Two Areas of Commentary: Barbarism and Joinin' 'em

by Milo Clark

October 29, 2001


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Bill McKibben has speculated, accurately in many dimensions, that development in the Western, colonial, Savage Capitalist models has already gone too far. With no turning back likely or pragmatically probable, joinin' 'em has a higher probability of selling books and retaining academic seats than doom saying. Stewart Brand and William Irwin Thompson are among prominent names picking out seats among the joiners.

Given that childbirth is said to be too painful, why do women persist in having babies? If the last war was devastating, why start the next one? Rhetorical questions. Ask a dumb question to get a dumb answer. For clues, watch skirt heights and dramatic content of theatrical productions. Watch high level manipulations holding up a still quite overvalued equity market. See the props under a very shaky financial system once again flooded with bad loans to the same sets of villains from the last sets of bad loans. See government pressures being applied to "forgive" bad debt to foreign governments enlisting in the war on terrorism or to set up bailouts for various segments of domestic economies once again brought short by over-leveraged operations.

What is development? Forms of accommodation to felt pressures for space to occupy. Fiddle with "space" and "occupy" as multidimensional variables. I don't think I want to go down that road much further. Let's try messing with whatever was before development and let it go at that. Unlikely we can get back to whatever that may have been, assuming it ever may have been.

If you want to play down those lines, try two by Vine Deloria, Jr., too often type-cast as an Injun writer: Spirit and Reason, the Vine Deloria, Jr. Reader, and his quite obscure and priceless work, The Metaphysics of Modern Existence. The latter has been in process of being republished for many years.

Barbarism, what is that? The obvious set of responses deals with in-close brutality carried to larger dimensions. Hacking up a Tutsi with a machete is in-close barbarity. Hacking up lots of folks with shrapnel and such billowing out of cluster bombs dropped from 30,000 feet is what?

Hutus think it is ok to hack up Tutsis. We think it is ok to hack up whomever we are presently bombing. Perspectives again. I'll say that both examples are barbarous. And, then again, I am neither Hutu nor bombing advocate.

Let's try civilized barbarities. As we advance in philosophical distinctions and develop more sophisticated relationships, we mask barbarities with many forms of sophistry. Dickens wrote about crude but civilized barbarities prevailing as an industrial revolution drove English peasants from commons to factories. Adam Smith, professor of moral philosophy, finished only two of his planned trilogy on moral philosophy as seen from the late 1700s C.E. We remember and distort only one: An Inquiry into the Wealth of Nations, his outraged cry for a cooperative society, a civil society.

Western forms of warfare developed from a sort of civilized barbarity, gallant knights and such, into a mechanized and now electronic barbarity featuring armored transport and stealth bombers. Rosinante is pastured, Quixote's sword and shield are hung up. We have run that one perhaps to a logical extreme.

What goes around, comes around. Handheld weapons in determined hands are making sophistication and specialization in weaponry less secure in application. Business analysts will provide many examples of over-differentiated and capital intensive technologies proven inadequate for flexible responses to changing conditions.

Compare a WWII Willys Jeep to a Humvee or a Jenny to a F-14, a Huey to an Apache. Weaponry once relatively inexpensive is replaced by very expensive, capital-intensive, training-sensitive limited application gadgets. If one functionally illiterate raghead holding one American made anti-armor or anti-aircraft rocket launcher with one American made rocket can take out one Black Hawk or Apache helicopter, advantage goes to the raghead. Lose enough pawns and checkmate!

Still No. 1 in international arms sales, the US makes sure there is no shortage of launchers and rockets on the markets open to "terrorists." If not American-made, then the same markets are flooded with supplies flowing from the No.2 (U.K.) and No. 3 (Russia) of world arms suppliers along with all the also-rans from China to India and including France and Germany without leaving out Japan's surplus from its self-defense forces. And we don't even talk about the arms aftermarkets. Should arms sales be included on the lists of barbarity?

Civilized barbarities may include denial of education to poorer students, restricting health care to wealthier folks, planting toxic facilities in poor neighborhoods, shall I go on? Civilized barbarity is taking the forms of Savage Capitalism, global economy, economic hegemony, etc.

OK, let's look at joinin' 'em. My initial inclination on graduating from Harvard Business School was to work for positive change from within. How naive! I am still disturbed to note that most HBS graduates are primarily motivated to get their share and then perhaps donate to charities or collect art, sponsor operas and symphonies (tax deductible) for the betterment of society (pun intended).

Joinin' 'em means surrendering more than joining in the sense of being a participant. My early steps revealed conditions which I found abhorrent up close. I finally understood that there are millions and millions of folks quite content, in their own ways, to be part and parcel of civilized barbarities.

In sooth, it is pretty hard to enjoy the material benefits of a comfortable life without inheriting money or running up a surviving dot.com. Can't meet the mortgage without being a joiner of sorts. If nothing else, participating in consumer credit makes one a joiner in that it takes a steady job to make payments (that is, if your daddy didn't leave you a bundle). Assuming, of course, that there isn't some level of awareness that life within a civilized barbarity is a form of barbarity – which, for most, it isn't until confronted with some of the hard edges thereof. Keepers of brothers or sisters, in the Biblical sense, may be scarce.

I am heartened that some $400,000,000 has poured into various relief and other funds dedicated to helping the survivors of WTC and Pentagon horrors. I am also aware that other charities are reporting lower receipts. Quid pro quo. Should we add focused philanthropy to the list of barbarities?

Where to go with any of this puzzlement? Recognizing that the nature of actuality is paradox may be somewhat comforting momentarily. Noting that all of this stuff is happening elsewhere and to others is also, to a degree, comforting. The probability that we are unlikely to be impacted more than peripherally is comforting.

Join 'em and relax. Problem is turning off in the process.



       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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Published October 29, 2001
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