Saturday, July 01, 2000

We All Want to Change the World

I was driving to work yesterday listening to a Beatles album when "Revolution" came on. This ranks right up there with "The One I Love" in the misunderstood songs of all time.

A few years back, when Nike decided to use the song in an add campaign, much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued. I remember in particular an op-ed in the Washington Post bemoaning how a song the author associated with protesting the status quo had turned into a tool of commercialism.

Hint: just because a song has a word in (or as) its title, doesn't mean it's a song in favor of that word. The Beatles could be "conservative," after a fashion. Ever listen to "Taxman"? More to the point, ever listen to these lyrics?

You say you'll change the constitution
Well you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it's the institution
Well you know
You better free your mind instead

I remember being in high school and writing a paper on Brave New World and A Clockwork Orange. I needed to incorporate literary criticism into my paper, so I went to the library and found some big honkin' books full of criticism. Wow -- this was exciting. And there was criticism of everything -- even Beatles songs.

One in particular that stuck out was a screed on "Revolution" writted for some socialist worker's magazine. This guy got it -- mostly. He railed against the Beatles as tools of capitalist oppression. Out there, yes, but at least he had a clue (about music). Of course, like a good Red, he wasn't above distorting things to make a point. He took the lyrics

You ask me for a contribution
Well you know
We're doing what we can
But when you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait

and blasted the Beatles for equating "contribution" with "money". In fact, I think that's explicitly not true. They equate "contribution" with "doing what we can." The person they're talking to, by contrast, just wants "money for people with minds that hate." Ah, well.

Anyway, I think this illustrates one of the great lessons of life.

Pay attention!

Sunday, June 25, 2000


I re-designed my weblog today to use cascading style sheets. How does it look?

Let me know if you have any problems with it.

The Pragmatist

Last weekend, I went to see a collection of photographs by Glen E. Friedman. He took a number of photographs of skateboarding, hardcore, and rap scenes, and the amazing thing (as mentioned several places in the exhibit), is that he started taking these pictures early -- before these scenes hit the mainstream radar. OK, interesting enough.

But one thing that interested me was the political message underneath the photographs. Friedman seems to feel that each group of people was comprised of idealists; indeed his latest book is entitled "The Idealist". Flipping through a copy of that book, I was treated to an idolization of the idealist over the pragmatist. There, as other places in the exhibit, Ronald Reagan was specifically mentioned as the enemy of the idealist.

Later that evening, I went hope and watched CNN's Cold War documentary on the '80s and "Star Wars" (SDI). One of the things that struck me was how passionately Reagan believed in a missle defense system, and how he risked various arms control agreements that he was interested in, just for the sake of preserving SDI. In fact, the agreements were only signed after the Soviets realized that SDI would never be built as conceived.

So maybe Reagan wasn't a pragmatist (is that what people call idealists they don't agree with?). And I doubt everybody Friedman photographed was really an idealist; in the preface to one of his books, someone noted that the idealism of the skateboarders sounds more like "adolescent dickishness" in retrospect.

But what of this dichotomy between idealism and pragmatism in general? Is it real or is it false? To me, idealism and pragmatism are two balancing forces that need to exist in harmony. If you're an unrelenting pacifist, you may see your entire town slaughtered because you refused to compromise. If you believe that your example will achieve the cause of pacifism, that's one thing. But if you're trying to prevent violence from occuring, well, you lost. Similarly, the pure pragmatist is willing to do anything to achieve...what goals?

In my view, we have a responsibility to be idealists when we choose our goals -- world peace, freedom, etc. But then we have to be pragmatists when trying to figure out how to realize them.