Perspective and Perspectives

by Milo Clark

May 14, 2001

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For the past two years Swans, its editor(s), significant contributors and physical electronic space (conundrum, paradox or oxymoron?) have been consumed with the 1990s-2001 Balkans and its convulsions.

A difficulty with reading history, and having lived a tiny bit of it, is that sometimes available perspectives make differences with perspective. I have often used the example of those multi-faceted mirror balls which revolve and sprinkle reflected light. Imagine sitting inside such a ball behind one-way mirrors permitting you to look out as the ball spins. Imagine then a wobble in the spin. You will then have perspectives on perspective otherwise unavailable. Those outside the ball will probably find your perspectives strange, unintelligible.

When I attempt to apply my own aphorisms about game-playing, sillinesses and excess* I wonder why (while knowing) what I perceive appears to be out of phase or out of synch with both conventional and unconventional wisdoms. Am I alone in being confronted with actuality as paradox and actuality as irrelevance?

In terms of the Balkans, among perspectives possible is that what goes on there now is a microcosm of what goes on nearly everywhere on the planet at one time or another -- right now, today, as I hit these keys going on many places among many humans.

Today's "news" from the areas of the former Yugoslavia reveals, depending on perspectives, that "they" are at again or still at "it." Defining "it" depends on perspectives which brings us around full circle or some portion thereof. There remains little doubt, however, that those "theys" are still going at each other -- probably not at all playfully.

Recorded history and oral history, a.k.a. myth or legend, is redolent with gross massacres and horrific destructions -- barbarities beyond comprehension even if not beyond actuality. Every group seems to have their versions, to be living their versions of Old Testament, to use possible monotheistic perspectives. Or you can try the Mahabharata for Vedic perspectives. Check out the dialogue of Krishna and Arjuna before the battle.

Venturing out in armored chargers on modern highways nearly anywhere on the planet is barbarity rampant -- destroying and maiming more than any single crash, any episodic clash of machetes or M-16s, any pulled-down mosque or pushed-over icon. In the USA, we do a Vietnam of KIA, WIA and MIA statistics annually. Ho-hum. Nothing there for Swans.com.

Daniel Quinn, to whom I often refer, makes a point that recorded history, which may be seen as myth and legend given type forms, deals almost exclusively with a very tiny, very thin portion -- maybe 10,000 to 25,000 earth/sun cycles at most -- of both the life of the planet (billions) and the lives of humankind (millions) within the planet. As current controversies over Japanese textbooks reveal yet again, history belongs to the writers of history all of whom have perspectives otherwise sometimes known as "axes to grind."

Quinn suggests that there once may have been ways in which emergent humankind got along and, for the most part, shared norms of consanguinity -- a good word meaning shared blood -- which current DNA research suggests encompasses all of us now in human form. He suggests that we search out ways to find modern expressions of such ways. Contrary to most, he leaves the choices to his readers -- who constantly bombard him with demands for details.

He further suggests that anyone may make a personal choice for what James P. Carse calls Infinite Games [Finite and Infinite Games, a vision of life as play and possibility, ISBN 0-345-34184-8, 1986].

Another aphorism: There is no excess which will not be exceeded.

Today in Afghanistan the Taliban, Islamic Zealots (remember where that word originated?) or dedicated protectors of faith, are busy destroying icons of other religions. Yesterday, almost every religion, virtually every sect nearly everywhere was once-upon-a-time busy destroying symbols of the "other." Ho-hum.

Today, quite likely, British and American warplanes are blasting yet more hunks of history to smithereens in Iraq. Ho-hum. Yesterday it was the Babylonians. Ho-hum.

Today, the PRChinese are busy taking the symbols of Tibet to Beijing and Shanghai. Outrage! Yesterday, the collectors of empire were busy if not destroying then taking the symbols of their imperial domains to museums in the home countries (check your local museums to confirm). Ho-hum.

Today, in cities, suburbs and country throughout the planet, developers are busy taking down the old to replace it with a new of one sort or another which, in turn, will predictably be taken down in succeeding generations. Ho-hum.

Advertising constitutes attempts by CokeTM to destroy PepsiTM and so on and so forth. We are immersed in norms of destructive behaviors -- and report ourselves (as determined by media instructions) to be appalled by "their" destructions and thrilled by "our" forbearances.

Those thin slices of time we know as history are progressions of destructions. Trees once graced a wide band of temperate and tropical lands over the planet's surface. Humankind in all its diversities has long been busy taking down trees until now there are fewer left to take each day.

We may note here that much of myth and legend is based on themes of descent, confrontation and ascent of the hero (m or f). Questions of perspective then may depend on determinations of descent, confrontation or ascent.

Is there a meaningful difference between taking down a thousand year old stone Buddha in Afghanistan or a thousand year old redwood in California? One is an artifact of humankind, the other an artifact of all the rest of us sharing this planet over time. Both, over time, will self-destruct according to established rules of nature governing them.

Relevance resides solely in the question. What are differences which make a difference? What are patterns which connect?

When we choose, in any way possible, not to destroy any thing, any where, any how, any way -- we make a difference, however minuscule. When more of us choose not to destroy and, in fact, to build without unnatural destruction, a pattern emerges, a warp and woof is established which may constitute The New Tribal Community of which Quinn speculates. (Watch a probable hang-up over perspective on the word "Tribal.")

In terms of perspectives, look, if you will, at the words in the last paragraph. Those are rather conventional in choice and in choice of use. Now, let's shift perspective.

When I choose, in any way possible, not to destroy unnaturally some thing, some where, some way, some how, I make a difference.

When I choose, in every way I can, not to destroy unnaturally any being, any where, any way, I make a difference with that being -- perhaps with all beings.

When all beings, in every way they can, choose not to destroy unnaturally any other, any where, any time, any way, we will have made differences and established patterns within which excesses need not be exceeded as norm.

Welcome to Aliceland.

Wally Shawn, playwright and actor whom I much admire, has written two short plays, a monologue The Fever, and a tri-logue, The Designated Mourner, both of which struggle mightily with perspectives on perspective. I read The Fever and I am immediately lost in clouds of anguish and unknowing.

The Designated Mourner, in a post-apocalyptic setting, ends:

"I sat once again on the bench I'd been sitting on before. The sun was going down. And I have to say that the colors in the park were quite extraordinary -- almost edible, one would have to say. The air was a kind of rose color, and the light which ran through it was a twinkling yellow.

"What were we waiting for? The appearance of the Messiah? Was all of this nothing? I was quite fed up with the search for perfection. And rather amazed by all that I had -- the lemonade stand with its lemonade, the café with its irritable customers and staff, the carousel, the squirrels, the birds, the trees. I'm sorry, Howard, your favorite grove was cut down. But so much remains. This light, so beautiful and warm, was not cut down. The flowers at my feet, with their petals that kiss my ankles like little lips, were not cut down. The trembling air and the trembling sky were not cut down. My sympathy about the loss of your favorite grove is fading at the end of the day. It said in the paper that there will be fireworks tonight above the carousel, and, right nearby, a parade of young dogs, including some of the newest breeds, some for sale.

"I sat on the bench for a very long time, lost -- sunk deep -- in the experience of unbelievable physical pleasure, maybe the greatest pleasure we can know on this earth -- the sweetest, ever changing caress of an early evening breeze."

And, that, I may say reveals perspective.

Milo Clark
from the rainforest of non-tourist Hawaii

Should the possibilities of perspective intrigue, try Charles Hampden-Turner's Maps of the Mind, 60 of them each of which is akin to a Tibetan thangka -- an encyclopedia of perspectives, ISBN 0-02-076870-2 pbk ,1981 (where have you been for the last twenty years?).

*  • "There is only one way not to play a game and that is not to play."
   • "Attempting to solve problems using the tools, techniques and thoughts which create them is silly."
   • "There is no excess which will not be exceeded."   (back)


       Milo Clark, a founding member of Swans, had it all: Harvard MBA, big house, three-car garage, top management... Yet, once he had seemingly achieved the famed American dream he felt something was missing somewhere. As any good executive he decided to investigate. Since then, he has become a curmudgeon and, after living in Berkeley, California, where he was growing bamboos, making water gardens, listening to muses, writing, cogitating and pondering, he has moved on to the Big Island in Hawaii where he creates thought forms about sunshine. Milo can be reached at Swans

       Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Milo G. Clark 2001. All rights reserved.

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This Week's Internal Links

Happy Quinquennium - by Gilles d'Aymery

The Remarkable Mother of Invention - by Michael W. Stowell

A Few Cuban Resources - by Swans


America in Yugoslavia: Peephole into a Hidden Empire - by Geoff Berne

The Montenegro Operetta - by Stevan Konstantinović

CorpTrek - by David Deckert

Lucky to be an American or, What it Means to Not Live in Sudan - by Jan Baughman



Some of Milo Clark's Commentaries on Swans

Project Re-Think Thinking: Serendipity and Sparks of Genius - 04/30/01

Croatan - 04/2/01

Barbaric Silence - 03/5/01

The Resource Base - 02/5/01

Addendum to ...Dream - 01/8/01

...Dream - 01/8/01


Published May 14, 2001
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