12: The Company occupies Myanmar


Social Devastation

Myanmar: “The humans who had inhabited my lands for so long, called the Burmese by the invading British, were devastated by this turn of events. They were a proud people - having been independent of any larger power for their entire history. Now the ruling British required my people to call them Thakin, which meant master. My people were their slaves.

Besides being enslaved, as if that weren’t bad enough, their traditional society had also been destroyed. For nearly two thousand years, the different cultures that inhabited my land, whether Pyu, Burmese, Shan or Mon, had always had a king. Below the king had been the governors of the provinces, followed by chieftains of a collection of villages, followed by the hereditary headsmen of each village. These headsmen took advise from elders and monks. This system had worked very well to take care of everyone’s needs.

In some ways, it was like a representative democracy. The headsman of the village goes before the chieftain with his people’s needs, who in turn represents his collection of villages before the governor, who in turn represents his province before the king. While the king might be Burmese, Shan or Mon, they always respected the local village organization, as long as there was no resistance to their leadership. And there normally wasn’t. Soldiers with their kings fought the battles. My villagers just tended their rice and their trade.

Our King was the ultimate political power. All the land was his. Because of this there were no hereditary nobles to threaten the peace or attempt to seize control. However, the power of the king was checked by local customs, which exerted a strong influence on the behavior of my populace. Because of the strength of these customs, laws were not necessary. As such the king could only issue edicts - and these might fade with his death. Also the Buddhist monks, who were the teachers in our schools, could freely criticize the king without fear of reprisal.

This freedom of expression ended with the British occupation. The British suspected everyone of being sympathetic with the rebels. And most of us were. We considered the rebels to be freedom fighters. Hence, any criticism of the British rule was treated severely – mostly with executions, dislocation, or imprisonment. These consequences ended any type of constructive discussion.

Along with freedom of speech, the British occupation also limited our freedom of religion. Prior to their arrival, we had been a Buddhist country, but had tolerated any belief system. However after we became a province of India, they attempted to convert our entire country to Christianity. Not by gentle persuasion but by military coercion. They eliminated our schools, which had been run by our Buddhist monks for nearly 2000 years. They said they were the root of rebellion - which they probably were. They replaced them with Christian missionary schools, which my people were forced to attend. Of course, the missionaries criticized Buddhism as an inferior pagan religion.

When my country became a province of India in 1886, my people experienced a double blow. The British eliminated our king and our religion of Buddhism. These two complementary elements had been the foundation of our society. Undermining our social structure in this dual fashion led to cultural disintegration, unprecedented in our history.

Our king, as well as being a conqueror, was also expected to be a patron of Buddhism. This was a common thread throughout the Southeast Asian kingdoms. The ruler, whether devaraja, Bodhisattva, or just a king, was expected to facilitate the spiritual growth of his subjects. This frequently manifested as temple building and sponsorship of Buddhist monasteries. The State and Church combined to work for the good of the entire population, not just a particular class. This is why the separation of church and state was such a devastatingly bitter blow for my people.”

Greedily Believing the 'Feel Good' Lie

British East India Company: “This is why we had to separate the two. Otherwise we would never have been able to subjugate and dominate your country.”

Myanmar: “But I thought that the British were supposed to be a civilizing influence on the planet.”

The Company: “Don’t be naive. That’s just what we tell the people back home so that they can feel good and not get in the way of our enterprises. We are all about maximizing profits. This includes minimizing costs. And what is more economical than a country filled with an indigenous population that can be repurposed as slaves, er I mean workers.

I don’t want our moralistic countrymen to get the wrong idea. After all, they banned slavery over a hundred years ago. If they found out the truth, they might cut our funding.

But as long as the stockholder profits are strong, they would rather not know the truth. Motivated by greed, the people back home will believe anything we tell them no matter how implausible it is. As a matter of fact, the bigger the lie the more likely they’ll fall for it, as long as the money continues to flow into their coffers.

It’s disturbing when the truth runs counter to their self-conceptions. The public wants to believe that their God is good - that they are compassionate and kind and that their country is working diligently to civilize the more barbaric sections of the planet.

Self-delusion spawned by cognitive dissonance is an amazing human phenomenon. On one hand humans want to accumulate wealth; on the other, they want to think of themselves as good people. Often satisfying both of these desires becomes mutually exclusive. To resolve this dilemma, we tell them a ‘feel-good’ lie. It’s easy to manipulate the public in this fashion. We play them like a concert violinist plays his instrument.”

Humans, Country or Company? Who’s in charge?

Myanmar: “So you tricked the people of your country to support your exploitation of indigenous populations throughout the world by appealing to their innate greed combined with their sense of moral superiority.”

Company: “Exactly. This is the nose ring by which we lead them.”

Myanmar: “But that’s misleading. I would even go as far to say that it is immoral according to most universal standards.”

Company: “So? I have no morals. I am just a Company - a business. You can’t hold me to any human standards of morality because I am not a human.”

Myanmar: “Neither am I. Thank the Earth. But you are made up of humans.”

Company: “But I have a life of my own. The humans that make me up are just the cells of my body. While I am a corporation of humans, I am not a human. My agenda is much different than theirs. I really don’t care about humans except as they serve my survival and growth.”

Myanmar: “But aren’t you an extension of the humans who make up your country?”

Company: “Landmass, you’ve got a lot to learn. First of all I am separate from what you call ‘my country’. The landmass of Great Britain, which houses the many humans that are connected to me, is my supply center for goods and humans. Yet it is not my brain. Saying that I am an extension of my country is like saying that humans are an extension of their marketplaces or grocery stores.”

Myanmar: “But what about your name, the British East India Trading Company.”

Company: “It just indicates who my parent is. That’s all. Think of me as a college student who has left home, has his own life, but still needs parental support.”

Myanmar: “But the parents are still in control.”

Company: “Really? That’s what the parents would like to believe. But the reality is quite different. The child has ties to their parents, yet is independent of them”

Myanmar: “But what if the parents cut off funds? Then the student must bow to parental demands.”

Company: “Or seek funding elsewhere. For instance they can get a job. Or they can deceive their parents by pretending to comply or offering some plausible explanations or rationalizations for their unacceptable behavior. This is the route we have chosen.”

Myanmar: “This is a bit abstract for me. I’m a bit dense. I’m just a landmass.”

Company: “Pursuing our analogy. Suppose the family threatens to cut off funds because the child drops out of school or they find out he is using their money for drugs. The student can comply by going back to school and ceasing drug use. Or the student can apologize by saying that his drug use has stopped and that he is making plans to reenter school, while all the time his behavior remains the same.”

Myanmar: “But won’t the parents find out?”

Company: “Maybe - maybe not. The distance makes it very hard for the parents to check up on their child. They must rely on third hand reports, which are notoriously corrupted, or on their child’s reports, which are, of course, designed to support his agenda. Our Company is so far away from Britain that they really have no idea what we’re doing out in the field.”

Myanmar: “But since you’re made up of humans don’t you manifest human characteristics?”

Company: “No more than you manifest the characteristics of dirt or humans manifest the personality of their cells. Your attributes are much more determined by your mountain ranges, rivers, and the bodies of water that surround you than by the individual water molecules or the bits of minerals that make you up.”

Myanmar: “The whole is much more than the sum of its parts.”

Company: “The whole is of a different character than the sum of its parts - not just more than.”

Myanmar: “So your collection of humans has turned you into a profit generator, while the humans who inhabit me have turned me into a country. In turn, the country attempts to provide for the welfare of the individual humans that make it up.”

Company: “Yes and no. Both your country and my company have become more important than the individuals that they consist of. This is why your humans will sacrifice themselves in battle for their country. And this is why my humans will relinquish all the moral values that they have been raised with to serve my profits. Your country will outlive the humans that make it up, just as my company will outlive the humans that make me up, or even the country which spawned me.”

Myanmar: “I have so much to learn about this human species and their groups.”

Colonialism: ‘Free’ Market replaces Redistribution Economy

Company: “The dynamic between my company and your country has determined our interactions much more than the individuals that comprise us. For instance, the humans in my company might have been individually quite sympathetic to the humans of your country. But my profit priorities transformed or corrupted their behavior - depending on perspective.”

Myanmar: “Greed obviously corrupted their morals.”

Company: “The corruption is from your perspective, not my profit-based perspective.”

Myanmar: “The country I spawned was based on a redistribution or command economy. This meant that the relative prosperity of my people rose and fell together, as a group - rather than one class benefiting at the expense of another. This system prevents severe hardship to any class of society. When the rich get richer, so do the poor. When the rich get poorer, so do the poor. More equality.”

Company: “This economic system is quite different from my profit generating agenda, where profits reign supreme - independent of the humans which make me up.”

Myanmar: “Should we say diametrically opposed? In a ‘command’ economy, the means of production is publicly owned. A central authority controls economic activity. My country’s rulers ask these questions: How much do we have and how will we distribute it? In this case, the consumer does not determine the types of products produced and their prices. . Further, the government determines availability. Many times an elite group, such as the king and his advisors, will ‘command’ that a product be produced and distributed. The needs and desires of the consumer are only involved in an oblique way - such as a petition to the state. After hearing petitions from the various provinces, our king and his court would issue a decree or command to produce certain goods and services. In other words, the purchasing power of the public does not determine the growth of goods and services. The exchange of goods is not driven by supply and demand. Central planning leads our economy not spontaneous growth. This is the opposite from the supply demand economies of your Western democracies.”

Company: “Obviously. The ‘command’ economy works well for a small homogenous country, like yours, but results in inefficiencies and shortages for larger countries. It is entirely unworkable for a global economy, where my business thrives. To bring your people into the world-wide market, we were forced by financial necessity to change your country’s economic system.”

Myanmar: “Yeah, you forced my people to accept your system at the point of a gun.”

Company: “Of course. To justify our actions to our home office located in Great Britain, we called your country, and others like it, a dictatorship. We reported that your people had no freedom to choose and we would be willing to act as their liberators.”

Myanmar: “But this ‘command’ economy worked well for my people.”

Company: “But not for us. And we had better guns. Plus your redistribution economy was really bad for our profits. A government is said to have a redistribution economy when the state continually redistributes the wealth of the country. This could be land, goods, or money. Or it could be that the wealth of the country is redistributed into temples and monasteries. Those who like this system say that it spreads the wealth around. Yuck! Usually redistribution means taking money from the rich, who have an excess, and giving it to the poor, who have a deficit. However, we like the idea of redistributing the money from the poor, who always seem to be able to get by, and giving it to the rich, who always need more.

In general a redistribution economy is bad for the Company because they redistribute our profits, which, in essence, minimizes them. This is evil, in terms of our morals. We try to vilify a redistribution economy by saying that it takes money from the hardworking and gives it to the lazy. In later years, we evoked the fear of Communism. Unfortunately for your people, this style of economy was embedded in the society, religion, and politics of your country.”

Myanmar: “Why do you say unfortunately? The prices of the most important commodities were set by the state so that basic needs were affordable for all. The mechanism of supply and demand, which tends to drive prices up, making things unaffordable to the poor, was unimportant to my people. This meant that trade was secondary to agrarian self-sufficiency. This system worked quite well for my small country of humans for thousands of years. This was good.”

Company: “Good for your people; but bad for our profits. And because it was bad for our profits, we had to change things around. Because this redistribution economy was so embedded in your social order, your people resisted it. We were forced by our morals based on profits to exterminate them.”

Myanmar: “This is why the impact of your British company on my people was so disastrous. It changed the way my humans had been operating for as long they had been a political unit.”

Company: “Yes, human beings are just so resistant to change that it causes them great turmoil. But while these changes were disastrous for your populace, it was great for us. Now instead of your economy being relatively self sufficient and enclosed in its own little world, we made it part of our vast colonial export economy. This tied your economy to global forces, which magnified our obscenely large profits exponentially.”

Myanmar: “For instance.”

Company: “Let’s take rice as an example. We conquered your country to exploit the overland route to China. However after numerous pathetic attempts, we realized that there was no real golden road from Burma to China. It seemed that most of the goods flowed by way of the numerous Hill Tribes who inhabited the fingers of the Himalayas. These huge mountain ranges acted as boundaries between the variety of countries and cultures in the general vicinity. There was no real river or road that could be employed for trade between China and Southeast Asia.

Undaunted, we shifted our focus to the one thing your people do best - grow rice. Soon after we established control of Pegu, we began exporting rice. There was a 25% rise in the price by 1857. But in this year we only had 60,000 acres of rice under cultivation. After we opened the Suez Canal in 1869, this created a growing international demand for rice. By 1890, the price of rice had increased by 200% and with it our land under cultivation had grown over a hundred fold. At the peak, we had 10 million acres producing rice. The prices continued to rise, along with our profits, until the Great Depression of 1929. Gotta love the free market economy.”

Myanmar: “Free? It doesn’t sound so free to me. You forced it down our throats with the barrel of your rifles pointed at our heads. If any of us resisted, you opened fire indiscriminately. I’m beginning to weep at this travesty.”

Company: “It’s called free market because prices rise and fall freely based upon supply and demand. It’s the natural way.”

Myanmar: “Your system was not natural at all. You imposed it on my country.”

Company: “Don’t get moral with us. If it hadn’t been us, it would have someone else. Many of us were and are competing to exploit your self-sufficient national economies. The coming of our free market economy was inevitable, enforced as it was by our superior military technology.”

Myanmar: “How can you look yourself in the mirror knowing all the suffering that you caused in my country?”

Company: “Remember, although made up of humans, I am not human. I was set up to generate profits, not to protect humans from each other and their environment. All of my morals are based around the business of money.”

Myanmar: “I would be ashamed to be a Company such as yourself.”

Company: “I have no shame either because I am disembodied entity with no emotions. Further, my humans have rationalized their behavior by saying that the profits that my company has generated have been reinvested in the infrastructure of your country. We have built roads and railroads. We have also created canals with steamboats. You and your people should be thankful that we have brought your backward country into the international marketplace.”

Myanmar: “Yes, our infrastructure did develop rapidly, but my humans didn’t benefit. You built roads and railroads for the rapid deployment of troops to suppress any insurrection. And there were no profits for us. All the steamboats and railways were owned by the British, as well as the firms, which were in charge of our natural resources, such as oil and timber. Your profit orientation also took a serious toll on my ecology. Besides nearly exhausting my ruby mines, your obsession with rice profits eliminated my ancient mangrove forests located on my delta. Eco-destruction seems to accompany your money grubbing ways. The move into the international marketplace, while enriching your people, has impoverished mine.”

Company: “Just generating profits like I’m intended to do. Besides your people participated in the rice frenzy.”

Myanmar: “But it did them no good. They just acted as your unwitting slaves. Because of the global demand for rice, our traditional power and population base shifted from the north to the delta. My people were encouraged or forced to move south to support themselves. My farmers borrowed money at exorbitant interest rates to clear their land. They borrowed this money from Indians living in the city of Madras. They were hoping to pay off their debts with the profits they made from the rising price for rice.

Unfortunately, local prices were kept artificially low. This manipulation of the marketplace was accomplished by a handful of British firms who controlled the wholesale trade and by Indian and Chinese merchants who controlled the retail trade. Economic difficulties inevitably arose because of minimal profits. Because of low profits the debt-ridden farmers couldn’t afford their land payments. The Madras moneylenders were quick to foreclose upon these properties. In turn, the repossessed land was sold at enormous profits due to the boom time economy.”

Company: “Love that free market.”

Myanmar: “Free market bah! It was not free at all. We were playing with the cards stacked against us. My dispossessed farmers could not find employment even on their own land because of the cheaper imported Indian labor. My people, disenfranchised and rootless, took to petty theft to support themselves. Your people looked down on my previously industrious citizens as lazy. There was a rise in homicides, which made us second only to the murderous USA. Curse the international marketplace that only enriches the wealthy at the expense of the poor. You call it a free market because it frees your people from having to do any honest labor.”

Company: “My, my, aren’t we bitter?”

Myanmar: “Yes I am. So many innocent lives ruined. Entire generations lost in slavery to your Company. Everything had been going so well before your arrival. Everyone knew and was comfortable with their role in our society. We were a thriving country, who had little crime with no homeless or starving people.”

Company: “Unfortunately, things had been going so well for your Buddhist country that they first attacked Buddhist Thailand, sacking and burning their capitol at Ayutthaya. Don’t you think that this military action displaced a few people? And then your thriving country made the fatal mistake of conquering and occupying Assam, which was part of our turf. From one perspective, I was sent by the Universe to humble your proud country. What goes around, comes around.”

Myanmar: “Curse the ruling class everywhere. Because the Burmese kings craved more power, the social structure and economic system that had taken care of my people for millennia was dismantled. The ruling classes, whether European or Southeast Asian, are always trying to increase their wealth and power by taking advantage other cultures. Your culture had superior firepower and so was able to prevail; but mine had the same intentions. ‘Only men who are like thieves give counsel to a King that he make war and win victory. See for yourselves how kings have of all men the least wits!’ An appropriate quote from the Mahabharata.”

Company: “I’m glad I’m just a company or I would feel too guilty for all the cultures that my people have exploited. I would be crying a river of tears to wash away my shame. But I’m just doing my duty. Lucky for me, I’m not human. It would be too painful.”

Myanmar: “I agree. But there are times that I regret that I’m a landmass. I tend to love my creatures a little too much. When they get along, they are able to enjoy the Paradise I provide and I’m in heaven. But then they get it in their minds to exploit each another - going to war over power and greed - and I’m in hell. In my good times the innocent inhabitants of my villages are able to live their simple lives filled with equal measures of pain and pleasure, which is overlaid with the joy of just Being. In my bad times, the Balance is destroyed and life becomes such a struggle that suffering drowns out the Joy that I provide. I wish I could detach from their agony and ecstasy, but I am their Mother after all.”

She breaks down weeping.

Company: “I’m certainly glad I’m not a landmass either. Too much pain there too.”

Myanmar: “Bah! In your avoidance of pain you and your profit seekers are numbed to the real joy of existence which includes both the ups and downs - based upon the empathy and compassion for my children.”

Company: “Whatever. It’s profits that make me and my people happy.”

Myanmar: “How shallow and tragic. Your obscene profit motive eliminated freedom of speech and religion as well as undermining our social structure and destroying our economy, all of which had been in place for thousands of years. You must be proud of yourself.”

Company: “I am. My people all got rich beyond their wildest imaginings.”


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