July 9, 2001
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Please Be Patient
Please Be Patient II
"To regard matters of rhetoric as if they were the 'packaging' of the
substantial matters of everyday life seems to be commonsensical and
pragmatic. Surely what people do and how they do it are more important
than what they say and how they say it. Yet acts as well as speech depend
on thought, which in turn inevitably depends on language. If language is
false or largely incorrect, then what is said is not meant; and when what
is said is not meant, then what ought to be done remains undone, and the
result is widespread confusion. The Greeks knew this, Christ said it, and
Montaigne [1533-1592] restated it at the beginning of the Modern Age
('The generalization of lying could, by itself, dissolve human
--John Lukacs, Outgrowing Democracy, p.388
Montaigne needs repeating:
"The generalization of lying could, by itself, dissolve human society."
Is this assertion any less relevant in the post-Modern, knowledge-based information age? Or is it simply descriptive of the world as it is now?
Henry Adams (1838-1915) wrote in 1900, "Some day science may have the existence of humankind in its power and the human race commit suicide by blowing up the world."
Eisenhower warned of the "military-industrial complex" which now rules as surely and thoroughly as any empire.
Tocqueville, Volume II of Democracy in America in his chapter on Americans' addiction to practical science said, "Because the civilization of ancient Rome perished in consequence of the Barbarians, we are perhaps too apt to think that civilization cannot perish in any manner. If the light by which we are guided is ever extinguished, it will dwindle by degrees and expire of itself. By dint of close adherence to mere applications, principles would be lost sight of, and when the principles were wholly forgotten, the methods derived from them would be ill pursued. New methods would no longer be invented, and men would continue, without intelligence and without art, to apply scientific processes no longer understood."
Meanwhile, what is going on elsewhere? When we come down from the big picture, what?
Another quotation: Bohen Xi is a little known man said to be an ancient Chinese, of whom I only know a sobering statement, a copy of which I keep within my line of sight as I work my keyboard.
"Any thought, any idea, and theory is simply a way of seeing, a way of viewing an object from a particular vantage point. It may be useful, but that usefulness depends upon particular circumstances - the time, the place, the conditions to which it is applied. If our thoughts are taken to be final, to include all possibilities, to be exact representations of actuality, then eventually we run up against conditions where they become irrelevant. If we hold to them in spite of their irrelevance, we are forced either to ignore the facts or to apply some sort of force to make them fit. In either cases, fragmentation is the result."
History. What can we know of history? Within historical perspectives, what differences make a difference, which patterns connect?
History, whatever it may be, has fascinated me as long as I can remember. It took many years, way into college years, to begin to understand that academic approaches to history obeyed Bohen Xi -- ignoring facts or forcing them to fit.
The classical approaches to history, the Liberal Arts approaches, concentrate on successions of rulers over time. Periods were delineated in terms of annualar calculations, the tree rings of time. Pharaoh so and so ruled in the something or other dynasty of Egypt during time stated in Gregorian within which he assembled a big mass of rocks into some shape or other. The years noted in history texts and classes were recorded in terms of approximations related to another historical figure who died in 33 A.D. making Pharaohs, all of them, B.C.
Trouble with all that is Pope Gregory XIII (1502-85) "reformed the calendar" (note: The Calendar). There is a very arrogant assumption blatant here. It took a lot more years before much of the world got around to grudging agreement that the Gregorian calendar is the one to be quoted in newspapers and English-language history books and classes. Even today, 2001, there are lots of other calendars still in use. The overweening American media, self-identified purveyors of "truth(s)," mostly stayed confused as to when to start counting in 2000s as a new millennium. Generally speaking, most of humankind ignores both calendars and media while getting on with living and dying. Generally speaking, near as I can figure out, most of humankind tends to ignore calendars and, in that sense, to be anti-historical or a-historical.
History, as most are exposed, ever more briefly and more boringly, is a collection of dubious emphases noted in marginal time categories leaving us yawning. Yet, actuality is that history happened much the same as it is happening right as I type. Lots of folks in zillions of places on this planet are puttering away at their lives in quite mundane ways. Bang! Darn! Ran smack into another of those arrogant assumptions. OK, as nearly as I can tell or am told, there are some folks doing pretty well, a lot of folks getting along and the rest are in deep doo-doo as Bush I put it using a Yale-ish phrase. OH! Darn, another assumption crashed into. Which one this time? "Doing pretty well," etc. are assumptions of material well-being. As we know, should we think a tiny bit, there is more to life than material well-being. "Man, pardon the sexist use, does not live by bread alone." Heard that one before?
This commentary started with three quotations: Lukacs from his 1984 book, Montaigne from the mid 1500s and Henry Adams from the early twentieth century. Throw in Bohen Xi, for good measure. What do I see? History in process. Story telling with various intentions and perspectives.
Are you ready for "anti-historical" and "a-historical" now?
First clue: History as taught (and ignored) and history as it unfolds in contemporary media rarely deals with what goes on with most of the folks scattered or jammed together around this planet.
I am as guilty as any in being distracted by the weight of media demands on my psyche. I am decoyed by Bush II or Blair or Yugoslavia or Taiwan or Myanmar. I am deluded by science and ignorant of Hassan.
Recently, I have been reading historical novels about Europe as it wandered through the 1500s (Gregorian) and smashed up into the Thirty Years War (1616-1648) which tore up central Europe (what we would now identify as parts of Germany-Austria-Czech Republic and Slovakia plus Poland with edges of France, Switzerland and Italy) and then expanded in impact over much of the continent as something beyond our capacities to understand. It started out as Protestant against Catholic and ended up ungluing whatever may have been. Religious disagreements reduced a continent to barbarity and beyond. Religious disagreements overwhelmed everything else all those folks had going for them.
Look around the planet today and religious disagreements are reducing more and more of humankind to barbarity and beyond. In the name of God(s), what gives?
Now we are nibbling at history as it is and has been. Too many folks hacking each other up for fare-thee-well and even more folks doing their best to get out of the way and unable to do so.
Meanwhile, the mountain is silting under.
Can we go back to fighting the last war in silly ways?
Please Be Patient IV
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.
This Week's Internal Links
A Tale of Two Fugitives - by Antony C. Black
Justice at The Hague - by Michel Collon
Federal Rx: Marijuana - by Christopher Largen
Sixteen Shares of Lockheed Martin - by Jan Baughman
Remember Me - A Poem by Sandy Lulay
Some of Milo Clark's Commentaries on Swans
Events - 05/28/01
Perspective and Perspectives - 05/14/01
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