into more ‘useful’ work.

And you are right about the destruction of the commons happening earlier in England in the agricultural sense, but in terms of industrial and craft based activities it took longer, with independently minded workers suffering in the early 19th century. E.P. Thompson really opens your eyes to the destruction of that culture.


LFC 01.05.14 at 3:14 pm

1) I referred to J.S. Mill

2) in terms of industrial and craft based activities it took longer, with independently minded workers suffering in the early 19th century. E.P. Thompson really opens your eyes to the destruction of that culture.
yes, point taken.


Igor Belanov 01.05.14 at 5:09 pm

In response to 1), I know you were referring to J.S. Mill, but Plume merely said Mill, and given that he linked Mill with Bentham, it could quite conceivably be the elder Mill that Plume was referring to.


LFC 01.05.14 at 5:48 pm

yes it could have been. agreed.


PatrickinIowa 01.05.14 at 6:03 pm

@Alex at 127. I think you’re being a bit obtuse. When I said, “References? Or are you making it up?” I wasn’t talking about rates of drug use over the life span younger people, especially younger men try lots of things and give them up including high risk behaviors like illicit drugs, unprotected sex, reckless driving, libertarianism and crime, from petty to violent. As you say, these behaviors fall off over the life course. Duh.

What Smith can’t prove, because it’s not true. is “The people who seriously stick with it usually wind up being losers.” People who stick with it don’t end up losers (unless you define “losers,” as many Americans do, as “smokes weed.”) At least not the ones I know. And while some people abuse marijuana over their life course, in absolute numbers, and, I’m willing to wager, by percentage, they suffer less harm, and do less damage than people who overindulge in a host of other substances, predominantly alcohol.

That’s what I want the numbers for, and that’s what I don’t expect to get numbers for.


Plume 01.05.14 at 7:58 pm

Yes. Perelman cites James Mill, not John Stuart.

I grew up admiring many of the Enlightenment philosophers, choosing to read such works on my own that were not taught in school as well. But from the 90s on, I read a lot about them from a more critical position, and my admiration began to flag. Today, I see them as deeply flawed — as are all humans, of course — with a majority being rather ignorant of and indifferent toward “the lower classes.” Sometimes to a sickening degree. They were not so “enlightened” when it came to the plight of the poor and seemed to lack empathy, etc. etc.

There are counterweights to certain aspects of this view, like the excellent Moral Clarity, by Susan Neiman. That said, the process of overturning myths is essential, even the ones about the folks who were supposed to be doing that. Same thing happened to me when studying “the founders” after what was taught in school. Far too much hagiography there, and it hurts the ability of Americans to think critically.

Because economics is so incredibly and disproportionately important in our lives, perhaps the most important myths to knock down (right now) are the ones about Adam Smith and his progeny — and the system they fought so hard to impose and extend. Perelman does us all a great service in just that kind of battle against myths.


SusanC 01.05.14 at 8:24 pm

Staying awake for a long time can be bad for you (sometimes very bad for you) but does not, typically, cause the kind of violence that is legendarily attributed to PCP. Hallucinations (auditory, visual, tactile) are quite likely with even mild sleep deprivation, but they’re basically harmless. I understand (e.g. from psych text books) that sleep deprivation is one possible trigger for bipolar/manic depression, which can be life-threatening, so some degree of caution is perhaps in order.

But as you say, the cops only get to see the incidents where someone calls the cops, which are likely those rare occasions where someone becomes dangerous.


Adrian Kelleher 01.05.14 at 9:29 pm


I’m hesitant to accept that mental hurdles on a par with those faced by Von Neumann or Newton (or Homer, Keats or whoever) are required to explain the average middle-aged rocker’s inability to write a decent song. Pure expression of the profoundest emotional experiences at that point in a rockstar’s creative development would result in something like:

There’s a terrible hole
Deep in my soul
My jet is no use to me
Without a jacuzzi.

And I can’t get laid
In San Tropez
When a 30-metre yacht
Is all I got.

The punters experience appalling strain in relating to that kind of thing. Exhibit A is here.


clew 01.05.14 at 10:36 pm

@Adrian Kelleher: Seems testable; do no-breakout musicians who can make a living but not a fortune continue to write as well their whole lives? Perhaps with different material?


Fu Ko 01.06.14 at 2:44 am

Plume, it doesn’t matter how potent it gets. Just smoke less. Have you seen the “one-hitters” they make now? The chamber is the size of a pea. And you don’t even have to fill it up.


There are also people vaporizing highly purified marijuana products, which are close enough to be considered pure THC. Again, it’s a simple matter of dosing. Adding inactive combustible material to marijuana is not like adding water to alcohol. It doesn’t actually compensate for the effects of THC at a given THC dose — it just puts more dangerous crap in your lungs.


Belle Waring 01.07.14 at 3:54 am

They always made one-hitters, that looked just like a cigarette, with the chamber at the tip, nu?


js. 01.07.14 at 5:41 am

They (one-hitters) were certainly around in the mid-to-late 90s, and they didn’t seem like a brand-new thing when I first encountered them around then.

(This is an awesome thread, by the way. How often do you see Google search results for one-hitters in CT threads!?)


PatrickinIowa 01.07.14 at 6:18 am

Apropos the Stones: they started as a blues and R&B band, and developed their own style along the way. While they haven’t been entirely static since the heyday of their creativity, you can’t really expect Keith Richards to wake up one day and say, “Hold it. Maybe Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry aren’t the greatest thing to happen to music before we came along.”

Combine that with the fact that every other rock band for the last forty of their fifty year run has been imitating them (I’m looking at you, Steven Tyler), the probability they could come up with anything we’d hear as fresh and/or revolutionary strikes me as tiny indeed.

Maybe if they worked in a form where novelty wasn’t so prized–for its own sake–they’d have stood a better chance of maintaining their edge, but audience and genre are powerful barriers.


Plume 01.07.14 at 6:26 am

It might also be that people just lose brain power (and creativity) as they age — though we don’t want to accept that. Our bodies loose their oomph. There have been some exceptions. Wallace Stevens still wrote great poetry into his 70s, as did Yeats, for instance. But there aren’t that many cases wherein musicians/composers had great second and third acts. Most seemed to do their best work when young. And when you play hard, if you don’t die young, you probably have damaged mind and body to an even greater degree, one that goes beyond the normal aging process, etc. etc.

Keith Richards looked like an old man when he was a young man. Can’t really expect Richards and the Stones to keep churning out fresh, original stuff into their actual golden years.

That said, now that I think about it, Sir Paul seems to be having a bit of a renaissance in his 70s. There’s one exception.


mpower69 01.09.14 at 10:17 pm

David Brooks is yet another NYC-based ego who is wildly out-of-touch with anything resembling reality… proof that this affliction is not exclusive to either Right or Left.

The NYT have positioned DB as their resident Rightie for years (decades), but sadly DB has not been able to evolve with the changing times… even his supposedly ‘moderate’ voice represents little that would be considered ‘Right’ (or ‘Left’) current US political context. Like most of the old-guard conservative journalists & pundits, DB seems to get weirder as he struggles to identfy with a sea-change in US politics… his same old, tired worldview is no longer relevant, and he’s just beginning to realize the implications… thus his ever -weirder perceptions.


Martin Bento 01.10.14 at 5:24 pm

Just in case this thread is lumbering back to life.

Was young David such a dullard that he never noticed how much marijuana can intensify precisely the higher pleasures he praises? I can’t be the only one here who ever read Rilke, Shakespeare, Hoban, Faulkner, Pychon, or Calvino stoned, can I? Or seen Caligari, Persona, Strangelove, Hiroshima Mon Amour, Koyaanisqatsi, Meshes of the Afternoon, Sherlock Jr.? And nature? Didn’t Davey ever wander out of the car and walk on the beach stoned ? Or into the woods? Davey wasn’t wasted on pot. Pot was wasted on Davey.

Tina Brown at least touches the truth – amid a lot of nonsense – when she worries about competing with China. That’s Obama’s reluctance. Pot is not conducive to optimally handling an office environment, nor to a lot of the kinds of work people are expected to do in it, nor to the motivation that success in it often requires. A major increase in pot usage might have some deleterious effects on American productivity.

But perhaps it need not. And this gets to what Fu Ko said. I think the fixation on THC is misguided. I’m out of the game now, so I haven’t tried the new superpot, but pot that is close to pure THC doesn’t sound promising to me. My understanding is that THC levels have been increased, but not the other cannabinoids much, and, since doses are lower, ingestion of the other cannabinoids is reduced. I mean, it’s not just THC. There are at least 85 cannabinoids in pot, many, I don’t think we are even sure how many, are psychoactive, and many of the ones that are not directly psychoactive modulate the effects of the ones that are. I think this is one of the reasons marijuana is such a complex drug – it is not just one drug. I mean it has both stimulant and sedative effects; it is neuroprotective, but long-term use can reduce short-term memory; it can make you shy or garrulous; it’s complicated.

The economics of carrying around an illegal substance tend to maximizing potency, hence value, per unit gram, so upping THC is the way to go, but I would hope a legal market will investigate the understudied minor cannabinoids and see what they bring to the table. There is already evidence that CRD counters some of the less-desirable effects of THC. And the other cannabinoids are not necessarily weaker per mg than THC either; they are just less plentiful in the plant. It may be possible to create marijuana derivatives that provide the stimulation of marijuana without the confusion or passivity.


Martin Bento 01.10.14 at 5:25 pm

Pychon = Pynchon, of course.


Martin Bento 01.10.14 at 5:39 pm

Fer chrissake, this business of music as the specific domain of the young was a marketing strategy invented in the 50s that has taken on a life of its own. People at 35 feel that have reached some sort of musical decrepitude, that their judgments can no longer be sound, and they either keep listening to whatever they happened to listen to as teenagers or don’t listen to anything much at all. Turning musical culture over to adolescents has not been entirely bad, it has generated a lot of stylistic innovation because of youth’s appetite for novelty and for expression that is generation-specific, but the alienation of adults I find enormously sad.

Look at the major songwriters before rock and roll. George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, and Kurt Weill all were producing hits till they were dead or pretty infirm. The only one who stopped in his 30s was Gershwin, and what stopped him was death. Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Harold Arlen, and Jule Styne all had long retirements, but those followed multi-decade careers, and all produced good work late in those careers. Mostly, they had outlived the commercial viability of their style, though Styne charted as late as 68 (“People”, an early Streisand vehicle), and Berlin was 74 at retirement, though he lived another quarter century. Duke Ellington was writing great stuff right until his death in 74. Uninterested in hits, which were probably not possible for him anyway in the rock era, and often leaving behind pop and blues song structures, he was doing extended pieces and concept works.

But music that is intended to appeal primarily to the viewpoints of adolescence will be harder to produce for most people as they get further from adolescence. But just because we (including me) grew up in the rock or post-rock era doesn’t mean we should mistake the highly contingent youth orientation of that era for an eternal verity about music, much less art in general. It doesn’t seem to have been true before the 60s (the 50s were transitional. Rock was around, but Tin Pan Alley was still going strong too). And from what I can tell, it is only true of other cultures to the extent that they have been influenced by Western (basically American and British) popular music. Which, these days, is a great extent. The youth virus has spread and metastasized.

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