The Master has no mind of her own.
She works with the mind of the people.
She is good to people who are good.
She is also good to people who aren’t good.
This is true goodness.
She trusts people who are trustworthy.
She also trusts people who aren’t trustworthy.
This is true trust.
The Master’s mind is like space.
People don’t understand her.
They look to her and wait.
She treats them like her own children.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 49, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Let’s Talk Equality
I remember it quite well, though it has been a long time since I was a freshman in college, sitting in an intro to political science course. That was the spring of 1982. And, our professor had us all working on an essay question, “What does equality mean? Specifically, what did Thomas Jefferson mean by the statement ‘All men are created equal.’” At that time, I didn’t even understand my own embryonic political philosophy had a name, libertarian. It wouldn’t be until my sophomore year I was introduced to Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose.
Since then, I have learned libertarians mostly have a love-hate relationship with the whole notion of equality. As I was sitting there trying to work on the essay question, I knew, I knew nothing of what equality was supposed to mean. Sadly, my own ignorance is still shared by many to this day. I remember my professor giving me a “C” on my essay question. And, his comment on it. “You sure seem to have a good grasp of what equality is not. But, what is it?” Over the years, I have often wanted a second shot at that essay question. Since it isn’t intended to mean “equality of outcome,” as some seem to think it should mean. And, it isn’t “equality of opportunity,” as others seem to think it should mean. And, I am not even fond of the standby “equality under the law.” Well, what is it?
What I should have done that day, long ago, is go back to the source of Thomas Jefferson’s words, the “Declaration of Independence,” and let him answer the question for himself. He did, you know.
He said we are all endowed with certain unalienable rights by our creator. And, then he went on to enunciate some of them. That, I think, was a big mistake. It wasn’t intended to be an exhaustive list. But, did he really need to start naming them? What is with that pursuit of happiness, anyway? And, at least some of our founders, Patrick Henry to name one, valued liberty over life itself. So, why list “life” first?
I could go on and on, and still end up with a “C” on my paper. But, this time I would conclude that equality means we all have the same inalienable rights. Not privileges given by the State, but rights we are all endowed with naturally. People will come along, as they have since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and try to enunciate what these rights might be. But, my answer will always be, if the “right” is something external to our nature, the “right” ain’t natural. So it isn’t inalienable. And, what of these governments, instituted among “men” to secure our liberties? A government can’t grant you life, it can only take it away. A government can’t grant you liberty, it can only take it away. And, a government can’t grant you happiness, it can only infringe on your pursuit of it.
But, what does any of this have to do with today’s chapter?
Gee, I am sure glad someone finally got around to asking me.
The reason I am talking about equality is because, in today’s chapter, Lao Tzu is talking about equality. I will leave it to you, my friends, to decide if Lao Tzu’s equality, and Thomas Jefferson’s, have anything to do with each other.
Yesterday, Lao Tzu contrasted the pursuit of knowledge with the practice of the Tao. As you will recall, the practice of the Tao is dropping a little something of your need to interfere, every day. Until you finally arrive at absolute zero action.
And, in today’s chapter Lao Tzu extends that to absolute zero mind of your own. Having no mind of your own, but working with the mind of the people. This, is what I consider the concept of equality for Lao Tzu.
The Master demonstrates true goodness by being good, not just to people who are good, but, also, to those who aren’t good. The Master demonstrates true trust by trusting not just those who are trustworthy, but, also, those who aren’t trustworthy. This is equality.
It isn’t out of pity the Master treats everyone the same. It is because the Master makes no distinction between good and bad.
It is that “making no distinction” that makes true equality possible. I think that is one thing that has annoyed me, before, about the whole notion of equality. My supposed “need” to make distinctions. But, when I arrive at no mind, I won’t make those distinctions any more. Your goodness, or lack thereof, your worthiness, or lack thereof, are no longer a consideration. Are you a human being? That is enough.
People don’t understand that. Having no mind, on the surface, appears to be out of your mind. Or, as Stephen Mitchell puts it, “a mind like space.” But, whether or not they think you are crazy, they will look to you and wait. Work with their minds. Treat them like you would your own children. Be patient with them. Show them the way.