The 8 Ball Behind Live 8
Donnel Jones, July 6, 2005
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I’m pleased as punch that Roger Waters and the rest of the original Pink Floyd troop (Gilmore, Mason, and Wright) reunited for the first time since 1981. At its very best, back in the day, Floyd was one group that never had to apologize for being so “studio.” Their use of special effects in sound was always subservient to the content and art of the writing, playing, and production of their work. Their music had the casual sophistication of something “Brit” even though these guys were blokes.
Their album, “Animals,” for example, is a seething bestiary, ridiculing human foibles with a hint of Orwell and his farm – although the satire is directed, in this case, towards the corruption and cruelty that can be capitalism. Bestiaries are an archaic form of morality tale from medieval times, used to stellar sonic effect centuries later in one of Floyd’s masterpieces. Yet, Floyd could also break your heart when they dropped their cynicism with “Wish You Were Here.”
What was the occasion of their get-together in the company of Elton John, Paul McCartney, and – to give it all away – Bono of U2?
To raise your awareness, stupid! Awareness of the grinding poverty and starvation in Africa: the Live 8 concert held last July 2. Perhaps “Live” 8 is a refutation of the evil twin brother, spawned in Hell, the “G” 8?
I confess I’m a 40 something phart so I have a nostalgic attachment to the music of the Floyd era, especially that of the early 1970s captured so touchingly in Cameron Crowe’s film “Almost Famous.” I also confess I did not see this concert, more for its political undertones. However, what would really have gratified me much more than the Live 8 get-together-love-fest would be the rockers rocking for – how should I put this delicately – DEMOCRACY IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD!
Let’s get real here. Rock music is about rebellion and if Africa is being overlooked by the post-industrial world then that should be set straight. What is it, though, that we are overlooking? Sure there’s poverty galore in Africa. Christian and socialist activists of all stripes have shown us countless images of children’s shrunken bodies and parched mouths. Surely such heart-rending faces deserve a few iron chords of protest.
But why not rock for something much more radical, much more worthy of the notion that impossible dreams are only impossible if we keep thinking they are impossible, that romantic youthful passion - ever narcissistic and self-referential – that says we can do it if only our dreams are big and bold enough! The passion that says, “Let’s rock!”
After all, rock is quintessentially American in its African origins and its belief in the impossible. So why go only halfway with Live 8? What about something far more “out there,” – democratization of nations that are floundering in corruption, one-man rule, no accountability, lack of infrastructure, high illiteracy, widespread disease, and, at times, even genocide? Of course these things described in a political context that puts the burden of change on the victim don’t have the romantic, rock ecstasy of “feed the poor.” It also has the nasty, though inaccurate, association with Marie Antoinette and her cake solution. Rock has always been about youth, about youthful rebellion against norms and centers of power, and the citizens who acquiesce in them, that have gone astray. It’s about the impatience of youth to improve the world. Thing is, it takes a long time to make things better. That doesn’t exactly inspire raw strumming like dying babies and mothers.
Rocking for democracy also smacks of the cornball. After all, anyone over 30 (or 40?) saying “give time a chance” will be killjoy and invite the “get-real” response. But if outrage at current conditions is a touchstone of rock authenticity, then did we hear the rockers at Live 8 speaking about Robert Mugabe and what he’s up to? Were there speeches or quips against the corrupt capital of Sudan, Khartoum, and the genocidal Janjaweed who are murdering, torturing, and raping black Africans? You want to have rock’s well-known penchant for rage (e.g. “against the machine”) directed against the evil that is autocratic and despotic Africa? Wouldn’t rocking against such horrors be not only “cool” but part of the time-honored, if at times juvenile, pagan spirit of rebellion against injustice that is rock music?
What about the long-term goals for Africa? Goals that will prove much more lastingly beneficial? I mean what form of government should these poor countries have? Will throwing money at dire emergencies be the ultimate goal? Will it prevent future catastrophes from happening? How will the money Live 8 has raised be accounted for? Presumably this is all taken care of? Will handouts be the only way to take care of the poor in Africa and elsewhere?
Needless to say, building democracy in poor countries without it might be quixotic at best and Sisyphean at worst. We can always rock against the agri-subsidies in the U.S. and E.U. that leave farmers in developing nations without much of a paddle. And I certainly support debt forgiveness since it is very unlikely investors will see any return. Unless, of course, these nations were democracies in the first place.
Question. Hypothetically speaking, if you had a choice to invest in a foreign country and your choice could only be based solely on the political makeup of each country, which would you choose for your investment: Pakistan or India?
You can argue that there is plenty of return in investing in weapons sales to Pakistan, and India is no cakewalk of an economy. It’s India’s relative political stability that is important here. Any worthwhile investment must be long-term. I have more faith in India’s future development than I do in a dictatorship or the alternative of an Islamist government in its stead. There can be profit now investing in Pakistan but its long term future would leave me very leery.
I have sympathy for what Live 8 is trying to do in the name of compassion but there is a more important lesson here: Africa will never be healed of the terrible wounds inflicted upon it by invaders and by its own hand if there is not serious political reform first. Here is what Indian economist Amartya Sen had to say about democracy and its economic impact for the benefit of the poor.
One of the remarkable facts in the terrible history of famine is that no substantial famine has ever occurred in a country with a democratic form of government and relatively free press. They have occurred in ancient kingdoms and in contemporary authoritarian societies and in modern technocratic dictatorships, in colonial economies governed by imperialists from the north and in newly independent countries of the south run by despotic national leaders or by intolerant single parties. But famines never afflicted any country that is independent, that goes to elections regularly, that has opposition parties to voice criticisms, that permits newspapers to report freely and to question the wisdom of government policies without extensive censorship (The Washington Times, Oct 20 1998; p. A12).
Most African nations are not democracies. That fact will continue to keep the region very poor indefinitely. I’m not bashing what the Live 8 concert is doing (with the huge exception of its implicit and, at times, explicit blame-America-first mentality), but the long term goals of helping to build and supporting democracy in Africa’s neediest nations are of first importance and must be focused on for the long haul. The long view is democracy for Africa as it is for the Middle East. While democracy can never promise utopia – and for that it is to be recommended – it will certainly avoid the catastrophe of starvation, corruption, autocracy, and political upheaval that scars the great continent of Africa.