Up until now, ruling well the seething mass of humanity was a practical impossibility. Even the best-run States tarnished their virtue with lies and their justice with violence. Given the white noise blare of weapon mentality, abuse and terror became routine methods of social control. There were so many competing demands, distractions and contradictions to deal with! Expectations of wisdom and fairness became “unrealistic.”
“One reason the Kennedy and Johnson administrations failed to take an orderly, rational approach to the basic questions underlying Vietnam was the staggering variety and complexity of other issues we faced. Simply put, we faced a blizzard of problems, there were only twenty-four hours in a day, and we often did not have time to think straight.
“This predicament is not unique to the administrations in which I served, or to the United States. It has existed at all times and in most countries. I have never seen a thoughtful examination of the problem. It existed then, it exists today, and it ought to be recognized and planned for when organizing a government.” Robert S. McNamara, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, Times Books, 1995, page xvii, (reprinted by permission; italics mine).
The Chinese government has often held the dubious distinction of governing ten times more people than the next largest State on Earth. There wasn’t any choice. Its civilization has endured, no matter how badly degraded and at war with itself, for longer than any other empire in human history. It had also been hammered by waves of weapon barbarians. Among others, the Hsiung-nu and Hsien-pi in the 4th Century CE, the Toba in the 5th, the Khitan in the 10th, the Kin the 12th and the Manchu during the 17th — who overran all of China in just five years.
The most candid expression of Chinese weapon management, called the School of Law, emerged during the Warring States period of weapon chaos, circa 450-300 BCE. At that time, tens of millions of Chinese died at each other’s hands in all-out war, subsequent famine and pestilence. Shang Yang, Prime Minister of the Chin Empire, listed only two government functions: warfare and agriculture. He reduced governance to two key functions: regimenting as many killers as possible and feeding them. His so-called Legalist philosophy was comparable to modern Western “political realism.”
Not bad for a nation whose different warring factions had buried alive an army of 200,000 surrendered rebels, and done so twice! And let famine carry off thirty million countrymen in five years, twice? A matchless motivation to attend slightly better to business next time. I leave you to image the ghost-haunted nightmares of the leadership at the time.
Weapon mentors of the Chinese Warring States Period would have found congenial company comparing notes with today’s reactionaries — assuming such racist paranoids could talk freely with strangers.
Dollar democrats may call themselves (Banana) Republican, (Corporate) Democrat, Neo-Liberal (thus corporate elitists), Conservative, Labour, Radical Populist, Institutional Revolutionary, People’s Party cadres, feudal monarchists, fascist militarists or imperial totalitarians. At the bottom of their calculations lurks a morbid fear of war-to-the-death between the haves and the have-nots. The only difference between left- and right-wingers is their projection of who will more likely “win” this war; even though no-one, rich or poor, has ever come out ahead during such a stupid and destructive conflict.
That said, most Chinese political thought has devoted itself to peace, social harmony and a sane and sober personal outlook. The bamboo-like flexibility of Mohist and Taoist doctrines rival the best philosophies offered elsewhere.
Weapon managers have published stacks of works written by weapon philosophers (and not much else). Mencius stands head and shoulders above them all. His work is one of China’s greatest glories. A culture less magnificent might have discarded it as mere peace mentality. As they say in the Anglo-Saxon world: “Yours is not a commercial project.”
“Emperor Hui of Liang said: ‘I’ve devoted myself entirely to the care of my nation. If there’s famine north of the river, I move people east of the river and grain north of the river. And if there’s famine east of the river, I do the opposite. I’ve never seen such devotion in the governments of neighboring countries, but their populations are growing by leaps and bounds while mine hardly grows at all. How can this be?’
‘You’re fond of war,’ began Mencius, ‘so perhaps I could borrow an analogy from war. War drums rumble, armies meet, and just as swords clash, soldiers throw down their armor and flee, dragging their weapons behind them. Some run a hundred feet and stop. Some run fifty feet and stop. Are those who run fifty feet justified in laughing at those who run a hundred feet?’
‘No, of course not,’ replied the emperor. ‘It’s true they didn’t run the full hundred feet, but they still ran.’
‘If you understood this, you wouldn’t long to have more people than neighboring countries. Look – when growing seasons aren’t ignored, people have more grain than they can eat. When ponds aren’t plundered with fine-weave nets, people have more fish and turtles than they can eat. When mountain forests are cut according to their seasons, people have more timber than they can use. When there’s more grain and fish than they can eat, and more timber than they can use, people nurture life and mourn death in contentment. People nurturing life and mourning death in contentment – that’s where the Way of Emperor begins.’
‘When every five-acre farm has mulberry trees around the farmhouse, people wear silk at fifty. And when the proper seasons of chickens and pigs and [livestock] are not neglected, people eat meat at seventy. When hundred-acre farms never violate their proper seasons, even large families don’t go hungry. Pay close attention to the teaching in village schools, and extend it to the child’s family responsibilities – then, when their silver hair glistens, people won’t be out on roads and paths hauling heavy loads. Our black-haired people free of hunger and cold, wearing silk and eating meat at seventy – there have never been such times without a true emperor.’
‘But you don’t think about tomorrow, when people are feeding surplus grain to pigs and dogs. So when people are starving to death in the streets, you don’t think about emptying storehouses to feed them. People die, and you say It’s not my fault, it’s the harvest. How is this any different from stabbing someone to death and saying It’s not me, it’s the sword? Stop blaming harvests, and people everywhere under Heaven will come flocking to you.’” Mencius, p. 6.
Confucianism, however, stresses the application of political power in private and public settings. Until the advent of Communism, Chinese politics skipped administrative requirements entirely. It relied on Mandarin ideals to mold a homogenous, centralized bureaucracy and infuse it into society from top to bottom. This cookie cutter approach favored individual perfection, strong government and rigid social cohesion through inflexible father figures and submissive subordinates at every level.
For China and other complex empires, the only alternatives appeared to be:
· Centralize decision-making. Drive control out of the hands of those at the grass roots, with the best grasp of the situation. Operate by fiat and suffer from inevitable command-control delays.
· Decentralize control. In the absence of efficient communications, set competing interests against each other, pile up dearth and surplus in different regions and let parochial conflicts escalate to chaotic levels of turbulence.
· Give up. Throughout the ages, horse, chariot and junk-borne nomads waited in the wings, eager to upend any Chinese dynasty whose devotion to militarism faltered. During China’s recent past, the first industrialized nations of the Western world assumed that role.
· When civil war did not induce the requisite weakness, some combination of famine, flood and plague did the trick http://www.physorg.com/news198301240.html.
Even though China is famous for the diligence, genius and self-discipline of its people (singularly like those in France), this passive-aggressive dilemma triggered frequent bouts of warlord anarchy. A lack of valid alternatives brought on seesaw conflict between blindness at the center and decentralized rapaciousness. This has always been the case in complex societies.
No absolutist doctrine can respond to all the dilemmas of the human condition. As each has tried to micro-manage the infinite complexities of human experience by stacking up patriarchal imperatives “thou shalt always” and “thou shalt never”, those commands wound up derailing each other.
Authoritarian doctrine is just a contemptible attempt to simplify extremely complex issues to the norms of an inflexible dogma. Might as well go swimming wearing cement overshoes; or, as the Chinese say: “Bind your feet to prevent your own progress.”
Free global Learning may be the only way to remedy our sorry tendency to reduce fractal reality into rigid, simplistic formulae. Rather than attempt to jam every personality down some narrow mold of acceptable behavior; social frameworks that are strong, flexible and coherent should buttress the unique talents of everyone; they should illuminate their aspirations, seek out and reward their most passionate contributions.
By Learner’s forecast, many developing nations may erect gigantic, city-swallowing mega-structures described in Robert Silverberg’s The World Inside. A mini working model may be Paolo Soleri’s arcology, Arcosanti.
We could witness an orderly and fair ingathering of massive populations within enormous structures set on stiletto heels as opposed to the flatfoot sprawl of today’s cities. In that case, outlying territories could be reassigned to agriculture and the restoration of climax ecology with much lower human populations. Personal and collective security within these giant conurbations will depend on luxury accommodations both physical and political that transferees will find in their new domain. Their enthusiastic cooperation will sustain the good life. Halfway measures and cost-cutting compromises overwritten with habitual doses of compulsion and regimentation will bring on disasters more lethal than those wrought by the Khmer Rouge.
Likewise, the USA, China, Europe and the Tigers of Asia will help bootstrap the inhabitants of Africa, Latin America and what used to be Communist Eurasia out of the misery that has been their fate up ‘til now. These new Marshall Plans will resemble in cost and affect the economic development plans that boosted Western Europe, Japan and the Little Tigers back to their feet after World War II (sic). Self-interest will dictate that healthy new economies sprout from these pauperized regions. They promise enormous new markets for First World goods and services.
We must discover new energy industries before the current ones choke us. Third World Learners will sustain this tropical front of renewal.
In Columbia, the Gaviotas commune has offered a remarkable scale-model of such native-generated transformation. See Alan Weisman, Gaviotas: A Village to Rebuild the World, Chelsea Green Publishing Co., Vermont, 1998. Paolo Lugari’s blessed Gaviotas. Also Nader Khalili, with his Dome of Rumi in Arizona.
Learners will multiply and refine these brilliant first efforts in millions of developing communities. Their masterworks will enrich us beyond imagining and make us that much wiser.