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An interesting look at the Rasta way of life.
on February 26, 2010
Self-described ex-hippie Robert Roskind takes us on a journey to Jamaica, where we meet various practitioners of the Rasta philosophy and way of life. The Rasta worldview can be summed up as a critique of "Babylon" - materialism, colonialism, racism, consumerism, and environmental degradation - in favor of a lifestyle based on cooperation, simplicity, vegetarianism, and spirituality based on the consumption of ganga (marijuana) as a kind of natural sacrament.
Roskind's Rastamen are not "activists" or "leaders" in the usual sense, but rather ordinary men (and a few women) trying to live a natural lifestyle in a world dead-set against it. Chief among these is a man known as "Scram," a middle-aged jack-of-all-trades who expounds the Rasta philosophy of "One Love" as he does his best to get by in a world gone mad. With few exceptions, Scram and the other Rastamen we meet are sympathetic figures, engaging and intelligent, kind-hearted and resourceful. We also see, however, that there are hordes of "false" Rastas, outwardly projecting the image but inwardly full of the spirit of Babylon.
Roskind is very much an enthusiastic convert to, and apostle for, the Rasta philosophy and way of life, and this perhaps leads him to promote views of African history, vegetarianism, and marijuana usage that are more debatable than he would lead us to believe. For example, he rattles off a series of claims that meat-eating CAUSES malnutrition in the Third World because it consumes resources (water, grain, land, etc.) that would be used more efficiently if vegetarianism were the norm. The reality is much more complex than that; if the entire USA were to become vegetarian, that would not in itself put one spoonful of food into the mouth of anyone in the Third World - much more would be required. The transition from Babylon to Paradise would undoubtedly require a somewhat authoritarian political movement, and the mostly non-political Rastas are justifiably suspicious of that very thing.
My other caveat is that - appealing as it may be in some ways - the Rasta way of life is not in and of itself a solution to the world's problems. (At one point, Roskind himself seems to acknowledge this.) Solving problems of poverty, injustice, and environmental degradation will require scientific and technical expertise, and this will not be found by smoking spliffs and playing drums in the hills, villages, and slums of Jamaica. And even the spiritual benefits of Rasta are not inevitable or automatic for its practitioners. At one point, someone admits it's easier to love the whole world than one's wife or ex-wife, and several of the people featured in this book have that very problem.
Despite these considerations, this book is an enjoyable read, and the people we encounter are generally lovable and memorable. We can learn something from people who - despite centuries of poverty, discrimination, and even persecution - seem generally happier than people who superficially have so much more.