Why does government function the way it does? One thing that often stands out is how the authorities in bureaucracies, both leaders and subordinates, easily over-react in silly irrational ways. From a symptom’s point of view, I immediately notice fear as the operative force behind this. To be sure, this applies to most, if not all, actions of any animal at some level.
In bureaucracies however, fear is in force throughout every level. We’ve all heard the ludicrous example of the school principal expelling grade-schoolers for having aspirin pills. This is clearly a fear driven response. The official in charge is viscerally, even unconsciously, fearful of being faulted of not doing enough. To avoid reprimand, the official over compensates. Certainly, when people are generally uncertain and insecure they tend to either over or under react, and this is generally a healthy response for personal matters. However, this becomes problematic when fear drives a society’s bureaucratic rule.
Alas, I can’t see any viable fix for this societal malfunction due to the hierarchical nature of civilization. Subordinates will always worry about accusations of failing to act, and thus over-react. However, appreciating how natural underlying processes like fear are at work helps me keep events in perspective. In other words, no one has free will and thus everyone is driven to act according to the fears and needs they experience. Civilization is a “recent” human creation and the flaws we see are mostly a result of scale, i.e., humans evolved to live in small groups, not the huge numbers that necessitate a bureaucracy.
On a more practical level
The difficulty our government faces jumps out at me through the comments I hear about what the government should do. Oddly, people don’t appear to realize fully that in a democracy anyway, they are the government. Effectively, this means that the diverse self-interests I am hearing, no matter how noble and egalitarian they appear, reveal the difficulty big government faces.
The political stalemates we see are the result of opposing groups struggling to make matters better without regard to what is naturally possible. Their self-interests and underlying fear blind them. As chapter 30 cautions, Making matters better as a long term rule, is not of the way. Not of the way ends early.
Opposing forces, driven by self-interest and fear, amount to pushing the proverbial boulder uphill. Leadership lies in seeing ways to roll it down hill instead. Pulling together with sincere common-interest and common-purpose is the only effective way. Having only half the country aligned with your interests is not a mandate in common-purpose. It is a “mandate” only in the eye of the proponents.
We only seem able to distill our individual self-interests into common-purpose when we are experiencing a crushing disaster. World War II was probably the last time that actually occurred here. Not coincidentally, that is also when true leadership held sway. Therefore, I’m a fate realist. We humans, like all animals, are reactive, not proactive. Sure, we are able to imagine, talk about, and project our proactive vision of a perfect answer to the question, “What should government do?” We are particularly helpless in the follow through. As chapter 70 reveals…
Our words are very easy to know, very easy to do.
Under heaven none can know, none can do.
Ultimately ‘Needs must’ prevails
Perhaps President Obama would have been wise to address the country’s social safety net, a looming crisis that makes up half the budget. All economists, regardless of politics, see the non-sustainability of the path we are on, and propose remedies like raising the retirement age and means testing.
Had Obama seized reality’s moment, could he have won over enough people, conservative, liberal, and independent alike? Seeking to establish common purpose builds trust, which can then help enable movement on other intractable issues. As far as I can tell, the national debt, climate change, and immigration are the most important and intractable issues. Just marshalling common purpose around one of these concerns would help resolve the remaining issues. Alas, a leader who can herd the populace into common purpose is rare in this world. Of course, one can’t herd people where they don’t wish to go. It appears that circumstances need to reach the tipping point of disaster before the populace as a whole can set aside their personal agenda long enough to find within themselves a sense of common purpose. See also, Democracy as Myth, p.177, for another angle.
The lack of common-purpose and trust in the populace is the most corrosive influence in society, bar none. If people connect in common purpose, they establish trust. As they establish trust, each faction becomes more open to compromise on what they would otherwise reject. Again, I’m a fate realist. Like all animals, we humans are reactive. Chapter 70 (above) says it well. I find it very helpful simply to understand how nature works. Chapter 77 helps take it a little deeper…
The way of nature is like a stretching bow.
The high restrains the lower lifts.
The surplus decreases, the insufficient benefits.
The way of nature decreases surplus yet benefits the insufficient.
The way of man, as a rule, decreases the insufficient so as to give to the surplus.
Who can have a surplus and give to all under heaven?
Only those who have the way.
What I notice overall, is a profound hypocrisy that permeates the ideals we profess. Almost without exception, it is always the other person we blame for giving to the surplus, and also the other person we insist should give to all under heaven. Our ability to hide behind the sin of our own self-interest and throw stones at other people’s self-interest is extraordinary! We inhabit two realities: One is the reactive fearful animal we truly are, and the other is the rational person we imagine ourselves to be. All this teeters between being laughable and pathetic, depending upon which side of reality’s mirror I am. Chapter 18 sums it up well…
When the great way is wasted, there is benevolence and justice;
When intelligence increases, there is great falseness;
When intimacy lacks harmony, there is mourning kindness;
When the county is confused and chaotic, there are loyal officials.
You’re right, of course. My knowing always comes in the quiet spaces, when I’ve stopped trying. I need to remember wu wei …
Thank you again, Sensei. (The Chinese is Shihan, isn’t it?)
Look at this step by step Mike:
1 Thinking is a neurological ‘mirror’ that fundamentally reflects feeling (emotion).
2 Knowing occurs in emotion and ‘flowers in cognitive understanding’
3 True understanding is built, step by step, upon our base of intuitive gut knowing.
4 It strikes me that you are trying to rush things, striving know through understanding. This sounds like putting the cart before the horse, or moving from top down. This is to be expected: we thinking animals are very ‘top’ and ‘cart’ oriented. We over-think life. (remember chapter 71’s admonition on thinking)
5 The “balance” cum “letting go” we all seek occurs in emotion, in the realm of practice not thinking (ultimately).
This begs for a blog on the practice!
Thanks Carl. This feels right to me too.
Survival is a natural human instinct. Fear must stem from there, somewhere … your reference to personal self interest is really at its core our instinct to protect ourselves. When we think about this, we feed our fear, which drives more complex thinking which throws us out of balance.
So how do we balance giving all of this up … “letting go” as is referred to above … with protecting ourselves? I think of the Caine character in the old TV series Kung Fu … he would watch passively when someone was getting beat up, and defend himself only to the minimum extent needed to survive. He would also protect women or the helpless … this feels right to me but I can’t rationalize it in my mind. Maybe the problem is I shouldn’t … Caine reacted instinctively … he didn’t think? Is that it?
Excellent! And on all counts. You worry is from fear. It is unfounded (in impartial truth anyway). It is a projection of your personal self interest. Empathy that sees imbalance ‘out there’ is just a reflection of what you like and dislike either personally or vis-a-vis your tribe ‘in here’.
Putting that aside for a moment and reflect: each creature does its part, fulfilling its role, in nature’s work. This is how evolution works. Humans are no different. Naturally, that only allays the trepidations of life for a moment before we get flung back into the process. That is as it should be. Work is work. The more you can surrender to the work at hand, the less stressful it will be… but it will still feel like work! 😉
In desiring to inhale through the nose, one must first open up.
In desiring a little less, one must first make an effort.
In desiring to let go, one must first begin.
In desiring to take, one must first give.
This saying is little understood.
The weak gets the better of the unyielding
Okay. Without over thinking it and just going to my gut, I say it is good news. Life evolves. If we are in our teenage years as a race, I’m happy that we are growing, and understand that the pain/awkwardness of our teenage years will bring us into adulthood.
I also feel afraid …that this teenager might not learn the right lessons, and the adult we grow into will be … out of balance. I guess it is this fear that drives my thinking, which drives my political/social points of view …
Consciousness is not thinking. Thinking arises out of consciousness. Having a big human brain, we are all stuck with thinking. When we trust thinking (emotion = faith and trust), then thinking (intellect) easily gets in the way.
A step in the Right direction could be to answer the “Is this good news, bad news, or no news?” from the deepest honest emotion you can reach.
The vicious circle, emotion drive thinking drives emotion drives thinking… and so on, is non stop until we sever the faith we place in thought and its judgments. If we don’t trust our thought what can we trust? Emptiness and the emotion that evokes. This always returns us to the origin. (uncomfortable though it may feel at times, I prefer this to living in a dream).
Carl, what about consciousness? Can I really learn to think differently, or am I stuck with my programming? Can I learn to “not know anything” and just experience things? Sometimes I feel like my intellect gets in the way …
This answer is tentatively right (or a qualified “right”). Meaning, answers and questions are a moving process complementing each other. To be “more right”, it needs to evoke a deeper question.
For example, approach the question from a personal, emotional, feeling place deep within, and see what moves. Following this process will eventually lead you to the “teaching that uses no words”
PS News is actually gossip; gossip is emotion. Responses arising from emotional depths are never “right” or “wrong”–only honest or less so.
Well, it’s no news …if this is nature’s grand experiment, it is what it is and trying to view it as good, bad or otherwise is simply a construct that we apply to it because that’s how our brains are programmed. None of this really, truly matters.
(do I FINALLY have this close to “right?” Of course, I guess I can’t be “right” if there is no such thing …so better asked …is this close to the perspectives that you share with others?)
I see it all as transitional, ending up with the mean age of the human population around 100+, in a human culture much more mature, simple and stable than now. Humanity will end up living in close harmony with the rest of life on earth.
When? As a wild guess, it could be 10,000 years from now. Although, human circumstances seem to change at an exponential rate, so it could be as soon as a few hundred years. Longer, depending on how horrific climate warming’s effects turn out to be.
This period, from the agricultural revolution 10,000BC until perhaps 10,000AD, will go down in human history as humanity’s ‘teen age years’: A period of growth, destruction, folly, and self involvement.
Now, is that good news, bad news, or no news?
Lynn cornish says
As I understand it, we are the big burden, the baby boomers. There are too many of us. But that is a temporary situation as we will die off. Maybe the government should spend money on free cigarettes for seniors. Suicide: it’s the American Way!
I grew up in a pre-credit card world where my family would save up for a new TV or a baseball mitt. When I first started out on my own, I had hand-me-down pots and pans. Then I saved all my old pots and dishes for the boys and, guess what, they didn’t want them.
You once said this whole scheme is unsustainable. That is the truth. Will it resolve in our lifetimes? I don’t think so. It would take a disaster of extreme proportions to get people to live simply again. isn’t that a nice word? Simple.
With population declining in developed nations, the worry is that there won’t be enough young people to pay for all the retirement benefits of the old. That’s the short term gain of immigration; replenish the work force with new blood. Short term, because eventually this world’s capitalist pyramid scheme will evolve into a more natural non-growth model (don’t ask me when or what it will look like though)
People take out of social security, medicare and other services, many time more than they put into it. That’s part of the reason we have a $16+ trillion deficit. I forget how many time more. The point is, we have little trouble taking advantage of the system; we balk as paying for the system.
We have a innate need (desire) to get something more for less. That is the root cause of credit card debt (and by extension government debt); that piece of plastic makes it so easy to get what we want without the pain of handing over ‘real money’.
Of course, the defenders of the system have clever rationals for it all. The natural model, pay as you go, is old-fashion and doesn’t apply to modern economy. Ha ha ha. The experts and their famous last words. 😉
Lynn cornish says
If the retirement age were raised, wouldn’t there be less jobs for younger people? There is some benefit to the older moving over for the younger to take their places.
I agree about means testing. It makes no sense that rich people use Medicare. But I’m afraid Rick and I always come out benefiting less. Our thinking is we worked hard for 35 years, going to a job everyday, and we paid lots into our retirement fund. Why punish us with less benefits than people who chose more freedom during their working years? So what you say about self interest strikes close to home and yet our ant and the grasshopper thinking has some validity. Now what did that ant do….