Staring at the Stars

by Milo Clark

November 12, 2001


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Freedom of speech is real. We are free, within reasonable bounds, to say or to write pretty much what we please. Others are quite free to ignore what we say or write. They do.

To discriminate, however, there are certain guidelines. Careful research is shown by attributions including identifications, bibliography, sense of situation and evenness of writing. Opinion is identified. Statements can be checked and crosschecked against references. It helps to question ourselves as thoroughly as we question others.

That our freedoms, however identified, are presently being reduced still again is a crime for which we are yet to be sentenced. And, important to note, we still have more freedoms than the vast majority sharing this planet with us at this time. I am including myself within "we."

I am very aware that there are many people out there with whom I would be uncomfortable if not quite scared. While I share many concerns with people in that category, I would not assume they would be nice to me. I have met some very imposing, very angry, very different people. More than a few times, I have been very frightened, felt very alone, quite defenseless.

Having earned positions on various hitlists and shitlists over the years, I tell myself I know who to avoid on dark streets or rural roads. Telling myself such things is only momentarily comforting since I am also aware that such folks are shapeshifters worthy of a Tony Hillerman novel.

I would not like to encounter many of the Vietnamese who spent their entire adult lives, if they survived, in conflict with French and then American forces. Apology is weakness to them. We stand as we are now, not as we may have been then. And, at the same time, I would be willing to test that assumption.

I would not expect to be welcomed into many villages in many places given my white face and American appearance. And, yet, to be honest, there were times when I walked into such villages almost expecting trouble and finding welcome instead. Have to watch thought forms in times like these. Knowing that a dog can tell when people are frightened, I know that I can neither show nor feel fear in those moments. Not easy, though. Works with most dogs, works with some people.

I much admire Kaplan for his persistence on seeking out places where his white face and American passport tend to carry negative values. I don't know that I could do it any more. Too old. Too settled. Too comfortable. Too willing to let others do my work now.

Most frightening to me would be many denizens lurking in the dark bowels of American and other governments to whom my thinking is anathema. I am not saying there is anything special about me. I am saying that thinking, per se, is dangerous. These are the folks who have more consistently and too often successfully made my life miserable from time to time. Too often an observer could say that I asked for it and got it. I know that.

I don't believe in guns although I once knew how to use guns. I don't trust guns. To carry a gun is an admission, in my terms, of failure. Yet, there was one time when I went out and bought an effective short rifle. I even dumdumed a few boxes of ammunition (very carefully, I might add). It was a sobering experience. I had to admit my fear was very near. I had been had — by myself, primarily. I could have gone along. I could have stayed inside the oligarchy and profited materially. The gun was soon sold. I dumped the dumdum bullets. In that sense, I stand naked.

Here is a real difference. No matter who I pissed off and how I managed to do it, I could walk away. Sobering and escapist. The wonderful people I met in the civil rights struggles within American states, north and south, had courage I didn't need. They stayed. The desperately crushed peoples I have known in my travels had little choice but to stay. Some stood tall in spite of everything unleashed upon them. Too many were simply crushed, soul pressed out of them.

The strong and effective leadership I met in Cabrini Green housing in Chicago during the riots after Martin [Luther King] was assassinated had strength I couldn't maintain. Within the Black Panthers and parallel Chicano organizations, I watched truly beautiful people harassed, in some cases, literally to death. A few days on Lakota reservations or within the back country of Diné clans, revealed people I lacked the courage to stay among.

I have mentioned the dozen men crammed into two rooms of London's anciently miserable E-2, refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, all PhDs, living in utter misery, barely managing food money for themselves and still sending money home to family. These were not ignorant or primitive men. These were excellent men. I suppose we would now call them Islamic fundamentalists. I suppose they would now join the many being detained, incognito, in isolation cells. They were and, I hope, are good men. We loved each other as men will.

A good friend at Harvard Business School was a Pathan or Pustu from Afghanistan. He was tall; big in the sense that comes from strength more than from pumping iron in a gym. He wanted the skills he was learning to take home to his family. His family, like the others, was defined not by nation-state, i.e. Afghanistan. It was defined by his family, his clan, his tribe.

I am lost when I try to identify family, clan or tribe. I remember people who have flashed across my life like meteors, making great impacts which sustain my questions. Otherwise, they are mostly now unavailable except in memory. Is this loneliness?

I would believe and trust these people, these men and women, much more than I trust present American leadership; the leadership taking us down a grim road into history today. These people, given my excellent Eastern establishment education and upbringing, may be as close to family, clan and tribe as possible for me and my kind. Perhaps it is knowing them so well that makes me distrust.

There, I said it.



       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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Milo Clark's Commentaries on Swans

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Essays published in 1996


Published November 12, 2001
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