How Much is Enough?

by Milo Clark

July 23, 2001

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Gandhi asked, now many earth-sun cycles past, "How much is enough?"

Few, if any, will say, "I have enough, if not more than enough." Fewer still live with their enough or less unless forced to do so.

Trained like performing fleas to consume, whole industries have evolved to produce consumption. Whole industries have evolved to produce nothing other than numbers which are classified as products by governments subservient to producers of consumption.

And yet, much ignored if not denigrated, is a core economic actuality. Somewhere, somehow, surplus must be created, must be generated to fuel activity named economic.

Presently, surpluses are generated through conversion of natural resources. Stop the mining, stop the drilling, stop the deforestation, stop the waters, stop the growth of plants, stop the cycles of birds and animals and all will shortly stop, too.

Presently, natural resources are more and more distant from consumers or those who generate consumption or produce numbers through keystrokes. To move natural resources to places of conversion and then to places of consumption requires vast investments of natural resources. They are as lost as the materials of war whether fought or unfought.

Is predation the core of human actualities?

"How much is enough?"

If there be any particular country as defined by political constraints or defensible borders least guided by Gandhian precepts it would have to be India. Yet, present day India displays a consistency, a constant shabra or defining tone in terms of history.

Indeed, if one were to spin a globe, a wide swath stretching from Aegean Sea to China Sea shares a very long view of history. History which is much more in accord with Lukacs' understandings thereof, that is, the general run of barbarity and predation which inflames liberal minds -- unable to count deaths beyond number or to fathom history.

As western Europe and its extensions evolved in the last few hundreds of years, writers and philosophers weaned some minds from the relentless core of history in process. The culmination came with the various principles associated with Woodrow Wilson and carried forth with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter among US presidents.

In US terms, the post WWI League of Nations was never allowed form and eventually collapsed under unrelenting Republican assaults. Parallel with those assaults were the vast and powerful energies of enemy creation aimed at Soviet Russia and then incorporating The Peoples' Republic of China. The Republicans pushed the 1930 Hawley-Smoot Tariff structures which closed US markets and contributed strongly to the deepening economic traumas which overcame the world in the 1930s "Great Depression" which was relieved only by war.

Briefly, perhaps, in terms of a longer view of history, US hegemony succeeded the foundering European powers with their collapsing empires. The "loss" of China to Mao's Communists from Chiang Kai Shek's equally nasty but "our" nasty Nationalists gave Republicans a "causus belli" which served to rid government of people with a sense of history related not only to China but also to the swath from Aegean to China Seas. Since 1949 (and, in acute actuality, long before) the official US ignorance of Asia matched only the arrogances of European colonial powers.

Events in the Balkans, across Africa, throughout Asia and across the island archipelagos remain consistent with history. Western, particularly American responses, are both un-historical and a-historical, therefore. The hazards of flying blind remain equally consistent. And blind we fly!

Afghanistan displays a remarkable consistency right up to the Taliban. The Great Game played on its fields is without beginning and without end. Nominally, we see the contrary interests of both Imperial and Soviet Russia coalescing in seeking to become and remain dominant from the Eastern Mediterranean through to the Pamirs then northerly to Siberia and Manchuria to contain China. This swath undergirds the Trans-Caucasus and includes contemporary political entities such as Iraq, Iran, Armenia, Georgia, Moldava and all those incomprehensible -stans bellied up to Mother Russia and leaning on the Peoples' Republic and its claims of possession and hegemony. The expansions and contractions of Tibet have long played strong roles in The Great Game.

The constants are shifting alliances, brutal, bestial confrontations succeeded by momentary regroupings around clan and family as yet unbutchered but inevitably to be. The mastic tightly binding much of this area is the religion of love, Islam, or for those who hate the religion of love who act nearly identically in the names of their own spiritual persuasions.

In this seething morass of humanity at the ends of perversities in western Liberal terms, Tibet had become a very strange land. While the evolving Bon/Buddhists were much splintered into hostile sects, for the most part they contented themselves with stylistic debates marred only by occasional exchanges of rocks and shouting matches. Although the famous Silk Road laps at the fringes of Tibet and then crosses it, the mountains and deserts provided barriers which few armies were willing to contest.

Not so Afghanistan. Persia and successors to the west were constantly gnawing at Afghanistan from their side. Uzbek and others along the northern borders regularly and routinely swopped down for massacre and looting upscaled only by orgies of rapine and rape. From east and south, raiders and rapers swore allegiances to gods and goddesses from Vedic schools. The emergent Sikhs nibbled harshly up, through and across from today's Kashmir and Pakistan right up to the walls of the Pamir Valley, Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau. The Pathans in all their versions and glories developed as one fierce set of folks, I mean fierce.

In the 1830s, the Brits as both East India Company and the Queen's government got themselves carried away with fantasies of ignorance and arrogance. Feints from Persia aimed at Herat in western Afghanistan and diplomats from St. Petersburg seeking alliances from the north unnerved the Brits beyond tolerance. The loose Afghan confederations and shifting chieftains raised havoc in Kabul around a nominal King who got booted out after having his eyes put out as was the routine way of leaving a deposed king.

The Brits took a dim view of those proceedings and decided it would be better to have a king of their choosing installed in Kabul. Laced in with all these intrigues was the Kooh-in-noor diamond which, in itself, makes a story worthy of retelling -- which I won't.

To counter all of this ferment, the Brits assembled a distinguished team of political agents and military stars fetched from both Company and Queen. In retrospect, rarely in history had come together such a miscast group of pompous incompetents and flinty cowards. Given any opportunity to choose, they agreed on only one approach, disaster, unmitigated disaster.

To escort their puppet king up from India, they assembled an army including a strong contingent of reviled Sikhs, plus despised Indian sepoys and "European" forces to impose their will on Kabul. It would have been very difficult to send a force more likely to rile up all Afghans than this one.

Along with the more than 15,000 military came close to 40,000 in a rag-tag of camp-followers. British officers dragged along vast quantities of luxury goods to maintain their accustomed circumstances while on campout. Camels, most ill-suited to Afghan weather and altitudes, trooped and died by the thousands. Forage in a land rarely far from famine provided little and rations were quickly reduced to half and then to quarter. This force went into Afghanistan in 1838. One and only one man survived to come out in 1842.

Tales from this First Afghan War of the Brits, hardly the first war in Afghanistan, are horrific. Butchery as a norm was easily exceeded by joy of killing and dismembering, usually by women, of the killed. Did anybody learn anything? Not the Soviets, certainly, as they invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and limped out quite destroyed and similarly maimed barely ten years later. The Taliban emergent from that glorious mismatch of modern armies and history are a creation gone mad of those who opposed the Soviet invasion -- primarily the USA presently holding the once British mantle of the Great Game and no less predictably to miss a point of history.

Patrick Macrory, writing about The Fierce Pawns (Lippincott edition, 1966) notes, "Custer's Last Stand cost 276 lives and the Americans have never forgotten it. The British retreat cost 15,000 lives [military only] -- give or take a few -- and is never remembered."

Jan Myrdal, Swedish author and adventurer, writing in The Silk Road, A Journey from the High Pamirs and Ili through Sikiang and Kansu (written in 1963, published in 1966, English translation 1979, Pantheon, New York ISBN 0-394-48321-X notes: [from the preface to the 1979 American edition -- the year Soviet forces first entered Afghanistan].

"Sinkiang [west by northwest of Tibet and the far west of central PRChina] is still the pivot of Asia. The great game continues even though the British left the table decades ago and the Empire is receding into history. But what is so striking as you travel through what formerly was known as East Turkestan is that Russian policy has been consistent since the days of Peter the Great [1672-1725]. Now and then a forced halt; once or twice a diplomatic -- and even, as in the case of Ili, a military -- retreat; but then after some decades a new thrust forward. The Revolution [1917] seemed to change the situation. . . . But then the game continued as before. Stalin played for Sinkiang and Manchuria. He was outwitted by Mao Tse-tung and forced to relinquish his hold. Maybe he was prepared for some kind of peaceful and socialist coexistence with the new China. His successors were not. . . .

"Russia is still playing the great game for Asia. But the United States is now leaving the table as the British a generation ago. Twenty-one years ago, . . . we [Myrdahl and his wife] saw the United States as not only a great but a dominant power. We believed that it might even have the upper hand in the game. There was an American presence all the way from the Caspian Sea through the Turkoman country of northern Iran and along the Hindu Kush. There was a big base at Peshawar and coming down from Kabul in 1958 we met Americans who talked as if there really was going to be an American century. The bases are dissolved. The American Century became the American Decade in Asia -- if even that. The Russians have moved down to the Khyber and are still playing the game according to the rules of Peter the Great. . . .

"Western liberals have as great difficulty today as they did a hundred years ago in seeing that history is real. The Chinese are aware of history. . . .

". . . many people -- even many intellectuals in China -- believe that China is very different [as a result of the tribulations of post-Mao times]. . . . China is not. There are twists and turns along the road, but the nine hundred million or so Chinese continue to shape a new China through their work. . . .

"Those who see China only through documents or who believe that China is a concrete expression of political ideologies will have difficulty in understanding this. To them China seems to undergoing sudden and violent changes. . . . if you see China in historical perspective and look at it from below where the view is clear, then these violent changes become just necessary phases in the development of a new China. . . .

". . . The nine hundred million or so would go on forming a new society by their daily work. . . .

"China is developing more rapidly. But the direction has not changed. . . .

". . . . And the only force that can change the destiny of the hundreds of millions in the still poor hinterland of China are these hundreds of millions themselves. Only by their own labor and their own conscious effort can they build a better life. That has been the main direction of China all these years."

I will note in passing that Russia and China have recently signed a treaty of mutual advantage for the first time in 50 years. An early fruit of our blind and thoroughly Republican bureaucratic monarchy in Washington?

To keep perspective, there are two recent books with insights available for interesting times. Charlotte Hobson spent a year and some follow-on time in a provincial town of "Black Earth Russia" -- that stretch of grand fertility ranging from Moscow south to the Black Sea. In Black Earth City, A Year in the Heart of Russia, she grips the despair of Putin's domain.

"What life was left, after all, for a cosmonaut without a space program, a statistician working with false numbers or an unemployed Hero of Socialist labour?"

Bill Berkeley, a Brit who lived more than a decade in the guts of Africa as a human rights investigator and journalist, rails against a grand myth distorting practice and policies far beyond Africa into that great swath across Asia outlined above. The Big Lie, according to Berkeley in his book, The Graves Are Not Yet Full: Race, Tribe and Power in the Heart of Africa [Basic Books 2001,] is that the conflicts raging there are founded in tribal, ethnic hatred.

"It probably can't be said too often that tribal communities do not spontaneously combust."

What then? "All of Africa's ethnic conflicts start at the top and spread downward. Harnessing proxies, arming ethnically-based militias, cultivating warlords, propagating hate and fear -- these are the tactics of the crafty despot with his back against the wall."

Reviewer Michela Wrong [Financial Times Weekend 14/15 July 2001] expands Berkeley.

"For Berkeley, who has clearly signed up with the conspiracy, rather than the cock-up theory of history, the monsters are always the Big Men. . . who manipulate and prey on the Little People, innocent victims of what he terms 'the bad guys' and the western governments placing strategic interests above human rights. But the Idi Amins [now luxuriantly housed in Saudi Arabia] do not spring fully-clothed into life, thuggish militias at the ready, sycophants on hand. Recently, rereading a biography of Mussolini, I was reminded of how the petty skullduggery of Italian parliamentarians and the quiet support of corporate bosses, the Catholic Church and decent, middle-class Italians allowed the birth of fascism. Whether in post-Milosevic Yugoslavia or modern Africa, local communities must bear their share of responsibility, surely, for the bully boys who rise to the top."

How about getting off Afghanistan, Iraq, Yugoslavia, Africa and Southeast Asia plus the trans-Caucasus states and all, and joining history in process if not progress?

How much is enough?

       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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Addendum to ...Dream - 01/8/01

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Published July 23, 2001
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