On these early spring days I’ve been working in our garage while listening to Mae Brussel radio shows from the early 1970’s. She was on the air for one hour weekly for years in northern California in a time when radio stations had “public affairs” departments. That’s an oxymoron, I realize.
Brussel was an unusual woman, inquisitive and thorough. She harvested information from newspapers, magazines and news reports, maintaining cross-referenced files on people and subjects in the manner of J. Edgar Hoover, but for a better purpose. She read every book that time allowed her. In so doing, a different world unfolded before her. She was not mystical, just observant.
Today we would label such behavior an aberration, and she would be called a “conspiracy theorist.” That is part of our thought control regime, designed to keep normally curious people from straying out of bounds. These are oppressive times – we have so much information at our fingertips, and are so afraid to access it. Worse than that, people are mostly boring, smug and credulous at once, self-infused with the idea that they are somehow clever and wise for all of the things they do not know and refuse to investigate. Eeesh!
Incuriosity and indifference, even if studied, are indistinguishable from stupidity. But I digress.
I am not nostalgic. I do not believe in the ‘good old days. I listen to Brussel with an ear attuned to similarities between those times and now. There are many. Then as now, public officials were usually in some manner compromised if not overtly corrupt, and TV was a drug.
But there was a difference. Brussel’s audience was people attuned and aware of incongruities between news and reality. She was constantly fielding letters and calls from sharp listeners. It was a minority of people of course, but enough that her radio show had a large following.
Mae was speaking to college students too. She was warning them that the government was tired of the activism of the sixties, the protests, teach-ins – a climate of vigilance that made the ordinary criminal activity of public officials more difficult. They wanted to dumb it all down again. She saw on the horizon a problem with drugs, and told college kids that they would be easy to come by and to avoid them. She urged her listeners to keep their minds clean and sharp.
That was prescient, I would say. Drug use has always been with us. We all know the image of the stoner and the attitude that accompanies habitual marijuana use – a mildly delirious indifference.
Pot is legal where I live, and the movement is spreading. This is not a sea change – as my son reminded me, pot has always been legal for white folks. Legalization will allow it to penetrate deeper into society. It was a huge tool in the law enforcement arsenal for harassing and imprisoning minorities, and police will have to reload their quivers with other tools. They’ll figure that out.
Legalization of marijuana is a step forward for civil liberties, for minorities anyway. But habitual use ought to be discouraged as well. A government that can stigmatize intelligence and curiosity ought to be able to attach a touch of shame to pot use. But they won’t.
Pot and stupidity go hand-in-hand. But a dumbed down public is a good doggy. Here’s a bone. Or a bong.