All social species need their ‘alpha-male’ for governance even if that’s the queen of a beehive. Being a more complex than bees, human governance is multi-layered and hierarchical to varying degrees. Indeed, the more sophisticated the culture/civilization, the more layers—the more hierarchical. Conversely, our ancestor hunter-gatherers had few, if any, layers — no courts, parliaments, congresses, or special interest clubs.
This suggests a root reason why governing bodies always under deliver for their society’s common good, yet easily over deliver on things like the military, for example. Alas, it appears to be simply because those who lust for the power to govern—the ‘alpha-males’—are innately more hierarchical than egalitarian. Their hierarchical drive easily overwhelms egalitarian sensibilities, which will repeatedly leave the multitude ‘worker bees’ shortchanged. It wasn’t always like this however. For the when, how, and why, see The Tradeoff.
Just as a pyramid needs its base, civilization’s social hierarchy relies on the support of the governed masses. A viable government must have the Mandate of Heaven (1), as the Chinese put it. Viewed from a symptoms point of view (p.141), the particular governing system that a society adopts essentially reflects the inherent needs of that society. Nonetheless, many believe that democracy is the source of modern progress and freedom, which puts the cart before the horse. Instead, democracy is the kind of governance that is most conducive for this current era’s circumstances. Democracy is a story reflecting the needs of current economic reality rather than any genuine reality in its own right. As conditions vary, civilization’s political systems will adapt to suit.
Whether a governance system is benevolent or ruthless has little to do with whether it’s democratic. Let’s not forget, under the United State’s democratic system, we had slavery, exterminated Indians, and despoiled the environment. Moreover, citizens with the loudest mouths or the fattest wallets dominate our free speech.
In the end, it is all about power. The big dog ‘alpha-male’ is the leader of the hierarchical pack, and shows it by accumulating power and/or wealth. Civilizations have other sophisticated ways to express power, but wealth is certainly primary. In some cultures, religion, ideology, and/or the military also play a power role.
Many bemoan this power aspect and the discrepancy between what we say and what we do… ideals vs. reality. Accepting how circumstances actually are versus the story we yearn to believe is extremely challenging, especially when there are truly no quick fixes. (See The Story Trumps Truth, p.167.)
Speaking of power and wealth
More wealth increases one’s overall survival odds. Thus, any chance to gain more wealth tempts many to act rashly, which makes the stock market a perfect training ground for Taoist thought. There is nothing quite as effective as putting one’s wealth where one’s mouth is. As chapter 16 literally puts it, Not knowing the constant, rash actions lead to ominous results. (See Tao Views of the Dow, p.2.)
I began experimenting with the stock market during the 2009 crash. I’ve found it to be an effective way to actually apply and test Taoist theory to real world practice. The stock market offered immediate visceral feedback as I attempted to put into practice what chapter 43 describes as The teaching that uses no words, the benefit of resorting to no action, these are beyond the understanding of all but a very few in the world.
(1) The Mandate of Heaven (天命) meant that heaven, as the embodiment of the cosmic natural order, would authorize only an effective and just person to be emperor of China. I see this more simply as whatever happens, happens naturally. Indeed, as chapter 5 notes, Heaven and earth are ruthless, and treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs