Modern times have seen an exponential increase in our ability to be ‘sucked in’ to desire’s dead end promises. Clearly, 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. To be a full-fledged supporter of one side, one can’t help but vigorously avoid any attempt to view the other side’s case impartially. Indeed, each seems to do 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 without their ‘followers’ branding them as heretics and casting them out.
Are Independents the Hope for Effective Democracy?
A growing percentage of the electorate is leaving both parties and becoming “independent”. I assume these folks are not actually joining an ‘Independent Party’, but just becoming more independent in their voting. The population is aging and becoming more mature. This translates to an increasingly less politically naive electorate. An older and more experienced population should be able to spot empty promises better 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 the economic crisis of the ‘Great Recession’, I couldn’t understand how the powers-that-be could be pushing through health-care in the midst of a broken tax system, mortgages underwater, a plunging job market, and a skyrocketing national debt. To top that off, one side pushed through their sweeping health reform bill without strong consensus in the body politic. ‘My way or the highway’ can work for petty issues, but taking such an approach for major issues is the surefire path to civil unrest, even war. Indeed, at times it feels we are moving in that direction. In the ensuing 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 would have been undoubtedly 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 believes 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. Why did they choose 35 and not older and potentially wiser? Perhaps life expectancy was an issue back then. Now we should raise it to at least 65! Yes, that’s no guarantee, but it wouldn’t hurt… and in a century or so, raise it further to 85, and so on.
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. Come to think of it, more than that fades away when the ball is in our self-interest court. As chapter 67 notes…
Historical Perspective on Consensus
On the Iraq War Resolution: Despite some opposition, there was strong consensus for going to war (2)… 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 nearly all those in his party. Imagine how much more divisive it would have been if Bush had pushed through the war with zero Democratic support. Major changes demand strong consensus. If that is lacking, the only wise thing to do is scale back, postpone, or cancel the planned change.
On the Health Care Reform Act: The House bill drew the votes of 219 Democrats. Opposed were 176 Republicans and 39 Democrats… 220 to 215 so it just squeaked by. On the Senate side, all 60 Democrats voted for it, and as I recall, no Republicans voted for it… Again, just squeaking by. Thus, there was a complete lack of consensus. Even 22% of Democrats voted against it. That total lack of consensus is simply incompetent governance 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 current facts honestly, doesn’t mean we must actually give up our heart, our feeling, our emotional biases. However, 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 pain no gain. It’s the pain of ‘treason’… the cognitive divorce from emotional bias.
Thought is the real culprit that knocks me off balance in life. 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?
(1) Believing our own story adds to our inherent ignorance, and traps us in ourselves. Additionally, I sense that Obama, like most of us, may lack the temperament to be an effective President. Over the last few years, I’ve heard anecdotal evidence, even from Obama himself, of his difficulty dealing with certain aspects of politics.
Seeing the three Presidential debates, I noticed that Obama was very passive at the first and rather aggressive at the other two — he was at first ‘yin’, then ‘yang’. That indicates to me that Obama would have difficulty reaching across the aisle. Consensus building leadership requires an ability to suspend your agenda and see the ‘big picture’ impartially — a middle ground approach between yin and yang. On the other hand, a debate may not be the time for impartiality. As I noted earlier, his ‘followers’ would brand him as a heretic.
(2) The Iraq war vote