Back to Basics on the Way to Going Ahead

by Milo Clark

October 15, 2001


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With hysteria being manufactured faster than deficit spending, I probably need to make very clear that I abhor violence of any kind, especially random violences, those for which there is no protection other than chance. Whether drive-by shooting, carjacking or airliner cruise missile, whether defoliants raining from above or hand-held machetes hacking us apart before the Delta Force hits; violence is simply barbarity given form. Determining innocence or guilt by fiat rather than evidence is yet another violence.

With all obeisance to patriotism and such, united we stand in grand folly, my country right or wrong, my country and all that stuff; a reasonably dispassionate perspective may have more to do with reducing collateral damage, AKA killing innocents, than most are presently willing to entertain.

And, yet, as editor Lewis Lapham makes clear in this month's Harper's Magazine, there is minimal probability of reason, whatever that be today, being heard unless backed by a strong bass guitar. A good question is, "Why bother?" An answer is catharsis.

Whoever those folks are who did in the WTC and Pentagon, the webs related thereto are more likely to be anchored in Saudi Arabia and Egypt than within much devastated and electronically isolated Afghanistan. In terms of execution, to use the sports application thereof, those folks did more with less than anyone since the Trojan War of ancient history. They showed excellent understanding of American perspectives and likely responses. They left enough clues to distract authorities far more broadly than anyone would normally have imagined. Accident or design?

My current view is that there will be no further acts similar to the WTC/Pentagon tumblings of September 11, 2001. No need. The collateral damage to American perspectives is already far beyond their most fervent imaginings. America stands exposed as vulnerable and much more than naked. America can only respond with force, force with no spiritual anchor in terms which have meaning to spectators around the world. I suspect they can now count on American excesses in the name of responses to enrage more bystanders than any further acts of theirs. That much of those excesses will be directed against home folks is yet another collateral benefit of the tragedy. Perhaps the longest lasting detriment gained from these acts of terror is that there are many in government and elsewhere who, in their heart of hearts, are delighted by this opportunity to advance their agendas.

In the last couple of years, I have posted comments on Swans with an overall intent which has been unnamed, as yet. Hewing to Gregory Bateson's guidance to look for differences which make a difference and patterns which connect, my dabblings have ranged broadly over history, politics and philosophy. As this is the Capitalist age, now swerved into possibly terminal form as Savage Capitalism, I asked that we take another look at Adam Smith, professor of moral philosophy.

In his outrage at the excesses of mercantilism in his times, he wrote about the wealth of nations being based on village economics. He advocated that village people cooperate in ways which allowed more goods and services for more at less labor. Smith believed he was launching "A War on Poverty" two hundred years before the last Texan in the White House, Lyndon Johnson. Mercantilism, in modern black dress, is called globalism. From the perspectives of moral philosophy as espoused by Adam Smith, the natural and human response to mercantilism/globalism is outrage. However, neither lemming nor sheep are very good at outrage.

I have cited historian John Lukacs numerous times, particularly in reference to the ahistorical and unhistorical nature of contemporary written history. In his view, history as written ignores a core facet of human experience and relationships, namely barbarity. The veneers of civil society are very, very thin. A genuine terror is that those controlling public minds can so easily whip up hysterical responses. Lukacs has written extensively about Nazi Germany focusing on the personalities and behavior of key leaders during the Nazi years, Churchill, Hitler and Roosevelt.

Also, an excellent reference is Wilhelm Reich's The Mass Psychology of Fascism (ISBN 0374508844, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1980). Reich started this work in the early 1930s while living in Berlin and experiencing the disintegration of Weimar Germany and the rise of National Socialism. He finished the German edition in 1942 at Bethel, Maine. It was published in English in 1946. It is now in its fourth English edition. While dated in some aspects, overall The Mass Psychology of Fascism is even more pertinent as Americans are dragged and dragging themselves down parallel paths. Read in conjunction with Lukacs's Outgrowing Democracy, sobering perspectives emerge.

Among Reich's key points in that it was not only the German lower and lower middle classes but also the middle, upper middle and highest classes who together voted, note the word "voted," Hitler into office. Once in office, Hitler took off on the paths which brought down the old world and tipped the balance to the new world framed by the emergent qualities of the United States of America. We are blessed by the positive aspects of American performance and character and cursed by seductions of empire now overwhelming civil society.

Reich notes, "Drop the mask of cultivation and it is not natural sociality that prevails at first, but only the perverse, sadistic character layer." Viz: today's headlines and pseudo-news. Further, "As a political movement fascism differs from other reactionary parties inasmuch as it is borne and championed by masses of people."

Always pertinent as a filter Reich suggests: "When a fascist character, regardless of hue, is heard sermonizing about 'the honor of the nation' (instead of talking about the honor of man) or the 'salvation of the sacred family and race' (instead of the community of toiling mankind); when he is seen puffing himself up and has chops full of slogans, let him be asked quietly and simply in public: 'What are you doing in a practical way to feed the nation, without murdering other nations? What are you doing as a physician to combat chronic diseases? What as an educator to intensify the child's joy of living? What as an economist to erase poverty? What as a social worker to alleviate the weariness of mothers who have too many children? What as an architect to promote hygienic conditions in living quarters?'"

What is abundantly clear to those who will read history as approximating events as they may have happened rather than having them appropriated to prove a point or advance a view held by the authors is that most Germans strongly supported Hitler and Nazi governance up until the end and, as too many events now suggest, long after. A reasonable confirmation of that assertion lies in the statistics of war production in Germany. Up until late spring 1945, in spite of the massive bombings of production sites and cities to terrorize the people as well as kill them, the production of war materials increased rather than decreased.

Nazi Germany is renowned for its quality and quantities of propaganda. Josef Goebbels was head of that branch of Nazi government. Goebbels frequently acknowledged that he built his systems on research of American advertising and public relations practices prevalent in the 1920s and early 1930s. Those techniques of mass control by propaganda in preference to force are now much perfected and in place. Media control is now thoroughly consolidated in the hands of those with very similar minds and assumptions, an oligarchy with a mission of self-preservation.

In 1945-46, the victorious and briefly world-dominant USA quickly moved to shield and usurp key figures from Nazi Germany in the shift of enemies from Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union. A vast cross-fertilization of technologies was undertaken. Most may know of the importation of rocket and nuclear scientists from Nazi laboratories while few may be aware of the insemination of psychological warfare and propaganda experts spirited into US positions. Nazi expertise was also quickly assimilated into numerous weapons systems and then very futuristic areas such as fuel cell technologies and exotic metallurgy among so many others. We owe significant debts to Nazi scientists in terms of exotic materials key to space flight and high performance engines, from turbines to jets and now beyond. The Nazi scientists were charged, as were (and are) Americans, with development of atomic and other technologies of mass destruction, willing to serve whatever master paid the stipends and provided the perquisites. Presently, scientists from the former Soviet Union are also making themselves available to the highest bidder.

Politics, too often framed in dualistic terms of Right and Left as though a linear continuum, was clearly identified by Wilhelm Reich as circular in nature with only a tiny gap separating Black Fascism from Red Fascism, as he called them. Those closest to that narrow gap differed only in naming the ways in which they seek dominance over others -- totalitarian, authoritarian, dictatorial. The word "fascism" is not popular presently even while the practices that characterize it emerge yet again.

As a better approximation of actualities, politics may be seen as many intersecting circles around axes or poles providing resting points for extremes. Imagine a globe as representing political actualities at any given time. The political alignments of a moment will be akin to latitudes and longitudes in one sense and approximations of weather systems forming and dissolving and reforming, east and west or west and east, north and south and south and north in tendencies.

The terms "Liberal" and "Conservative," "Right" and "Left" as well as all the mutations and permutations of such lineal approximations are simply silly when viewed from the perspectives of intersecting circles, some deeply ingrained, others peripheral and insubstantial.

Among the short sentences I use, readers may remember: "Attempting to solve problems using the tools, techniques and thoughts which create them is silly." Again I use the word "silly." One characteristic of history as it evolves is that yesterday's perspectives of truths are today's perspectives of silly. Today's responses to current events are clearly attempts to solve problems using the tools, techniques and thoughts which create them. As Albert Einstein once said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

An important experience for me came in 1984 when I spent a few weeks in London with a small group of refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. London's E-2 area has a vast history of sufferings. Successions of refugees from successions of conflicts over hundreds of years sought refuge in E-2. Nazi bombing was particularly heavy in this area as it was partly home to many Jewish refugees. In 1984, it was a much-devastated hell of tumbled-down buildings peopled mainly by refugees driven from their homelands by persecutions almost beyond naming. Even then a heavy proportion of those hiding there were from Islamic countries.

1984 was a mid-year for the Soviet incursion, to use a Kissinger/Nixon word for invasion, into Afghanistan. Pakistan was under control of its quite reactionary military, then highly dependent on American resources related to the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. Bangladesh, the severed eastern half of original post-independence Pakistan was simply a political and economic morass, as it remains.

The group I met there was about a dozen men mostly in their 30s and early 40s. All held Ph.D. degrees from distinguished American, British and European universities. They were magnificently schooled in the classics of Western Civilization and in cutting edge technologies. If I wanted to do anything significant in this world, I would recruit them in a minute and be assured of success. Need I note that those allegedly associated with bin Laden display similar profiles?

Yet, these men were refugees living in two squalid rooms on pittances gleaned from day labor of the most menial kinds. What brought them together? What held them together? The answer is critically significant in terms of today's events. Their cohesion came from a shared faith in Islam. We spent long evenings over endless cups of stomach-chewing tea within clouds of strong tobacco smoke talking, arguing and listening to each other with immense politeness. They worked very hard to convince me that Islam is a religion of love. They were a most loving group of men who would die willingly for their beliefs. They had little left to sacrifice having already lost family, community, culture and position.

Among potent factors which Americans as a whole cannot seem to understand is that we do not understand the actualities of so many others on whom our ways impinge disastrously.

Islam, somewhat similar to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and its practices, creates a deep sense of community and depth of belonging. It is a reference group in ways which remain foreign to Americans who have no roots in land or adherence to traditions requiring such profound commitment as Islam.

In my travels, being in Islamic areas was to experience degrees of palpable tension. The various mullahs and religious figures of Islam I have met are initially distant and suspicious. It takes a lot of intent on my part to calm myself enough to reach out. Yet, given an often seemingly begrudged degree of acceptant tolerance, nowhere have I been treated with more hospitality than among some of the Islamic peoples with whom I have been able to spend time.

I haven't mentioned Mortimer J. Adler very often. Early in his career, he was identified with the Great Books of the Western World and the programs related thereto which once characterized the University of Chicago and still echo at St. John's College - classical Liberal Arts or Humanities as viewed from the perspectives of Western History and Philosophy. Of particular relevance, given today's hysterics, is his Ten Philosophical Mistakes, almost all of which are being made yet again in response to recent violence directed at us. However, it is unlikely that the Connecticut cowboy camped in the White House keeps it by his bedside.

As previously described, more pertinent to today's issues is Adler's Haves without Have-Nots, Essays for the 21st Century on Democracy and Socialism [Macmillan, NY, 1991, ISBN 0-02-5005-61-8]. Key quote: "Political haves who are not also economic haves cannot discharge their duties as citizens."

If, as many have noted in many contexts, the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer along with all that goes with that rather accurate generalization, then economic have-nots although included in nominal suffrage have no political voice much less representation -- a statement reflective of American political actualities. Wherever what governs human behavior may be primarily focused on material circumstances, Adler's statement is appropriate.

Taken one step further, into religion and/or spiritual orientation as one parameter of human experience, material circumstances may not be the primary guidance of all human behavior. Whether here in terms of mostly Christian-oriented evangelical fundamentalisms or there in terms of mostly Islamic-oriented fundamentalisms, religious perspectives yield quite different behaviors than simply materialistic ones. Another lesson available is that characterizing Islam as a monolithic state of mind or religious orientation is about as simplistic as naming all Christians as of one mind.

Adler also offers a very significant reminder: he uses the word "Oligarchy." It is a very useful generalization much more pertinent and descriptive of political and economic actualities than "Right" and "Left," "Liberal" or "Conservative." Oligarchies are very consistent within history. No matter what called, oligarchy is a thread over time much as barbarity is a thread over time. There may even be some interconnections within oligarchy and barbarity.

A Connecticut Cowboy in the White House is, in actuality, a representation of oligarchy more than a political party. We are overwhelmed with comparisons between Republican and Democrat as meaningless. The leaderships of both political namings are Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum; that is, all are oligarchs of near similar values and practices. They differ primarily in whose versions of oligarchy will be dominant for any given time, whose coffers will be more enriched. In the White House, we have, quite by accident and rather blatant political manipulations, a Connecticut Cowboy instead of a Tennessee Hillbilly, that is, the grandson of Senator Bush of Connecticut and son of once C.I.A. Director then President Bush rather than the son of Senator Gore of Tennessee.

It may be pure historical coincidence but perhaps not. The last son of a prior president was John Quincy Adams. His father, John Adams, was an unabashed monarchist with little and less care much less concern for pseudo-democratic or quasi-republican forms of governance. He used his police authority and military forces as personal enforcers. Shall we have a repeat among sons now also presidents?

In the early 60s, on graduation from Harvard Business School, I worked for a communications holding company. The head of the company would be named among the "Press Lords" of the day. My senior staff position allowed me access to the inner chambers of many such press lords and the associations which fostered linkages among them and their staffs. There I learned of the "big Lie" about America's "Liberal" press. The Press Lords then and the much smaller number of Press Lords today are all men and women of power and prestige with little, if any, concern beyond what serves their particular interests in democracy, republic, justice, equality, government by, for and of the people - you name it. They are interested in perpetuating their oligarchy, period.

In a fairly recent Swans' commentary, I made the point that great numbers of people around the world are deeply motivated by a wish to be left alone by oligarchs of any coloration. They are so deeply motivated that we have enormous struggles represented in the histories of post-colonial China, India, Vietnam and parts of Turkic and Islamic referenced areas of the planet. I have noted the swath from Aegean to Bering Seas as a particular example of the deeply held wish to be left alone to work out their particular ways. It is notable that rarely, unless forced, will others, now us, leave them alone.

As it is a grand and very ignorant as well as arrogant error to lump Christians or Islamics into one camp, it is likewise quite ignorant to lump the various peoples within the political borders we call "Afghanistan" as some kind of monolith. There are many and much shifting alliances and allegiances among those peoples. The largest groupings are nominally linked by speaking a family of languages which some call "Pushtu." The Brits called them "Pathans." Practicing their characteristic colonial strategy of divide and conquer, the Brits created political fantasies known as borders which separated the Pushtu speakers into what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan. That separation may now come home to haunt us, the successors of the Brits out there. The Taliban, among other salient characteristics are Pushtu speakers.

Afghanistan's southern and middle areas are normally under control of Pushtu peoples. This does not in any way suggest they share common views on almost any subject, perhaps excluding Islam. The northern parts of Afghanistan are nominally populated by peoples more Turkic in languages who share some characteristics with Tajiks and Uzbeks, all of whom are immediately ready and often eager to murder each other in most unpleasant ways. The so-called "opposition" to the Pushtu Taliban are primarily Tajiks and Uzbeks. If there is anyone whom either are ready to tear from limb to limb, or to impale in the most medieval of senses, it is the other. A phrase emblematic of the area is, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

History reveals that these folks have tended to get it together only when someone outside attempts to take over. Genghis Khan was among the earliest to learn the folly of taking them on by invading uninvited. The Brits tried several times to assert control and suffered staggering losses in people and materials. The Soviets tried in the bloody ten years of 1979-89 and were driven out. All have found, to their regret, that all the king's men and all the king's horses were quite unable to put Humpty Dumpty together again in Afghanistan.

Back to oligarchy: One puzzlement available about post-colonial countries nearly everywhere is that the assimilated elites left behind by the departed Colonial powers, tend to be worse in terms of oppressing their peoples, if possible, than the colonials. Also, that the departing colonial powers and their successors tend, nearly everywhere, to support those oligarchies of the assimilated. What links all this puzzlement is the commonality of oligarchies. The essential criteria have nothing or very little pragmatically to do with whether or not a local oligarchy is today democratic or republican or tomorrow fascist or whatever, only that the oligarchy have the approval of the oligarchy dominant in their area at any given time.

When the dominant oligarchy, viz: USA, gets pissed at one of "our" installed oligarchies, the usual reaction is to overthrow it and install another. It usually works, for a while anyhow. Not always, though. I am watching to see if push will meet shove.

We need the oil from Saudi Arabia and Central Asia. We need the balancing act of Egypt. We don't need the rubble of Afghanistan. Realpolitik.

Time for a pahu session.


[Ed. Note: This is the second part of a four-part essay: Previous « - » Next]


       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

What Would You do if You Were in Charge? - by Gilles d'Aymery

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Sparrow - by Michael W. Stowell

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I'm Against Terrorism: Now, If Only We Could Get Washington On Side - by Stephen Gowans

Preface: Bingo! Simplicity Itself; Oligarchy - by Milo Clark

The Presidential Speech - by Milo Clark

Afterword: Function of Failures - by Milo Clark

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Milo Clark's Commentaries on Swans

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Published October 15, 2001
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