Modern times have seen an exponential increase in our ability to be sucked in to desire’s dead end promises. The best example of this is the modern ability to borrow now and pay later. Such putting of the cart before the horse is totally opposite to nature’s way. Granted, our ceaseless desire to get more than we are willing to give is innate animal nature. Our problem is that civilization makes the full-throttled unbalanced pursuit of this possible.
A politician’s promises parallels this by offering us what we desire without requiring commensurate payment, so to speak. This is the Siren’s song of democracy. Witnessing this play out in politics is either amusing or depressing, depending on how well I keep chapter 29 in mind… With desire choosing anything, of doing I see no satisfied end.
I recently switched from being a Democrat to an Independent. To say I’m independent is a stretch however. I’m not left, right, or even in the middle… I’m Taoist. The political shenanigans I see have much in common with children bickering on the playground. Partisans on each side scapegoat the other, completely blinded by their own desire and ensuing hypocrisy. How can such full-fledged believers supporting one side ever fairly consider the other side impartially? Indeed, it is as if each does all it can to misunderstand the other. That is the natural result of self-interest plus tribalism. Still sadder, even if political leadership wanted to be balanced and honest, they couldn’t. There is only so far a leader can go in seeking the middle ground and compromise before his followers would lose faith and abandon him. Why? Ironically, an effective leader actually follows the needs and fears of his followers.
Are Independents the Hope for Effective Democracy?
A growing percentage of the electorate is leaving both parties and becoming more independent in their voting. Is this because the population is aging and becoming more mature? An older and more experienced population should result in a less politically naive electorate, more able to spot empty promises than a younger population.
The open secret is that political candidates, when seeking grass roots support and funds, must energize the most partisan supporters. Emotion and idealistic promises move people most, so anyone wanting to drum up support must offer a narrow, highly skewed view to attract their tribal base. After they have secured enough support, they shift their sales pitch to the more moderate population as a whole, which are increasingly the independents. However, this two-stage approach should work less effectively as the median age of the population rises. That said, there would always be some squeaky old wheels around still gullible enough to believe the promises politicians make. However, the future is not on their side, which suits me just fine, but obviously we’re not there yet…
Hope and Change?
Given 2009’s Great Recession, I couldn’t understand how the leadership could be pushing through health-care in the midst of a broken tax system, mortgages underwater, a plunging job market, and a huge national debt. Even worse, one side pushed through their sweeping health reform bill without strong consensus in the body politic. Such “My way or the highway” approaches for major issues paves the way to civil unrest. In the turmoil, I’d hear the Democrats say the failure to reach across the aisle was the Republicans’ fault. Predictably, the Republicans said the same thing about the Democrats. Who is right?
All I can say is that the side that has the majority in both houses and the presidency holds all the cards and is the larger entity. The Taoist view is very clear who is responsible for not finding middle ground. As chapter 61 notes, For this reason, the larger, using the lower position, normally takes in the smaller. The arrogance that the larger commonly feels owing to the power it wields, makes using the lower position extremely difficult. Such magnanimity requires the highest level of mature leadership. That is usually lacking.
Had Obama been some 20+ years older when elected, his approach might have been wiser. As chapter 65 puts it, Of ancients adept in the way, none ever use it to enlighten people, They will use it in order to fool them. Unfortunately, he actually believed his own story and in his ability to enlighten people (1). Naturally, that goes hand in hand with youth. To be adept in the way takes a lifetime. Like anything else, life is a learning experience that takes place over a lifetime. The minimum age for being President is 35. Perhaps we should raise it to at least 65! Certainly, that’s no guarantee, but it wouldn’t hurt… and in a century or so, raise it further to 85, and so on. Even so, let’s remember, no leader can get ahead of the median wisdom of the population he governs.
Our approach to both personal and governmental finances clearly shows how the politics we have are exactly the politics we deserve. How can the governed choose a leader any more mature than they are as a whole? Borrowing from the future occurs nowhere in nature. Naively thinking our species can somehow escape the consequences of circumventing natural law shows the depth of our ignorance. As chapter 16 reminds us, Not knowing the constant, rash actions lead to ominous results. Sure, if we knew when to stop, we could conceivably get away with some borrowing from the future… If we knew when to stop, most of our self-inflicted difficulties would disappear as chapter 32 also reminds, Knowing to stop [he] can be without danger. When being fiscally conservative means limiting spending on one’s own pet spending projects, fiscal conservatism vanishes. Alas, more than that fades away when self-interest dominates. As chapter 67 notes…
Historical Perspective on Consensus
On the Iraq War Resolution: Despite some opposition, there was strong consensus for war… 40% of the Democratic Representatives, and 60% of Democratic Senators voted for the resolution. About half of the Democratic side of the aisle supported President Bush along with most of his party. Imagine how much more divisive it would have been if Bush had pushed through the war with no Democratic support. Major changes call for strong consensus. Without that, it is wisest to scale back, postpone, or cancel the plan.
On the Health Care Reform Act: The House bill drew the votes of 219 Democrats. Opposed were 176 Republicans and 39 Democrats; it squeaked by 220 to 215. On the Senate side, all 60 Democrats voted for it, versus no Republicans, as I recall… again, just squeaking by. There was a complete lack of consensus. Even 22% of Democrats voted against it. Such a lack of consensus isn’t healthy for a democracy. That is how autocracy governs.
Generally, my sympathies lie more with the Democratic view of things. I’ve always thought we should have a more publicly funded health-care system like the rest of the world. In other circumstances, I would have supported the reform whole-heartedly; although never if that meant pushing it down the throats of half the country. What I may want personally pales in comparison to the crucial need for consensus in a democracy. A democracy requires maturity; somehow, ours appears to be in short supply. Why?
Again, I have to say we get what we deserve. As a whole, we are financially irresponsible, and justifiably so. How could any species, given the chance, resist an opportunity to borrow from the future to pay for the pleasures of the present? Indeed, we borrow now with vows of paying afterward in many ways other than financial. Examples include more exercise, better diet, broader education, and in fact, the doing of anything that we feel we ought to do at some point. The Siren’s promise of short-term pleasure is irresistible. Thus, Buddha’s 4th Noble Truth cautions, “There is salvation for him whose self disappears before truth, whose will is bent upon what he ought to do, whose sole desire is the performance of his duty”. Sorry Buddha, that’s just no fun! 😉
Facing the Truth
Facing the truth, or rather impartially considering the facts honestly, doesn’t mean we must actually give up our heart, our feeling, our emotional biases. Nevertheless, that is how impartially facing the facts will instinctively feel! Any attempt to consider the other side feels treasonous, and so we stick our heads in the sand and dream on. Yet, allowing emotional bias to steer thought doesn’t work for long. Reality is inescapable. Coming as close to an impartial balanced view as possible is the long-term answer. The closer I come to that, the more constant my sense of well-being. You might say, no gain without pain… here it is the pain of “disloyalty”… a cognitive divorce from emotional bias…a belief suicide.
Thought, and the belief it spawns, is the real culprit that knocks my life off balance. Realizing I don’t know, as chapter 71 reminds, allows me to nip imbalance in the bud. I simply challenge anything I feel I am favoring or thinking to be true at each moment. Such preferences are my ‘canary in the coal mine’. It is easy to know them, hear them, heed them, and rigorously seek out the other side. Easy, yet as chapter 70 cautions, Our words are very easy to know, very easy to do. Under heaven none can know, none can do. Okay, it’s not so easy, yet what is my alternative?
The certainty of belief in anything is the primary cause of all hypocrisy. They go hand in hand… Human intelligence brings about naming; naming gives rise to beliefs; beliefs result in the disease chapter 71 describes quite literally, i.e., Realizing I don’t’ know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease. It begins with our intelligence as chapter 18 hints.
When the great way is abandoned, there exists benevolent justice.
When intelligence increases, there exists great falseness.
When relationships lack coherence, there exists respectful kindness.
When the country is confused and chaotic, there exist loyal officials.
The second line, When intelligence increases, there exists great falseness is especially telling. This exposes politics of any type, including organized religion, for the affectation they actually are. Nature’s ‘self-so’ is otherwise, as chapter 25 hints, And the way follows that which is natural and free from affectation. Civilization’s institutions, or rather we their creators, are unavoidably hypocritical. We base our institutions on the ideals of what we wish for, not on reality. Then, at some point, fear always overrules our idealistic facades. Yet, civilization requires such cultural devices to give large populations faith in the social order. We are stuck with this unalterable reality. Chapter 3 offers one way ‘out’, Doing without doing, following without exception rules.
(1) Believing our own story adds to our intrinsic ignorance and entraps us therein. In Obama’s case, I’ve heard anecdotal evidence, even from Obama himself, of his difficulty dealing with certain aspects of politics. Thus, like most of us, he may lack the temperament to be a truly effective politician. Simply put, he appeared to have difficulty reaching across the aisle. Consensus building leadership requires an ability to suspend your agenda and see the big picture impartially enough to find a practicable middle ground between the extremes.