Are We Human or did you exchange…?

I’ve an old favourite song, that’s definitely on my desert island discs.

It’s “Wish You Were Here” by Pink, or Floyd (I’m not sure which one is Pink)

It’s got a line I love

Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?”


There are various interpretations, but to me it means you’ve a choice of being the star in your own soap opera, or you can get on with being a small and unglamorous part of the Bigger Picture.

You have to make it up as you go along, you never know if your efforts will pay off (in fact, you can be sure that most of them will end in ‘failure’. The Mirror Test is no fun…)

And it relates to the whole notion of what some call the “Star System”, where social movements are seen as springing from individual heroic leaders (Martin Luther King, Gandhi etc). And if those leaders aren’t around, nothing can happen. And that is both completely untrue, and conveniently disempowering. And- as usual in my experience- there’s a quote from an interview with Noam Chomsky that says it well.


“The bad dynamic, what you’re pointing to, is the “star story. It’s standard when a popular movement takes off for people to show up and say, OK, I’m your leader. A Eugene McCarthy type, say. Here’s a big popular movement. Fine. I’m your leader. Give me power. If you can’t give me power I’ll go home and write poetry and talk about baseball. And if you can give me power then I become your leader and now you look up to me and you go home and put the power in my hand. That’s a familiar dynamic, and Bakunin’s Red bureaucracy, no matter what its politics are. It could be right wing, it could be left wing. But there’s a better dynamic, which is that the popular movements continue and strengthen, and where there are people around who, for whatever reason or quirk or privilege or whatever it may be, can contribute to them by intellectual activity, they do a part of it. That’s all. They’re not stars. They’re not leaders. They’re just contributing in the way that they know how to contribute. That would be a better structure. But it can tend to degenerate into this other very quickly, especially in a culture which is reinforcing their worst tendencies by trying to create an imagery of leadership and stars and heroes and so on.”


And there’s a new favourite song, which may not stand the test of time, but for now I love it.

It’s the Killers, asking pretty much the same question as Messrs Pink and Floyd- “Are we human, or are we dancer?”

The lyrics are here, and they stand a read and a think and a listen.

up to the platform of surrender
I was brought but I was kind
and sometimes I get nervous
when I see an open door”


Which comes to the same fear- of our smallness, the inadequacy of both our talents and our discipline to the problems we face (Samuel Johnson wrote a wonderful essay- “What Have Ye Done?” on this subject… (Dec 22nd 1759 in The Idler). I’ve made a youtube video of it

“will your system be alright
when you dream of home tonight?
there is no message we’re receiving
let me know is your heart still beating”



And to close, with a (from memory) phrase on the front of the Mozambican school exercise books I used to use.

Vamos estudar e fazer de nossa educacao um instrumento de libertacao do povo.”


Which translates as “Let’s study and make our education an instrument of the liberation of the people.”


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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2 Responses to Are We Human or did you exchange…?

  1. Pingback: Earworms of Keane and the Boss – alienation and anomie «

  2. pendantry says:

    There is no ‘Pink’, there is no ‘Floyd’, there is simple an awesome group of freethinking makers of music who called themselves ‘Pink Floyd’.

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