Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Ebeneezer Baike

This week, I thought that I'd take a spin up to where hungry hedonists of all social classes gorge themselves on pills every weekend like mosquitoes around a sockless ankle. I donned my best 'Saturday Night Fever' shirt, the one with collars large enough to allow me to hang-glide off the top of the BNI building, and headed up to Kota and that well-known temple of bacchanalian debauchery known as Stadium. This was all purely in the name of research you understand.

Stadium has been in operation for well over a decade now and basically seems to act as a kind of social pressure release valve that allows the city's youth to let off some steam and generally show a little sympathy for the Devil, something we all need to do occasionally in order to temporarily slip the bounds of our socially programmed sedation.

Heading inside my eyes tried to adjust to the near pitch black interior and failed miserably. The darkness of Indonesian discos is legendary and still a source of mystery to me. The only reason I can think of for the near total blackout is to protect the anonymity of various high rolling patrons who may be lurking in the gloom with their paramours. Surely one of the primary functions of the modern discotheque is to aid people in their quest for sexual gratification however, and in this context it might be nice to see what you're actually getting (and even if they are of the right gender at all).

I stumbled through the darkness, a process not helped by most of the patrons being as high as dirigibles and tottering somewhat unsteadily on their pins, and headed for the bar. There was a little light here, which was a good thing to as the drinks list was not printed in Braille. As I supped on my Long Island, a furtive young man came up to me and offered me a tablet for Rp.200,000. Now Indonesian drug laws are very strict and if the cops can bang you up in the slammer for a few months and shake you down for every penny you've got, then they most certainly will. The war on drugs has taken a serious ceasefire in Stadium however and so presumably the forces of law and order shakedown the club's management instead of its patrons in order that the carnival continues unabated.

Dance music and drugs have long had a symbiotic relationship of course, ever since the coked up days of 70s disco. Ecstasy really changed the game back in the late 80s however, spurring several musical revolutions, tabloid hysteria and spawning what Irvine Welsh dubbed, "The chemical generation." The dance-drug interface hardly represents new sociological paradigm however, and the Stadium heads swayed on their feet on the dance floor, nodding to the rhythms like participants in some ancient shamanic rite.

Dance music and E perhaps offer a ritual of social integration of a type largely lacking in modern life. Many Jakarta kids certainly seem to need to loosen the surly strings that tether them to the daily drudgery of this often cruel city and float free for a few hours in chemical communion. I swear to you however that I stuck valiantly to alcohol and am willing to undergo a polygraph test if you remain sceptical.

Memories of the evening remain hazy, however things that stick out include a chat with a German tourist in shorts, whom I spilt beer on, running into an old flame on the dance floor and wishing that I hadn't, and being asked several times by the Madame around the club's entrance whether I'd be interested in renting the services of one of her young ladies. She didn't say what for, but I'm thinking it wasn't connected with the valet parking service.

I guess I have a quite libertarian view of drug taking. John Stuart Mill in his famous, 'On Liberty' developed a concept of the harmful, i.e. what is not harmful to others is no business of a paternalistic state and it is ultimately an individual's free choice what he or she chooses to consume and ingest into his or her system.

Eventually though I decided to call it a night and headed outside into the cold light of day. Beggars crowded the approach to Stadium clutching babies and looking for a handout. Quite unsettling when you're feeling a bit tender. Looking at these poor folk I remembered that freedom from unjustified restrictions, a negative freedom, is only one half of the full Utopian picture. Hand in hand with this should go a more positive conception of freedom.

As Voltaire said, both rich and poor are free to sleep under the bridges at night. Likewise, the beggars that fine morning were all technically free to head upstairs and buy themselves a chemical trip to the moon but were somewhat lacking in the necessary enabling conditions, namely having enough cold hard cash for the fare. It's all very well to have free speech for example, but if you haven't enjoyed the necessary enabling condition of an education and are illiterate, then this freedom doesn't usually amount to a whole hill of beans. I tell you, it’s enough to make one turn to drugs…