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The times they are not a-changin’

Brandon Hamber

"Look South" Column published on Polity, 15 September 2006

The musician Burt Bacharach wrote a song, probably at the time I was entering this world, called Knowing When to Leave. It contains the clichéd lines, “Go while the going is good. Knowing when to leave may be the smartest thing anyone can learn...Sail when the wind starts to blow.” Simple advice, but many people pay no attention to the wind, and sometimes even miss a hurricane when it is blowing in their face. Take, for example, Tony Blair, the UK Prime Minister – the writing has been on the wall for months that his time is up, but he insists on dragging out his Premiership for as long as possible. Seemingly, he wants to hit the magical ten-year mark next year before throwing in the towel. It reminds me of lying in bed in the morning trying to kid yourself that five more minutes in bed will make all the difference.

What is it about leaving that is so hard? Love and passion are the most difficult things for humans to walk away from. But hanging in there for such noble endeavours is always excusable, even if it is downright stupid at times. But Tony no longer loves his people – how could he, they do not love him? That said, in the words of Dan Quayle, “This isn’t a man who is leaving with his head between his legs.” Power also has a hold over us mortals. I do not need to rattle off a list of dictators addicted to power to make the point. But what is it that makes people like Robert Mugabe think that being in power for over 25 years is good for him or his country? Perhaps, however, it is not leaving that is the problem but, rather, the anxiety that change provokes that causes people to stay put. Change hurts. As Saul Alinsky, the American community activist, wrote, “Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.” The result is that most people do not like things to change. Being in a rut seems preferable to ploughing through a new field, even if it offers a better harvest.

Yet some people seek change. Recently, the European Space Agency completed its three-year mission to study the moon by deliberately crashing the Smart-1 orbiter into the lunar surface. They assured the world that progress is being made in understanding the surface of the moon. They say their research will pave the way for a moon colony.

The mission sparked a debate about whether such science was worth the bother, given the poverty on earth. Such critics have a point. But, at the same time, there is something about a moon colony I find enticing. It conjures up images of Star Trek, the sci-fi TV series that has now been running since 1966, a mere three years longer than Libyan leader Gaddafi has been in power. What is it about this show that makes it so appealing? The answer is simple. Unlike what those that cling to power can offer, and even if Star Trek is light years from reality, it is filled with promise. The line “to boldly go where no man sic has gone before” is the most tantalising line ever.

Right now, however, it feels like the promise of a new world has been lost somewhere between the Iraqi desert and the recently wrecked space probe now polluting the moon. If change was needed, now is the time. As science- fiction writer, Alvin Toffler, notes, “Change is not merely necessary to life – it is life.” So now I am raising money for a one-way rocket ride to the moon for Blair, George W Bush – the dictators of the world – and all those who think killing civilians enhances their cause. Donations are welcome.

Brandon Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its relevance to South Africa on Polity, see http://www.polity.co.za/pol/opinion/brandon/.

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