If a country is governed wisely,
its inhabitants will be content.
They enjoy the labor of their hands
and don’t waste time inventing
Since they dearly love their homes,
they aren’t interested in travel.
There may be a few wagons and boats,
but these don’t go anywhere.
There may be an arsenal of weapons,
but nobody ever uses them.
People enjoy their food,
take pleasure in being with their families,
spend weekends working in their gardens,
delight in the doings of the neighborhood.
And even though the next country is so close
that people can hear its roosters crowing
and its dogs barking,
they are content to die of old age
without ever having gone to see it.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 80, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
I am dedicating my commentary on today’s chapter to the many friends of mine on Facebook, who are “feeling the Bern” and posting memes of snowplows clearing the snow, while praising Socialism.
I want to say, first of all, I love you all. So, please, when I challenge your lack of imagination and critical thinking skills, I don’t mean to “offend” you; I mean to challenge you to stretch the limits of your imagination and learn some critical thinking skills.
Well, that wasn’t very nice of me, now was it? What a way for me to start my blog post today! But, please, hear me out! Your well-being and mine depend on it!
How does posting memes of snowplows show a lack of imagination and critical thinking skills?
It does, because those of you that “think” essential services currently being provided (rather poorly and inefficiently, I might add) by the government, can, and would, only be provided by a government. You put your trash out by the curb, and thank God for Socialism, the trash man comes and picks it up. It snows, and thank God for Socialism, snowplows eventually get to your street, and clear your road. I could go on and on, and maybe I should, because you probably lack the imagination to come up with many other examples that you honestly believe can, and would, only be provided by the government. Thank God for Socialism!
You honestly believe those essential services wouldn’t, and couldn’t, be provided if not for a government? Apparently so, but thank God for Socialism! Use your imagination! If the government didn’t have a monopoly on garbage disposal, no one else would step up to do it? If the government didn’t have a monopoly on snow removal, no one else would step up to do it?
I just read an article about a couple of teenagers in a town in New Jersey who printed out flyers, and then went door to door drumming up business, to shovel snow for people. Because, after all, we don’t really expect the government to clear away the snow on our driveways until and unless, “Thank God for Socialism”, Bernie Sanders gets elected President. But, no good deed is left unchallenged by the powers that be. Someone didn’t like the fact that these teenagers were going door to door selling their services; so they called the police, another “essential” service that only the government could, and would, supply. And, the police informed the young entrepreneurs they couldn’t earn a few bucks without first getting permission from the local government. Permission, by the way, means paying $450 for 180 days of permission to sell your services door to door. The only really good news in the story is that the police didn’t shoot the kids. I guess they weren’t sufficiently threatened by their snow shovels. Or, maybe it was because the kids were white? These days, it is hard to say what might provoke an altercation with the police. But, hey, no, there is no way essential services could or would be provided without the government. So, thank God for Socialism!
Am I being too harsh? I probably need to go back and edit out the racial insinuation. Wouldn’t want anyone to be offended. Some of you are, no doubt, wondering, what exactly this has to do with today’s chapter?
Thank you so much for asking. Today’s chapter begins with Lao Tzu inviting us to employ our imaginations with an “if”. If a country is governed wisely, its inhabitants will be content. Well that sounds benign enough. Nothing very anti-government, there. If your country is governed wisely, you will be content. Your trash will be collected in a timely manner. Your roads will get cleared of snow. Your police will make sure the city gets its much needed revenue. Why wouldn’t you be content? It’s a Socialist’s dream come true!
Except, that isn’t the way Lao Tzu describes being content. And, as we read through Lao Tzu’s description we find out just how discontent we really are. For those of you who have been reading along with me through the Tao Te Ching, you all know what Lao Tzu means by a country being governed wisely. He has been pretty consistent throughout. He wants leaders who will trust the people; and leave them alone. That applies to a whole lot of situations, least of which might include a few teenagers trying to earn a few bucks. Don’t try to control! Don’t interfere! Don’t use force to achieve your goals! And there isn’t one of the Presidential candidates, running in this year’s election, who are going to give up their will to power. Including Bernie Sanders. It doesn’t take a whole lot of critical thinking skills to acknowledge this is true.
But, let’s just look at how discontent we really are. And, if you can, imagine what it would be like to truly be content.
If your country was governed wisely, its inhabitants would enjoy the labor of their hands, and wouldn’t waste time on labor-saving machines. I can already hear the discontent rising up within you. What is wrong with labor-saving machines?
Who said anything about there being anything wrong with labor-saving machines? Lao Tzu didn’t. He said, if we were content, we would enjoy the labor of our hands. Do you enjoy the labor of your hands? I guess not, since you are so quick to defend labor-saving machines. Hey, I am not knocking labor-saving machines. I am quite thankful for them. I use them every chance I get. Why? Because, I don’t enjoy the labor of my hands. So, then, I ask myself, because I like to employ what few critical thinking skills I have, why is that? Why am I not content? Could it be, my country isn’t being governed wisely?
Here is another one. If our country was governed wisely, we would all dearly love our homes, and wouldn’t be interested in travel. There might be a few wagons and boats, but these wouldn’t go anywhere. Okay, now, stop! What is wrong with being interested in traveling?
Once again, you are asking the wrong question. The question you should be asking is why am I not content? Why don’t people dearly love their homes?
Here is another one. If our country was governed wisely, there might be an arsenal of weapons, but nobody would ever use them. That is bound to get your blood pumping! With all the talk about guns, and the question of why they are so prevalent in our culture, and, of course, there are plenty who would like to see those guns never be used again. I am all for that! Let’s all have an arsenal of weapons that nobody ever uses. And, all it is going to take is being governed wisely. Being governed wisely, notice, doesn’t involve confiscation of those weapons. Those weapons still abound. But when people are content, they aren’t necessary to use. We never seem to ask the right questions. Instead of asking, why do we need guns? Try asking yourself, why aren’t you content?
What does true contentment look like? People enjoy their food. They take pleasure in being with their families. They spend weekends working in their gardens. They delight in the doings of the neighborhood. And, even though the next country is so close people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking, people are content to die of old age without ever having gone to see it, or demanding a wall be built, so none can enter or exit without the government permitting it.
True contentment isn’t so hard to imagine, now is it? What’s it going to take for you to truly enjoy food, take pleasure in being with your family, delight in the doings of your neighborhood?
Stretch your imaginations. Employ what critical thinking skills you have. And, understand that the way for a country to be governed wisely, is for said government to not tax its people too much, nor be too intrusive. That isn’t something a Socialist dreams of, I know. But if you use your imagination and critical thinking skills, I just know you can learn how to be content.