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Ladder Award: Bob Dylan: once again, a poetic seer of contemporary politics

Once again, “The Times, They Are A Changin’ ” – or are they?

This week a Ladder is awarded to folk icon Bob Dylan for his poetic insight into a perpetual challenge in politics.

Dylan has been a strong supporter of US President Barack Obama, seeing him as a pioneer of new, much needed change. However, recently, when asked if he thought Obama would make a good president, the singer said he had no idea.

In an article “Dylan sings a different tune for ‘interchangeable’ Obama,” reporter Patrick Foster quotes Dylan on Obama:

“Most of those guys come into office with the best of intentions and leave as beaten men.” He adds, “Johnson would be a good example of that…. Nixon, Clinton in a way, Truman, all the rest of them going back. You know, it’s like they all fly too close to the sun and get burnt.”
(first published in The Times, and re-published in The Press, Christchurch on 8 April, 2009: B5)

In a question and answer session with music journalist Bill Flanagan, reported in the same article, Dylan is quoted as dismissing politics as –

“entertainment… a sport. It’s for the well-groomed and well-heeled. The impeccably dressed. Party animals. Politicians are interchangeable. Politics creates more problems than it solves. It can be counter-productive. The real power is in the hands of small groups of people and I don’t think they have titles.”

The message I take, or would like to adapt, from Dylan, is first to recognise with him that even seemingly very powerful leaders cannot, unto themselves, make the huge changes needed to deal with current crises. Obama and other world leaders must be feeling about as daunted as any have ever felt in history about the problems they are expected to tackle. The other message is about the “small groups of people” with “real power”.

These small groups might be the powerful networks with vested interests, and they could be well connected villagers in creative localities everywhere. These networked villages could be just what is needed to reduce to manageable proportions the decision-making and implementation needed to create economically and environmentally sustainable life-styles that can enable all on this planet to meet their needs. These are the kinds of lifestyles that are needed to avert otherwise desperate struggles (including with nuclear weapons) for diminishing resources that would result from unchecked, high-consumption lifestyles.

In terms of seeing and coming through challenges to our short-term and longer term global futures, it’s important to look carefully at what are the real shovels and what are the real ladders. A reflective pause now – with the help of artists such as Bob Dylan – might provide one of the best opportunities to clarify how best to front up to that question.

So, let’s “Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam”

And in terms of these Village Connections conversations, help the times to a’ change, and for the better.

Send your comment or your Ladder or Shovel Award.


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