If a country is governed with tolerance,
the people are comfortable and honest.
If a country is governed with repression,
the people are depressed and crafty.
When the will to power is in charge,
the higher the ideals, the lower the results.
Try to make people happy,
and you lay the groundwork for misery.
Try to make people moral,
and you lay the groundwork for vice.
Thus, the Master is content
to serve as an example,
and not impose her will.
She is pointed, but doesn’t pierce.
Straightforward, but supple.
Radiant, but easy on the eyes.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 58, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, I was on a tear; giving our rulers no slack, when it comes to their understanding of what their policies mean to all of us ordinary people. Today, I am going to take a step back to look at things from a different angle. Yesterday, I was talking about the way things actually are. Today, I want to address the way things seem to be. Some of you, I know, want to believe that we just don’t have the right people in charge. That is why we are always looking to the next election to fix things. That is the illusion that we always have before us. It keeps us always waiting for that next election.
The problem with the way things seem to be is that things are not what they seem to be. Our elected officials may mean well. They may go to Washington, or whatever your country’s capital is, with the best of intentions. They may have grand plans and schemes. But none of that changes the reality that they aren’t the ones that are calling all the shots. They get into office and soon find out, unless they already knew it, that they will either tow the line, or they won’t last long.
Still, I will play devil’s advocate long enough to say that many of our elected officials don’t know any better. They think their fixed plans and concepts are going to produce the results they insist they will. They don’t understand the real problem. They mean well. They just don’t understand what they are up against.
With that groundwork laid, let’s get to today’s chapter. Lao Tzu is continuing where he left off yesterday, where he was teaching those who want to be great leaders. Today, he contrasts tolerance with repression. Tolerance has gotten something of a bad reputation lately. I don’t think most people rightly understand what it means. So, I want to begin with defining what I think Lao Tzu means by tolerance. It means “Mind Your Own Business.”
Mind your own business. Stay out of others personal affairs. Don’t interfere. Stop trying to control people and outcomes. That is what Lao Tzu means by a country governed with tolerance. It is a country where people are free to live their lives howsoever they wish, as long as they are not infringing on others equal right to live their lives howsoever they wish. In a country like that, the people are comfortable and honest.
That is Lao Tzu’s claim throughout the Tao Te Ching. If it sounds counter intuitive to you that minding your own business and otherwise leaving people alone is going to promote comfort and honesty for all, then congratulations. You don’t live in a country like that. Instead, we have a country that is governed with repression. And, once again, I want to be clear about what Lao Tzu means by the term repression. Because, far too often we are fed the lie that repression is only occurring in places like North Korea, or whatever “repressive” regime our rulers want us to be scared of this particular week. And, I am not saying that places like North Korea are not governing with repression. Of course, they are. But comparing our own system of repression with another one doesn’t get ours off the hook that easily. So, what is repression? The very opposite of tolerance. It is marked by any country whose rulers don’t mind their own business. Who don’t leave the people alone to live their lives howsoever they wish, as long as they are not infringing on others equal rights to live their lives howsoever they wish. Repression may come in degrees. But any degree of repression is still repression. And all countries that are governed with repression are filled with people who are depressed and crafty. By that definition, I think it is fair to say that all our rulers are making us depressed and crafty.
And this brings us to the problem of which our elected officials, if we judge them kindly, are wholely ignorant. The problem is the will to power. Lao Tzu says that when the will to power is in charge, the higher the ideals, the lower the results. There it is in a nutshell. No matter how idealistic you are, you aren’t going to achieve your intended results. Once again, I am giving these guys and gals the benefit of the doubt. I am playing devil’s advocate and saying that they really intend only the best for all of us. I don’t believe it for a moment. But provided that I am wrong, and they really are looking out for us, and all they want is to help us; the problem is the will to power is in charge. And, as long as it is, we are going to be screwed.
When the will to power is in charge, and it is, when you try to make people happy, you only lay the groundwork for misery. There is a reason that Thomas Jefferson talked only about being free to pursue happiness and not being made happy. Leave people alone to pursue their own happiness. They’ll find it. Try to make them happy and you will only make them miserable.
When the will to power is in charge, and it is, when you try to make people moral, you only lay the groundwork for vice. The more prohibitions we have, the more immoral we become. Stop trying to control! Leave people alone. But, as long as the will to power is in charge, no one is going to be content to leave anyone alone.
The will to power. That is the problem. As long as that is in charge, and it is, none of the lofty ideals we look to have enacted by our elected officials is going to have the intended result. Instead, just the opposite.
That is why Lao Tzu is looking for people who want to be great leaders, instead of rulers. He is looking for those who will circumvent the will to power. How do we do that? I had a friend on Facebook asking me yesterday about net neutrality, and how we can stop the FCC from imposing its good intentions on us. That is a tough question to answer. You could petition your government through your elected representative to oppose it. But, your elected representative is in the hip pockets of those with the will to power. And, they are in charge. So, not much help there.
I have a much more novel idea. Why not stop petitioning your government to impose your good intentions on us. What am I doing with my life? I can’t do much about the goings on with our rulers. But, I can still live my own life as free from their machinations as I can get away with. FEMA camps may one day await me; but until then, I am going to follow the example of the Master. She is content to serve as an example and not impose her will. She may be pointed, but she doesn’t pierce. She is certainly straightforward, but she is supple, too. Because you have to be, to go with the flow. She, our example, is radiant, but easy on the eyes. Don’t mistake this as being a reference to her beauty. Sure, she is beautiful and she radiates light. But that is only a metaphor. What she is, is effective. She has bypassed the will to power by just being who she is and being content with that. She just serves as an example and doesn’t seek to impose her will. Can I do that, too? Can you? Sure we can.