Friday, February 26, 2010

Moonage Daydream

The opening two tracks of the Ziggy album tow the line that Bowie drew in his previous album, portraying contemporary human existence as a desolate spiritual wasteland, leading towards decline. 'Moonage Daydream' explodes into the scene to provide the solution, to revitalize the human spirit and bring happiness. So what is the magical key to happiness, which could succeed where all religions and ideologies failed? Bowie's answer is: rock'n'roll.

It is hard for us to remember nowadays, when rock'n'roll is just another musical genre, what it once meant. But for many kids in the fifties and sixties, rock'n'roll was the essence of existence. "Till there was Rock, you only had God", sings Bowie in the Ziggy outtake 'Sweet Head', and at other times he referred to rock'n'roll (in its early years) as the substitute for the church. When you listen to early rock'n'roll stuff from the mid-fifties, you can hear it: the feeling of pure release and euphoria that emanates from the records, the sheer ecstasy that is every bit as powerful as religious ecstasy. It sounds like the singer's soul has been trapped in a little bottle all his life, and now breaks loose and fills the entire world with joy, lifting its listeners right up with it. But the rock'n'roll kids have also learned something else: this joy doesn't last forever. The wonderful sensations contained in mid-fifties rock'n'roll records died towards the end of the decade, and even those who originated them - like Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley – could no longer reproduce them. The Beatles distilled this eruptive quality and brought it back in the early sixties, but the question now became: how can we maintain it? What is the secret ingredient that produces this quality, this ecstasy? That is one of the main questions that the youth culture of the sixties grappled with.

The Hippies claimed to have the answer. The ecstatic experience of early rock'n'roll, they contended, was only a taste of the true joy, the joy attained through the psychedelic experience, wherein you feel at one with the universe and with your fellow humans. The breakaway sensation of rock'n'roll, they claimed, was only the preliminary step to get us out of our old state of mind, and once that was achieved, a new state of mind must prevail, one that is based on the insights achieved through psychedelia. The music changed and became rock, which regarded itself as "serious" music, distinguishing itself from rock'n'roll, which was now seen as meaningless teenage fodder. Instead of the wild, eruptive, three-minute outbursts of early rock'n'roll, rock now provided long, contemplative pieces, that aspired to "musical quality". It was no longer about freaking out, but about listening carefully, as the musicians tried to uncover the secrets of life. In one of rock's most celebrated pieces, Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven' from 1971, we are taken on a quest to find the perfect tune, the tune that can take us to Heaven. It is a long, long quest, but in the end we are promised that we will get what we want, as "The tune will come to you at last / When all are one and one is all / To be a rock and not a roll". That was the gist of the rock worldview: the short-lived sensations of rock'n'roll are meaningless; what we are looking for is something solid, a rock and not a roll, something that will get us to a Heaven of pure unity and harmony, and will keep us there forever. And that is what rock promised to provide.

It didn't feel that way, though. Actually, by the early seventies, it felt like all the fun was drained out of rock music. Led Zeppelin, in the same album, tell us that "it's been a long time since I've rock'n'rolled", yearning to get back to those wondrous early sensations, and many other records of the time express the same nostalgia. Something was lost in the switch from rock'n'roll to rock, something essential.

That must have been how Bowie felt, too. The first version of 'Moonage Daydream' was released in 1971, as part of the Arnold Corns project, and its lyrics presume to resurrect that ecstatic, quasi-religious rock'n'roll experience. Why was that experience lost? Bowie's reply may be hinted at in the name of the band, if the story that it takes its name from Pink Floyd's 'Arnold Layne' is to be believed. 'Arnold Layne' was written by Syd Barrett, who was basically the last paragon of the flamboyant, androgynous, boisterous and provocative figure that was the main rock'n'roll archetype ever since the first days of Little Richard. After Barrett fell victim to drug abuse, rock no longer produced such characters, stayed away from the pop game of posturing, and shifted the focus from the persona towards the music. This was the thing that Bowie rebelled against. In 1970, he presented the band Hype, which tried to bring pop art and fabrication back into the world of rock. In 1971, Arnold Corns tried to bring back that flamboyant, androgynous and provocative rock'n'roll star figure that disappeared from the scene along with Syd Barrett. But their version of 'Moonage Daydream' fails to induce the ecstasy of rock'n'roll, and did not register on the charts. Only in 1972, with his third fabricated band, does Bowie finally discover the missing ingredient needed to produce a real rock'n'roll sensation, and get 'Moonage Daydream' right.

'Moonage Daydream', in the Ziggy cut, bursts into the end of 'Soul Love', bringing back the eruptive power of rock'n'roll. And then come the four lines that try to break down the rock'n'roll phenomenon to its parts, and decipher its secret:

I'm an alligator

"It sounds like the singer's soul has been trapped in a little bottle all his life, and now breaks loose and fills the entire world with joy, lifting its listeners right up with it", I wrote above about the rock'n'roll experience. What it also brings on is a feeling of omnipotence, and in the late sixties, this was exhibited by rock singers in the form of proclaiming themselves to be some mythical, larger than life figure, which suddenly burst out of their former selves: I'm Jumpin' Jack Flash, I'm a Voodoo Chile, I'm the Lizard King. "I'm an Alligator" continues this line, detonating its way through the pathetic, depressed figure of the first two tracks, shedding it like dried skin to reappear in a shiny new guise. The actual image he chose, the alligator, is immaterial, and was probably chosen for the purpose of rhyming. What is important here is that he is an "allegator", someone who alleges to be something new.

I'm a mama-papa coming for you

And this new identity, it turns out, is not particular to just one individual. Whenever rock'n'roll broke, whenever some rock'n'roll star assumed a new identity and broadcasted it to the world, there were kids who identified with him, and felt that he was expressing what they felt inside. Through imitating him, they could liberate themselves from their false identity, and replace it with an identity that felt real. Rock'n'roll is like being reborn, and the rock'n'roll star is the person performing this rebirth. The announcement "I'm a mama-papa coming for you" poses our rock'n'roll hero as a replacement for your parents, calling on any alienated kid to be reborn through identifying with him.

But does any form of rebirth induce a feeling of freedom and happiness? Can you simply choose an arbitrary new identity, and the rock'n'roll ecstatic sensation will immediately appear? Certainly not. There must be some principle behind the new self you are creating, which will ensure that it does indeed generate rock'n'roll. What is that principle?

I'm the space invader

The third line provides the answer. Rock'n'roll is the space invader, the alien from another world. Or, at least, something that seems like an alien. The artists who ignited the rock'n'roll experience were always those who combined elements of their own culture's music with sounds that came from a musical logic that was alien to it, and thus were able to express a sensibility that their own musical language was previously unable to express. When white boys like Elvis Presley and Bill Haley inserted elements of black R&B into white pop and country, they did something that went completely against the logic of their culture, because for white America in the fifties, the black man symbolized the jungle, the thing that civilized persons should aspire to distance themselves from. So for most white folks it seemed like a step backwards for civilization, the beginning of its downfall. So Elvis, a white boy singing R&B, was something completely paradoxical and alien to the logic of the time, but for some kids who were alienated to that logic, and felt that R&B held some truths it failed to encompass, he was the first thing they could identify with. Similarly, when the Beatles combined English pop with American rock'n'roll, they blew away all preconceptions of how Englishmen should behave, and the same thing happened when the Rolling Stones conflated Chicago blues and Mersey beat, or when Bob Dylan fused folk music with rock'n'roll - they all seemed at first like something that came from another world, something that was unheard of before. The rock'n'roll experience, then, happens when something that was previously banned from your culture finds a way to invade your cultural space, to present itself in a language that is understandable to you, and speak to something inside you that was always repressed. When you identify with it, you feel like your inside erupts and takes over, smashing your old identity.

This also explains why the rock'n'roll sensation can be felt by many kids at once. It is not some individual "real self" that was locked inside. It is a shared sensibility, which is the result of cultural repression. Every society defines "human being" in a certain way, a way that leaves out some traits that a few of its members have. These members feel oppressed, and when someone comes and presents an identity that belongs to that society and yet includes one of these repressed traits, all those who felt oppressed can assume that identity, and find freedom through it. Thus, they all feel the same liberation.

I'll be a rock'n'rollin' bitch for you

So what does rock'n'roll do? First of all it rocks you, constituting an alien invasion that attacks the foundations of your logic; but if you open up and succumb to it, it rolls you – you go through a transformation, and become someone else. When rock'n'roll became rock, music that only built on its own foundations, it lost that ability to come over as an alien, and thus the ability to roll. And with that, it lost the ecstatic, joyous sensation that accompanies the breakout of rock'n'roll. "I'll be a rock'n'rollin' bitch for you" announces that Bowie intends to bring that transformative power back, to rock'n'roll us once again.

Within the framework of the album, 'Moonage Daydream' is of course the moment when Ziggy arrives, to take us out of the slump presented in the first two tracks. In concerts, Bowie would sometimes present it as "a song written by Ziggy". Ziggy, we see, is not necessarily an alien. He is rather someone who presents himself as an alien figure, larger then life, which the kids can identify with, and be rock'n'rolled and reborn in the process.

And the terms "bitch" and "mama-papa" also point to one of the traits that make Ziggy an alien: his androgyny. In the logic of the society he grew into, you were either a male or a female, and you could only be attracted to the opposite sex. This logic repressed all those who felt that their sexuality was not that clear cut, that they had characteristics that were attributed to the opposite sex, or that they were rather attracted to members of their own gender. Ziggy would break that oppression, presenting an identity that is sexually fluid, and provide all those people with something they can identify with. In 'Queen Bitch', the hero was afraid to give in and become part of that alternative sexual world. Through Ziggy, Bowie himself becomes the Queen (Rock'n'rollin') Bitch, who draws the kids in.

Keep your mouth shut,
You're squawking like a pink monkey bird
And I'm busting up my brains for the words

In the first four lines, Bowie is trying to find words to express the essence of rock'n'roll. But like he already told us in 'Memory of a Free Festival', capturing the essence of ecstasy in words is an impossible thing to do, and these following lines seem to convey his frustration during the process. The "pink monkey bird" is an imaginary creature that signifies something really loud and bothersome, and here it probably means the entire outside world. When you are trying to find words to express your innermost feelings, everything else becomes a distraction, and seems like a pink monkey bird to you. Bowie is trying to shut out the outside world, so he can reflect on these feelings.

Don't fake it baby, lay the real thing on me
The church of man love
Is such a holy place to be
Make me baby, make me know you really care
Make me jump into the air

The second line always appears in lyric sheets as "the church of man, love", but I think it is actually "the church of man-love". The church of God-love promised us that through God we will find love, but as we saw in 'Soul Love', it failed. And so, Ziggy posits the church of Man-love in its stead, claiming that we have the ability to generate love by ourselves, with no need for the mediation of God. When we are transformed through rock'n'roll, when our inside becomes outside, our masks fall, and we fuse together. All those who assume the identity of the alien now become as one, and feel the joy of love for one another.

We are reminded once again of 'Memory of a Free Festival'. There, Bowie assumed the role of a Hippie who tries to convince us that his way of life brings ultimate love, which draws in even aliens from outer space, who come to bask in it. But the truth seeps in through his words, and we realize that this "love" is a feigned one. Here, Bowie finds the way to true love, by simply reversing the order: first of all the alien comes, liberating us from our alienated identities, and as a result, we can lay the real thing on each other, and dwell in the church of man love.

Keep your 'lectric eye on me babe
Put your ray gun to my head
Press your space face close to mine, love
Freak out in a moonage daydream oh yeah!

The chorus emphasizes the futuristic nature of the whole affair. To reach freedom, happiness and love, you have to recreate yourself as something completely new, something alien to everything that came before. But the title also hints that this perfect state is only temporary. Yet again we are reminded of 'Memory of a Free Festival', where we didn't reach the Sun, the symbol of truth, but settled for a Sun Machine, a technological replacement. The fact that this is a "moonage daydream" hints that we do not reach daylight, but remain in the dark moon-age, but we do create a temporary replacement of daylight, a daydream.

The secret of rock'n'roll has been deciphered. Bowie is going to transform himself into something that appears otherworldly, and offer something new to the world. Once this realization has been made, it can be codified into bolts of electric current and sent into space, where it is transformed into waves of glistening supersonic sound, and then zapped back towards Earth, to hit the unsuspecting antennas of millions of aimless kids, who have no idea what is about to descend upon them.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Soul Love

In 'Five Years', the opening track, Bowie told us that we have no future to look forward to. This, as we've seen, causes the modern society to crumble, because it kills the idea that holds it together, the idea that we are working towards the creation of a future utopia. The underlining belief of modern thought is that the human mind can devise a perfect system, which will bring happiness to all humankind. But if the mind can no longer see any future, it loses its direction, loses all meaning for existence, loses any criteria to determine good from bad. What can save us from this calamity?

The traditional answer is: LOVE. There were always those who contended that the human mind is incapable of creating a perfect world, and that the key to happiness lies rather in the heart. The human capacity to love, they say, is the road to our salvation, and if we focus our energies on spreading love, we will eventually form a human society that lives in eternal happiness and harmony. With 'Soul Love', Bowie makes the effort to go down that road, to see if love can provide a solution.

What the singer in 'Soul Love' is trying to do is to determine the nature of love. He looks at lovers, and attempts to figure out what brought them their love. If he can decipher the secret of love, he might be able to create a loving existence for himself, and maybe even teach it to others, to create a harmonic world. What, then, is the nature of love?

Stone love - she kneels before the grave
A brave son - who gave his life to save the slogan
That hovers between the headstone and her eyes
For they penetrate her grieving

The first set of lovers that he examines does indeed reveal to him something about the nature of love, although it is something that isn't very reassuring: love dies. It is, of course, not the first time we meet this theme in Bowie's early work, nor indeed the last. We are reminded of 'An Occasional Dream', where the hero-lover, after one hundred days of happiness that he thought would last forever, is left with nothing but a photograph of his lost love. This may be what we have here as well, if we choose to understand this verse metaphorically: love has turned to stone, and so the lover is remained with nothing to look at but the headstone on the grave of her relationship. But it can also be taken literally, and in that case it is probably another jibe at the counter-culture of the sixties, a movement that believed it can create a new world based on love. Here we are reminded of 'Cygnet Committee', where a movement that pretended to carry the "flag of love" had turned oppressive and murderous, and its ideals became empty slogans. The "brave son" could be someone who fought for these slogans, believing he is creating a better world, but all that happened was that he died along with the love message he gave his life for, leaving his actual love with nothing but a headstone to grieve on.

New love - a boy and girl they talking
New words - that only they can share in
New words - a love so strong it tears their hearts
To sleep - through the fleeting hours of morning

His gaze now turns to lovers who are alive, and in the morning of their love. But if he wants to find the secret of love, the common denominator in all loves, it becomes clear that he cannot do that: every love is unique, every pair of lovers live in a world of their own, speaking in words that only they can share. He does acknowledge that it is a powerful and magnificent thing, but there is also great sadness attached to it. The couple he describes is not like the couple in 'An Occasional Dream', who wasted the short time of their love in dreams of the future – this couple is fully aware that their love is fleeting, and that they have to make the most of every minute of it. They want to stay awake, to experience every moment of this morning, because they know that it will soon turn to evening, and then die.

Love is careless in its choosing
Sweeping over cross a baby
Love descends on those defenseless
Idiot love will spark the fusion
Inspirations have I none - just to touch the flaming dove
All I have is my love of love - and love is not loving

The chorus presents the conclusion: he cannot find the secret of love. You do not choose love, love chooses you, and there is no law behind it. It is purely coincidental, and any idiot can suddenly and unexpectedly fall in love, while he, the smart one who consciously seeks love, remains loveless. All that his consciousness can achieve is to love the concept of love, but that is an analytical sort of love, not something that can fill your heart. The only idea he can come up with to finding true love is touching the "flaming dove", which, I suppose, is an image that signifies the holy-spirit. But the holy-spirit is not something that is so easy to touch.

What we get from all this is that love cannot be the basis for any lasting solution. Love is not an eternal, universal and stable thing, but rather fortuitous, personal and temporal. It is not some ideal that floats in the heavens somewhere, but rather something that comes from a spark between two living humans, and lasts only as long as their personalities still produce this spark. If you try to capture it in stable concepts, to turn it into some universal and eternal ideology, it will immediately turn to stone.

Soul love - the priest that tastes the word and
Told of love - and how my God on high is
All love - though reaching up my loneliness evolves
By the blindness that surrounds him

Well, there are of course those who disagree with his conclusions. Christianity claims that there is a key to gaining everlasting love, and that key is faith in God. Through faith, you become part of a being that is all love, and find eternal happiness. That is what the priest tells us, but Bowie, in 'God Knows I'm Good', already told us a different story: God has forsaken us, he is blind to our misery, and when we call on him, he never answers. The same applies here: when the singer tries to reach God, to be part of that all-embracing love, he finds nothing but emptiness and blindness, and this discrepancy only makes him feel even more loveless and lonely.

Love, then, turns out to be another dead end. After 'Five Years' denied the possibility that an eternal solution could be found through the mind, 'Soul Love' denies the possibility that it could be found through the heart. The human race seems to have been rendered incapable of finding any meaning to life, and the heavens remain silent as well, refusing to lend a hand. And so, bereft of any solutions, fresh out of inspirations, struck dumb by reality, our narrator just la-la-las his way to the end of the track, idly passing the time. And then, suddenly, the heavens aren't silent any more.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Five Years

'Five Years' is the opening track of the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Startdust and the Spiders from Mars, and this location is significant, since this is an album that has a narrative. When I analyzed the tracks of the previous albums, I treated them both as stand-alone records and as part of the overall concept of the album, but I didn't pay much attention to the track's place within the album. With the tracks of Ziggy Stardust, I will also treat them as part of a sequence, and follow the story that Bowie is telling. On the other hand, it should be emphasized that this is not a rock opera like the Who's Tommy, where all the tracks revolve around the same characters and tell only part of a bigger story. Rather, every track on Ziggy Stardust is an independent piece, and there's nothing to indicate that the characters in it are the same as in the other tracks. Plus, each track deals with a different subject, and contains elements that shed light on that particular subject and have nothing to do with the rest of the album. So every track is a story in its own, and retains its meaning even if you hear it apart from the album (which isn't the case with many of the tracks on Tommy). But when you put them together, a definite overall story also emerges, a parable with morals and conclusions. Our analysis will have to keep an eye on each story as it unfolds.

So what is the story of 'Five Years', the opening track? We get it right off the bat:

Pushing through the market square, so many mothers sighing
News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in
News guy wept and told us, earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet, then I knew he was not lying

'Five Years' is one of those records that split the history of rock music in half. In the fifties and sixties, rock was celebrating the never-ending Present, or dreaming of a utopian Future. Here, suddenly, comes a rock record that suggests that the Future doesn't exist, and that our Present is about to end. The idea that the world might come to an end was quite common in sci-fi at the time, at an age that was coming to terms with the dangers of the A-bomb, the population explosion and the deteriorating ecology, but not in the inherently-optimistic realm of pop music. If it was discussed, like in the apocalyptic visions of Bob Dylan, it was a warning against what would happen if we don't change our ways. Bowie is offering something else, a doomsday scenario where Earth is going to die in five years, and there is nothing we can do about it. The record doesn't even tell us why it is dying, and it doesn't matter – what matters is the inevitability of this death.

I heard telephones, opera house, favorite melodies
I saw boys, toys, electric irons and TVs
My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there
And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people
I never thought Id need so many people

They say that when you are about to die, your entire life flashes in front of your eyes. What would happen if we learned that the world is about to die? According to Bowie, the entire world will flash in front of our eyes. All those people, appliances, songs and places that previously seemed mundane and meaningless, now suddenly become dear to the singer. He tries to remember them all in all their wonderful diversity and contradictions, to store them in his head. On the verge of losing it, he realizes that he loves this world and its inhabitants.

A girl my age went off her head, hit some tiny children
If the black hadn't a-pulled her off, I think she would have killed them
A soldier with a broken arm, fixed his stare to the wheels of a Cadillac
A cop knelt to kiss the feet of a priest, and a queer threw up at the sight of that

But while he discovers his love for the human race, he also watches it go to pieces, as the ties that hold humans together unravel. His voice starts to break as he tells us how they behave in this time of crisis, how everything seems to disintegrate. The image of the young girl hitting tiny children says it all, while around her, the symbols of authority break down – the soldier seems to be contemplating suicide, the policeman gives up on earthly authority and turns to faith – and the only ones who seem to keep a level head are rather the ones who were always thought of as unruly – the black and the queer. It seems uncertain that we will survive even the remaining five years.

Why is it so? Why does society crumble in the face of this news? Because in modern society, everything is based on the future. The modern mind is directed towards creating a perfect future society, and its ideas of morality and happiness are based on this ideal. Take the future away from the modern person, and it would be like taking God away from a religious person – their whole belief-system would collapse, and they would lose the basis for their ethical and behavioral code.

I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlor, drinking milkshake, cold and long
Smiling and waving and looking so fine
Don't think you knew you were in this song

In one of Bowie's most brilliant passages, the singer turns directly to the listener, and makes us part of the story. And here is where we realize that this isn't just some fancy sci-fi story – this is happening now, all around us. That doesn't mean that the world is really going to end in five years, but what it does mean is that our society is crumbling, because there is no more future goal. After the sixties, which overthrew the old dogmas, we seemed to have lost our faith in the perfect future, and that means that the basis for our morality is gone. Pretty soon, the horrors described in the previous passage will engulf us, and there will be no way to hold them back. But the people remain oblivious to this reality, and don't realize the danger they're in. While we are busy drinking milkshakes and worried about looking fine, the logic that ensured the well-being of our society is melting, and slipping from under our feet. Like a prophet standing at the gates of the city, the singer is trying to wake us up to this danger, to scream it in our ears. Maybe the impending doom he prophesizes has nothing to do with ecological or astronomical reasons, but is what he foresees for us if we continue our current ways.

And it was cold, and it rained, so I felt like an actor
And I thought of ma and I wanted to get back there

With no future to look forward to, the world becomes meaningless, and the singer feels alienated to it. He feels as if he is an actor playing a part, not someone who actually lives in this world. He yearns to go back to a time when things were simpler and warmer, and it almost sounds like he wants to go back into his mother's womb. What he means, probably, is that he wants to bring back a world where existence has meaning.

Your face, your race, the way that you talk
I kiss you, you're beautiful, I want you to walk

Once again, the singer expresses his love for the human race, but here there is also something else: the line "I kiss you, you're beautiful, I want you to walk" brings to mind a fairytale story, where the hero, with the power of his kiss, saves sleeping beauty from her paralysis, and makes her walk again. It hints that Bowie may have found the way to save the human race, a new code that we can build a new world around.

But that is a mere hint, and the reality of the record allows no such hopes. The awakening to and acceptance of the fact that we are doomed finally sinks in with all its resonance, and his voice, which kept breaking as he went along, reaches its climax in a shriek of terror:

We've got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We've got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that's all we've got

However, as the haunting drumbeat takes us out of the track, the terror seems to subside. Nowhere else on the album is it mentioned that the world is going to die in five years – this vision is specific to the opening track alone. What does it have to do with the rest of the story, then?

The importance of 'Five Years' to the album's narrative is that it sets the stage on which the Ziggy saga will play. It announces that the old ideologies, those that were based on the belief that we can create a better future, have no more ground to stand on, and can no longer satisfy our crave for meaningfulness. We must find another solution, another meaning for our existence. This is where Ziggy comes in.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

News from the sandbox

So a couple of weeks ago, Yossi Peled, former IDF general and now a minor minister in the Israeli government, spoke in some school in the North and said they must be prepared, because he predicts there will be another war with Hizballa in the coming years. Immediately, the Lebanese jump and accuse Israel of threatening to open war on Lebanon.

Then, last week, Defense Minister Barack gives a speech, and says that we should make peace with Syria now, for if we don't, we might have war, and after that war we will negotiate peace for the exact same terms we can get now. So why don't we skip the war, and proceed directly to the peace? Immediately, the Syrians jump and accuse Israel of threatening to open war on Syria.

Why are they doing this? Are they that dumb? No, they really do believe it. The Syrian and Lebanese have reiterated the lie about Israel wanting to take over their lands so many times that they started to believe in it wholeheartedly.

And then come the idiots on the Israeli side, those who believe that the Arabs behave like that simply because they are looking for any excuse to kill Jews. Foreign Minister Lieberman opens his big mouth, and threatens the Syrian President that he better not go to war with Israel, because it will cost him his position. And so, the atmosphere gets tense.

This is the kind of moronic behavior that gets many people killed for no reason. I'm not very worried at the moment: none of the sides is even remotely interested in going to war, so this will most probably just die down in a couple of weeks. However, there is someone who is very interested in seeing things blow up. The Iranians are under a lot of pressure from the international community, and a war between Israel and its neighbors would suit them just fine. It is very possible that they are behind it all, that they were the ones pressuring the Lebanese and Syrians to escalate the war of words. And if we don't bring things down, they might take it to the next level, and order Hizballa to start shooting.

This is still on a very low level of probability. In the meantime, let's revel in the stupidity of humans and their leaders.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Not a good time for liberalism

Everywhere I look, I see depressed liberals. They are depressed in Israel, they are depressed in Europe, they are depressed in the US. American liberals thought that they scored big with the election of Obama, and now walk around feeling betrayed and discouraged. But the problem is not Obama, nor any other person or group. This is simply not a good time for liberalism.

It is not a good time for socialist reforms. Basically, globalization gave the rich more power, and they have us by the balls. If they don't like the policies of one country, they can take their business elsewhere, and find plenty of better offers in many places around the world. In such an environment, the people will not want to hear our ideas, and if we do manage to implement some reform, it will fall flat on its face. But globalization will also gradually level the economies around the globe, until the markets become more equal. When this happens, we can think of big reforms again. Until then, no chance.

It is not a good time for peace. The enemies of the West at the moment are fundamentalist Muslims, and they are driven by an ideology of non-compromise. Until they change and become more pragmatic, there is no sense in talking peace to them.

It is not a good time for multiculturalism. The fundamentalists are using the West's multiculturalism not to integrate better in Western society, but to maintain and spread their anti-Western ideology. Again, we liberals have to face up to this reality.

It is not a good time for liberal immigration policies. The West is being swamped by immigrants from all over the world, and until the situation in their countries becomes better and the stream slows down, immigration policies will have to be more restrictive.

You get the idea. So, what should liberals do, until the environment becomes open to liberal thought again?

Play defense.

No point in getting frustrated or discouraged. Face reality, and realize that now is the time to defend and bolster what we have achieved since the sixties. This time can be used to rethink, to reevaluate, to reassess what has been done and what we should do in the future. There are also many small battles that can be fought and won. But don't waste energy on trying to bring on big progress. Conservatives have the wind in their back at the moment, they are on the offense, and our job is to hold our ground until the wind blows in our direction again.

That's all I had to say for today. Happy Superbowl!