Irrelevant Precision

From the Aegean Sea to the Bering Straits

by Milo Clark

August 20, 2001


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Now and then a book jumps on me, bangs me silly and trips off much more than its words suggest. Jan Myrdal with photographs by his wife, Gun Kessle, comes out of Sweden by way of who knows how many previous incarnations as Chinese. Add in a lot of time in this life spent in remote corners of China during the crucial years bracketing WWII.

In other words, there is a lot of potential lurking in a romantic title: The Silk Road, A Journey from the High Pamirs and Ili Through Sinkiang and Kansu, translated from the Swedish by Ann Henning, Pantheon Books, New York 1979 (originally published in Swedish in 1977), ISBN 0-394-48231-X.

Remember now: We are quite unable to understand the otherness of others. After more than 50 years of being saturated with disinformation and misinformation, propagandized that nothing of possible merit can come out of much less within the Peoples' Republic of China, aka Communist China, Red China and numbers of less cogent characterizations of racist natures; Myrdal intersperses passages of remarkable boredom with insights into China spanning empires to now. What took me a long time to grok was that the passages of remarkable boredom provide brilliant clarity to the already remarkable insights into not only China but into all those places where folks are supremely dedicated to getting rid of foreigners to get on with living how they want to live, too often to die.

Given the centuries within which the folks on top have trampled the folks below into dust, not only in China but most everywhere; there is a very large unanswered question. How do folks manage to level things out so that there are fewer folks on top, fewer folks below and more folks mostly in the middle of things?

Orwell, in Animal Farm, tells a story fairly representative of most attempts to make such changes lasting: namely, it ends up so that all animals are equal but some are more equal -- déjà vu, in other words. The cards can be shuffled time and again, hearts for diamonds, clubs for spades, spades for diamonds and so on and so forth but nobody has figured out how to manage the kings and queens so that they are not always on top of the suit.

Social philosopher Mortimer Adler puts it pretty tightly: ". . . political haves who are not also economic haves cannot discharge their duties as citizens." [Haves without Have-Nots, Essays for the 21st Century on Democracy and Socialism, Mortimer J. Adler, Macmillan, New York, 1991, ISBN 0-02-500561-8]

Myrdal takes his readers for a phenomenal journey through and across landscapes far beyond ordinary capacity to imagine. While doing so, he tells us history, the actual kind advocated by John Lukacs, he tells us people and lets those people speak for their attempts to make kings and queens into contented eights and nines.

One of the more chilling, deeply disturbing books I have ever struggled through is The Change Resisters, How They Prevent Progress and What Managers Can Do about Them, George S. Ordione, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1981, ISBN 0-13-127894-0 pbk.

Ordione was then professor of Management at the University of Massachusetts. His work was brilliant and deeply insightful. Many of his peers resented him. His career was blunted. Douglas MacGregor who ended his years at MIT's Sloan School of Management, a man who for me, in today's terms, was a key mentor, admired Ordione.

I can recognize now that both MacGregor and Ordione planted the seeds which blossom as "Attempting to solve problems using the tools, techniques and thoughts which create them is silly." Pertinent to Myrdal's analysis of China as he was experiencing it during the late 1960s and the problems with making kings and queens into contented eights and nines, Ordione observes, "It is the unintended side effects which have become magnified, and by heightened overstatement of the unfavorable aspects of change we produce a resistance to change itself."

Welcome to the bureaucratic monarchy of Bush II. One of the great bureaucratic tools much used in current Beltway process Ordione calls "The Use of Irrelevant Precision." Of which, he says, "Irrelevant precision is a final form of fact evasion that helps mightily when the need comes to perpetuate the activity trap." The activity trap is the grand process of making much ado of nothing while slipping to the rear with all due speed.

All of which is a penetrating analysis of Orwell's hypothesis for Animal Farm. Ordione's prescriptions for management are now deeply buried far under the roughened surfaces of Savage Capitalism, the castles of change resisters.

Myrdal in The Silk Road gives us intimate glimpses of people struggling to break out and to break through for themselves, Chinese in name, tribal in orientation, backed up against an incessantly intrusive Russia..

Turning the map upside down helps see China and Russia in better perspective. Accepting that we can little understand the otherness of others may help us to allow others to be themselves. Seems like a worthy objective to me -- however naive.



       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

a song of innocence - A poem by John Bart Gerald (with etching by Julie Maas)

Two Epiphanies, From the Aegean Sea to the Bering Straits - by Milo Clark

Bibliography for Two Epiphanies - by Milo Clark

Religion and War in Yugoslavia - by David Jovanovic

The Confusion of Language, Ethnicity and Religion - by Alma A. Hromic

Proactivism at The Hague - by Michael W. Stowell


Some of Milo Clark's Commentaries on Swans

Please Be Patient (a five-part series) - 06/25/01

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


Published August 20, 2001
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