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In which I discuss politics with a clueless stoner dude

Last weekend, while walking into a grocery store, I came across a man holding a petition. Because Washington state (along with many other states) has an initiative and referendum process, these signature-seekers are a common sight during each election season. I’m completely opposed to the initiative and referendum process. The United States government isn’t a direct democracy (we’re a representative democracy/constitutional republic). The Constitutional framers understood the threat posed by the tyranny of the majority and mob rule. It is this threat (primarily to civil rights) that makes the initiative and referendum process so dangerous and reactionary. (I’ve explained my objections in more detail here and here.)

So, back to the man at the grocery store. Generally, when approached by these signature-seekers, I just politely say “no thank you” and proceed on my way. This man was annoyingly and rudely persistent, though, so I couldn’t really avoid having a short conversation with him. Because it was both face-palmingly hilarious and quite depressing, I thought I’d share it here. I’ll refer to the man as CSD, short for “Clueless Stoner Dude”:

Me: (After realizing I wouldn’t be able to completely avoid this guy) “Hi”

CSD: “Hi! Are you a registered voter?”

Me: “Yes, but I’m not interested in signing your petition.”

CSD: “But how can you say that? I haven’t even told you what it’s for.”

Me: “It doesn’t matter. I know that you’re gathering signatures in an attempt to get either a referendum or an initiative on this year’s ballot and I am completely opposed to the referendum and initiative process.”

CSD: “What are you talking about? What process?”

Me: “You’re gathering signatures in support of either a referendum or an initiative, right?”

CSD: (Looks at his petition) “Um, yeah. It’s a, um, okay, right, it’s an initiative. We want to legalize pot.”

Me: “So you’re engaging in the initiative process, then. That’s what I was discussing before, and that’s what I’m opposed to.”

CSD: “Oh, okay. But why would you hate something that can make pot legal?”

Me: “I have no particular opinion on legalizing marijuana. I’m just opposed to the process in general. We’re not a direct democracy for a good reason: we have to avoid the tyranny of the majority.”

CSD: “But pot isn’t tyranny! It’s the outdated anti-drug laws that are tyranny!”

Me: “I didn’t say ‘pot is tyranny’. I said that I’m opposed to this entire process because it can easily lead to the tyranny of the majority. I’m afraid of bigots who want to take away civil rights from groups they hate. I don’t care about pot. There are way bigger fish to fry.”

CSD: “Marijuana laws are the most important issue out there. And pot smokers aren’t tyrants. They’re everyday people like me.”

Me: “Yeah, okay then. I have to go now. Have a good day.”

CSD: (In a snarky tone) “Whatever. Educate yourself sometime.”

Me: “Pot kettle black, dude. Pot. Kettle. Black.”

CSD: “Whatever.”


Facepalm to the max. Geez. Anyway, I very rarely get into conversations like this, because they’re pointless and frustrating, but, because this guy was rudely aggressive in his approach, I couldn’t avoid it this time, so I figured that I might as well make the best of it and try to explain a few things to him. Doing so was pointless, but at least it provided an amusing (and depressing) story to share :)

  1. Ok, I’m in the middle of writing an actual article of some scholarship, or least in that direction when this showed up. Naturally, I had to toss that aside to read about a stoner dude.

    I love irony.

    September 29, 2011
    • I’m thinking Clueless Stoner Dude would approve of that decision.

      September 29, 2011
      • nice vitriol, you seem like such a nice person to talk with……….

        October 17, 2011
  2. pete #

    The last guy that asked me to do this exact same thing was a totally glasses-cute nerd. I considered signing onto the pot-petition just to get to talk to him. But I wasn’t brave enough. Do you think they’d remember if their initiative was passed? Or would they be out there petitioning for four more years before they realized?
    Also, happy pup is happy and I totally adore her.

    September 29, 2011
  3. Just another CSD; love those generalisations.

    September 29, 2011
    • Where’s the generalization? He is obviously quite clueless, he is a stoner, and he is a dude. And there is some evidence suggesting that long-term marijuana use has detrimental effects on memory, etc.

      September 29, 2011
      • Well I don’t think it’s fair to call someone clueless that doesn’t share your view on voter initiatives. As naive as that particular petition might be, I think it’s at the least refreshing to see someone giving a shit, even if it is just about pot.

        September 30, 2011
        • Well I don’t think it’s fair to call someone clueless that doesn’t share your view on voter initiatives.

          I think you may have misread. He didn’t have an opinion on the initiative/referendum process. He couldn’t, as he didn’t even know what it is (as I explained out in the post). That’s why he’s clueless.

          September 30, 2011
          • Just because one has a passion about a subject, like yourself, doesn’t make other people stupid when they don’t know what you are talking about.

            October 5, 2011
            • I’ve already responded to your point in another comment, so I’ll just quote that here-

              The man in question is completely clueless about the initiative/referendum process. That in itself is no big deal, of course. The average person certainly has no obligation to be informed about it if they choose not to be. However, this man does have an obligation to be informed about it, as he is either volunteering for or is employed by a lobbying group that is working to obtain enough signatures to get their initiative on the ballot. In his case, ignorance of the initiative/referendum process is a big deal and justifies calling him “clueless”.

              October 5, 2011
  4. Great article. Initiatives seem like a great idea to get around corrupt legislatures, but now big money has corrupted the process. They can put together massive organizations to gather the necessary signatures, and flood the media with ads. Many pass either because voters don’t pay attention, or the initiatives are marketed to sound too good to be true.

    California is almost ungovernable because of this process.

    September 29, 2011
    • Thanks, William! And yeah, the entire process is broken beyond repair. It sounds like California is even worse than Washington in that regard.

      September 29, 2011
      • Indeed Kalifornia is worse! Most of the time they are only doing it for th few bucks they get per signiture.

        September 30, 2011
  5. Meta-level reference error. If they don’t “get” that, there is little you can do about it.

    September 29, 2011
  6. Your story made me laugh ~ it’s so true

    I can’t picture “dude” being in your vocab though

    September 29, 2011
    • Oh goodness, I’m a bit of an odd bird in that way: I love language and know quite a bit about it and have a big vocabulary and can speak and write well, but I also use a lot of slang terms and LOLspeak, etc. It’s all about context. And, as the conversation in this post probably illustrates, I tend to get more “slang-y” the more frustrated I get. In other words, exasperation leads to lots of “dude!!!”s :)

      October 2, 2011
  7. Dude – that was awesome ;)

    September 29, 2011
    • I use “dude” WAY more than I should :)

      October 2, 2011
      • Dude, you can’t overuse dude. Dude is the perfect term, it is usable across all class, sex, race, and culture lines. EVERYONE can be “dude”.

        Dude is life.

        Dude is love.

        Dude is the universe in all of us.

        October 18, 2011
  8. Every time I encounter one of these petition people I offer to give my signature and forge those of multiple relatives and other people I know. And I would totally do it too, they just won’t let me. ;)

    September 29, 2011
    • I’ve been tempted to do the same thing :)

      And a short anecdote: a few years back, a friend and I were going into a Target store when we were approached by a man gathering signatures for some sort of initiative. Unlike CSD, this guy was totally friendly. But I was in a silly mood, so, when he asked if I was a registered Washington state voter, I answered no & improvised a story about how I was visiting from northern California. The guy proceeded to ask what part of northern California. On the spot, I could think of only one city: Redding. So I said Redding. Turns out that this guy was actually from Redding, and proceeded to talk to me about various Redding areas and attractions, etc. Somehow, I managed to keep a straight face throughout the conversation and managed to convince him that I was indeed from his hometown. I felt a bit bad lying to this guy, as he was quite nice, but it was just for fun and perhaps it made him feel less homesick or something, who knows.

      October 2, 2011
  9. I’m not opposed to a tyranny of the majority, provided I am that majority. I guess what I really want to be is a tyrant. I think I would make a rather good tyrant, but not one of those Attila the Hun type of tyrants. Maybe I would be something more along the lines of an Oliver Cromwell sort of tyrant. Yes, that’s the sort of tyrant I would want to be. I also noticed that while writing this, I misspelled the word tyrant each time with the word “tranny”. Maybe I should aspire to be a tranny instead?

    September 29, 2011
  10. Our current legal system means that referenda are subject to the same legal scrutiny and constitutionality requirements as laws of congress. Which means that 1) If they lead to laws that are unconstitutional they are open to legal challenges same as laws of congress or other legislative bodies. 2) The process can be refined further and indeed has in many states. In DC there is a specific provision that says that referenda that would authorize discrimination under the DC Human Rights Act cannot even get on the ballot in the first place.

    September 30, 2011
    • Is the initiative/referendum process used pretty frequently in DC? Most of the east coast states don’t use the process at all, so it’s rather interesting that DC does. But I know that DC politics is weird and tricky and complicated (the whole not being a state thing), so it’s not really surprising that it would be an exception to the norm, so to speak.

      October 1, 2011
  11. I could live without an initiative system only when the “first past the post” electoral system is scrapped. In Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, we’ve been subject to a tyranny of a Governor who couldn’t crack 50% of the vote (which was low turnout to begin with.)

    It’s time to implement runoff elections for the top 2 in all statewide offices that are…. statewide. As things are, I’m going to be happy to vote no on Issue 2 in Ohio, which is on the ballot because I happily signed the petition to put it there. Without the initiative system, Czar Kashitch I would have been able to break the backs of Ohio workers.

    September 30, 2011
  12. I am certain you know of the following. I am just putting it here for the record: “In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure. . . . They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” – James Madison

    Alcohol prohibition lasted a mere 14 years. Cannabis prohibition is in it’s sixth decade. What do you suggest “stoner dudes” should do to repeal this tyranny over the minority?

    September 30, 2011
    • Fair point re: Madison. There are certainly a variety of ways to interpret “tyranny of the majority”, though, and many of those interpretations conflict with Madison’s.

      Most of us oppose certain laws and would like to see them changed. And I can see why the initiative/referendum process appeals to individuals who are passionate about their opposition to certain laws. We have to keep in mind, though, that there are large groups of people in this country who would like to take away the civil rights of those they hate, and have sometimes been successful in using the initiative/referendum process as a way to do so (see California’s Prop 8, Mississippi’s attempt to redefine a fetus as a person, Washington’s attempt to take away benefits for those in civil partnerships, etc.). In other words, the stakes are too high and the potential for abuse is too massive to justify this process. Yes, referendums/initiatives can be used to further our favorite causes, but the same is true for those who want to take away the civil rights of various people, simply because (in most cases), their religion tells them that the people are sinners, etc.

      And, as I mentioned in the post and in a reply to another comment, I have no particular opinion on the legalization of marijuana.

      October 2, 2011
      • I wasn’t looking for your opinion on the legalization of cannabis, I am looking for suggestions as to what can be done to repeal unjust laws, especially laws that have been on the books for far too long.

        October 3, 2011
  13. Correction: Cannabis prohibition is in it’s eighth decade. The “Marijuana” Tax Act was passed in 1937 shortly after the repeal of alcohol prohibition. A coincidence I am sure.

    September 30, 2011
  14. Your biggest mistake was trying to reason with him. Using grown-up concepts like “tyranny of the masses” is sure to confuse such folk.

    I had a guy come to my door one day wanting to sign a petition supporting laws criminalizing hate talk. I asked him if he was familiar with Canada’s hate talk laws, and how they prevented anyone from photographing Muslim paraders who carried signs like “Sharia for all Canadians”. I told him to do some research and talk to some Canadians, and if he still liked what he heard he could come back and I’d sign his petition. I never saw him again.

    September 30, 2011
  15. Giancarlo Fruzzetti #

    Yes, very true, you are a very smart woman in seeing this, and I feel the same way. Few seem to see the drawbacks of this terrible idea of “public referenda”. It is a way of getting out of responsibility, or passing the buck, for abrogating civil rights or passing popular, but deeply flawed laws. Gonna pass it? Legislators should own it. Imagine if, say, desegregation was put to a “public referendum” in the 1960s. Or even now. In some states, blacks would still be at the back of the bus/separate toilets/on the plantation. North Carolina, where I live, has a (TP/R) legislature which called a special session one week back just to pass a law permitting a referendum to ban all forms of same sex marriage and civil unions even if said contracts are validly recognized in another state. The law was passed with no public debate. Guess what day they chose for the public voting on said referendum? If you guessed “the day of the Republican Presidential Primary” …why, you’d be correct. Our NC legislature is just made of bible thumping, bigoted…and racist…human trash. Putting laws up to a public vote should be absolutely constitutionally banned unless we are going to change our system of government. Which, honestly, I’m not that fond of either as presently constructed.

    September 30, 2011
    • Imagine if, say, desegregation was put to a “public referendum” in the 1960s.

      Yes, that’s an excellent example of the dangers of the initiative/referendum process. It can be (and often is) a huge threat to civil rights.

      October 2, 2011
  16. MrPickwick #

    The CSD is clearly a portentous CSD, no doubt about that. But I am not sure you are right when you say that the referendum/initiative process is not part of a the representative democracy you have in the US (I’m from Europe). As far as I understand this kind of things, the referendum/initiative process is just a tool that the representative democracy offers her citizens to act in the political field. Maybe I am wrong, am I?

    October 1, 2011
  17. I see the point on both sides, as far as the citizen initiative thing goes – I understand the concept that we’re a representative democracy and therefore laws should be decided by legislatures, and not the voters …. but I have also seen legislatures that pass laws to benefit themselves / their cronies despite and over vehement disagreement by an overwhelming majority of the people. On the other hand, I’ve seen legislators pass good laws that are then thrown out by a majority thru the referendum process (like Prop 8) – so I’m not sure what the answer is. Perhaps Giancarlo is right and the whole system should be changed …. but to what?

    October 1, 2011
  18. What do you think of the referendum process they have in Switzerland, where politicians turn certain issues over to the citizens for a vote?

    October 2, 2011
    • I’m not familiar with it, but I’ll look it up. It sounds interesting.

      October 2, 2011
      • I don’t know if people can propose new laws (although I don’t think so, as I never saw anyone collecting signatures), but politicians can decide that they don’t have the authority to speak for the people on a particular issue, so they open it up for public vote.

        A notable semi-recent example was the ban on Muslim minarets.

        October 2, 2011
  19. Tim Murphy #

    I totally agree with you on the initiative/referendum process. Lived in CA for a number of years and watched these initiatives shoot each other down every year. Problem with CA is that the representative function is so f’d up that they can’t get anything done. Ergo, activists take matters into their own hands. Democracy can fail in so many ways…

    October 2, 2011
  20. You know out of a measure of some respect you might want to take into accordance the factors of HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other long lasting terminal cases within the common norms of society. For it to come to a vote there has to be a set number of signatures to pass through. If this is a lukewarm hypocritical attack on the above mentioned that you can so easily ridicule someone behind their backs. As someone with Aspergers it is amazingly well done how certain aspects of the NT community are the most hypocritical and how little they actually do unless it occurs that it could be for someone else and the benefit of others. Maybe, professor you should ask a real Professor like Jim Glenn Thatcher how to behave without critiquing others publicly or behind their back!

    October 2, 2011
    • This post is about my opposition to the initiative/referendum process that many US states have adopted. That should be abundantly clear from both the introduction of the post and from the focus of the conversation I related. As I said in the post, I don’t have an opinion one way or another about the legalization of marijuana. That being said, I am certainly sympathetic towards and pass no judgment on those who use medical marijuana to deal with the symptoms caused by their illnesses. Similarly, I pass no judgment on those who use marijuana recreationally. I’ve known/know people in both groups, and I certainly don’t look down upon them. I just don’t have much interest in marijuana laws. I can see validity in the opinions of both sides of that particular issue.

      And this is a lighthearted post. It’s not an attack on anyone. The man in question is completely clueless about the initiative/referendum process. That in itself is no big deal, of course. The average person certainly has no obligation to be informed about it if they choose not to be. However, this man does have an obligation to be informed about it, as he is either volunteering for or is employed by a lobbying group that is working to obtain enough signatures to get their initiative on the ballot. In his case, ignorance of the initiative/referendum process is a big deal and justifies calling him “clueless”. Also, as I mentioned, he acted in a pushy, aggressive, and rude manner. I didn’t.

      Also, if “attacks” bother you so much, perhaps you should avoid calling large groups of people “hypocritical” and passive-aggressively insulting me (“a real professor”).

      October 2, 2011
      • Joseph Ziehm #

        It is not light hearted when you leave that information out. But, I digress was there any real need for this other then a completely administrative post? It just feels like raging against a machine which might appear to do good. Of, course we could cast aside the writs and have no access to a politiboro if it were ever established.

        Would the rage extend to same sex marriage if it were offered? Or, to removing transfats? Before, a politiboro is established I’d gladly take action in a democracy to be heard. It seems more misanthropic then anything else.

        October 5, 2011
  21. well i think you should thank your stars that you live in a country with participative democracy….there are lots of countries out there with despots and dictators running them…

    October 3, 2011
    • there are lots of countries out there with despots and dictators running them…

      Of course there are. And I’m certainly grateful for the rights and freedoms that American democracy affords its citizens. However, that doesn’t mean that our system of democracy cannot be questioned, critiqued, criticized, and (one hopes) improved. It’s not an either-or situation. In other words, your argument is a false dichotomy.

      October 4, 2011
  22. JPP #

    The people with clipboards are everywhere in the neighborhood I work in. They ask for money, mostly, but sometimes they ask for signatures for petitions. I used to feel a little bit guilty about ignoring the friendly, earnest college kids asking for money to help The Children, until one day I saw that one was wearing a t-shirt bearing (a) the name of the charity for which he was asking for money, and (b) in smaller print, the name of what I guessed to be his actual employer, which had a horribly clunky name like “ReachOut Fundraising For Charities”.

    One day I’m going to stand on the corner with a clipboard asking people if they have a moment for a clipboard-free neighborhood.

    I’m aware that this is the least important of the issues raised by your blog post, but all the issues of substance have already been discussed.

    October 7, 2011
  23. Joseph Ziehm #

    I’m sorry about the outbust but I seek legalization with Aspergers due to having severe anxiety attacks which are close to mimicking heart attacks at times.

    October 10, 2011
  24. Just stumbled on this. I’m a political philosopher, and while not stoned and hence able to understand what you’re saying to a degree to which your interlocutor here seemed incapable, I’m still quite baffled by your position, which I’ve genuinely never encountered before. I think this concern about a tyranny of the majority can only tend in a relatively anti-democratic direction and amount to an apology for the rule of a minority. I think the invocation of the framers of the constitution is particularly unfortunate, since they excluded the vast majority of people from the franchise for the same reasons, to the extent that the early American Republic cannot be considered a democracy by contemporary standards.

    October 16, 2011
  25. The “tyranny of the majority” is not a risk of ballot initiatives, nor petitions; pure direct democracy is a practical impossibility, and therefore not a threat. Politicians’ over-reliance on ubiquitous polls simulates the effects of idealized democracy and all its tragic vulgarities; that’s a threat! The promotion of ballot initiatives, the organization of people to support/oppose the issues, the consideration of normally disengaged citizens in whether to sign a petition, or not, or later, when a clipboard is thrust in their face, the ensuing water cooler dialog–this makes them one of the more effective tools at promoting political engagement. Political parties have effectively broken down the constitutional separation of powers between the judicial, legislative and executive branches; ballot initiatives offer a rare check to the political machinery of entrenched, moneyed interests that exercise pan-government power.

    October 17, 2011

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