The difficulty our government faces jumps right out at me through the comments I hear about what the government ‘should’ do. In an odd way, 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 sound, reveal the difficulty Washington ‘big government’ faces.
In the end, a stalemate is the result of opposing groups struggling to make matters better without regard to what is naturally possible. Their self-interests and ideals blind them. As chapter 30 cautions, Making matters better as a long term rule, is not of the dao. Not of the dao ends early.
Opposing ideals, biased in self-interest, amount to pushing the proverbial boulder uphill. Statesmanship 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 interest is not exactly a mandate in common-purpose. It is a mandate only in the eye of the proponents.
We only seem able to focus our collective self-interests into common-purpose when we are experiencing true disaster. World War II was probably the last time that truly occurred here. Therefore, I’m a fate realist. We humans, like all animals, are reactive, not proactive. Sure, we are able to imagine, talk, 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…
Ultimately ‘Needs must’ prevails
Obama ‘should’ have shortened his “I have a dream” speech and addressed the emergency we currently face: the social safety net, which makes up half the budget. All economists, regardless of politics, see the non-sustainability of the path we are on, and propose remedies like these:
- Raise the retirement age a few years to re-balance the longer lives people now live. Like children, we have no trouble re-balancing it in our favor, to allow for inflation. When it comes to giving up unfair advantages, we balk.
- Means-test it, i.e., why should people with more have the same benefits as people with less? It would help to recognize how our unquenchable thirst for more always ups-the-anti of what we feel counts as the ‘bare minimum’. We simply want more than we, both rich and poor, are willing to pay for.
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 other matters. Alas, a leader who can herd the populace into common purpose is rare in this world. Indeed, without that nothing can be resolved. It appears that circumstances need to reach the tipping point of disaster before the populace can set aside their personal agenda long enough to find within themselves a sense of common purpose.
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 however,
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.
The holy people uses this to serve, yet does not rely on,
Meritorious deeds result, yet not dwelled within.
Such absence of desire to appear able and virtuous – how odd!
What I notice overall, is a profound hypocrisy that permeates the ideals we profess. Almost without exception, it is always the other guy we blame for “giving to the surplus”, and also the other guy 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 remarkable! We inhabit two realities: One is the reactive animal we truly are, and the other is the rational person we think we are. All this teeters between being laughable and pathetic, depending upon which side of the ‘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.