Lao Tzu #3: America’s Problems Summarized
In America success is no longer a journey but has become a destination. People are so caught up with getting where they need to go, they forget what is going on around them at the moment; they’re so worried about catching that 7 am train, they can not even hold the door for the person behind them. Though it is good to keep the future in mind, if a person does not take their lives in minutes and seconds, what is the purpose of living? Is the purpose of existence for an 8 year old to play jump rope with her friends in the park or start studying for her SAT’s because that is what her parents want? Lao Tzu’s writing consists of cause and effect type of negation, in which he shows why certain scenarios are wrong rather than stating them matter of fact, forcing the reader agree with him. He leaves little room for skepticism, as the reader can evidently see the validity of what he writes.
The fact that modern politics lacks leaders of great quality has led to the destruction of democracy. Looking at the writings of Lao Tzu:
“A sound leader’s aim
Is to open people’s hearts,
Fill their stomachs,
Calm their wills,
Brace their bones
And so to clarify their thoughts and cleanse their needs” (Byner 1944)
he is defining a “good leader” as one who makes sure everyone is fed, content, trusts the government, and in a mental state of peace. In the list of the needs of the people, Lao Tzu gives special importance to their hearts, because a “good leader” needs to care about the people being governed and what they think of the administration. A healthy democracy can only function if the people being governed are healthy and happy with what is going on in the state, because with their votes they are essentially in control. Though democracy breaks further into direct and indirect, the same concept of rule by the people exists. Secondly he mentions how people once happy need to be fed to stay happy, which is a realistic argument. The wording of Lao Tzu is different from that of Confucius in that he does not say to just follow a given principle, but presents situations that thousands of years later, the reader can still understand and relate to. (Byner 1944) The writing is very down to earth and to the point, that most of the stanzas are more powerful than what would take pages for other writers to convey. Lao Tzu then goes on to say:
“Without being forced, without strain or constraint,
Good government comes of itself.” (Byner 1944)
Democracy can not be forced upon the people. As was the case in previous years, Americans rarely voted in elections, having the worst voting percentage of any industrialized nation, representative of the fact people will not do more than that which serves their interests- obviously not what Lao Tzu was hoping for but the scenario that exists. Of course another interpretation of this quote would be restrictions placed upon the people, for instance in communist governments where the people lack the basic freedom of speech to express their needs, as was the case in China with the Tiananmen Square incident.
Analyzing the following lines:
“It is better not to make merit a matter of reward
Lest people conspire and contend,” (Byner 1944)
In recent years the idea of working towards rewards has become evident from college students studying solely for the purpose of getting a high mark, to a child helping out with chores to get that Barbie doll she wanted, to individuals that have “Rewards” credit cards, which allow purchases to give the shopper benefits from free airline tickets to merchandise credit, etc. Entire college careers are based upon getting those A’s, with foul play, inclusive of cheating off others, using cheat sheets, and obtaining the old answers from upperclassmen. From preschool emphasis is placed upon getting into that private elite school or else life is doomed to be successful because public preschool automatically invalidates the possibility of getting into Harvard University.
American culture has become so materialistic, especially around the holiday time when shopping is at an all time high- along with robberies as there are people that live on the streets and are not fortunate enough to pay for a meal, less a present for a loved one.
Could one not also argue that this is the explanation for the Columbine high school shootings? High schools have become mainly about getting into that perfect college and being popular, making lots of friends, etc, etc. The insecurities of those two boys were deepened by others around them who did not place them into their “clique”, ultimately instilling such anger in the young men it caused them to ultimately murder those they resented. Even in the play, Julius Caesar written by William Shakespeare Caesar’s disciples, and “best friend” Brutus created a conspiracy against him due to the competitive atmosphere that existed in the Roman Senate, and murdered him for his throne. Looking at the idea of competition brought up by Lao Tzu, competition brings out the best in some people, as they might add extra effort and achieve something great and the worst in others who may not do well at all, and become jealous of those who did do well. Jealousy is human nature despite it is one of the deadly sins, two others of which, wrath, and greed are also pointed out in the stanzas as well.
All of which Lao Tzu warns against in this stanza is today evident in American culture: envy of what others have, materialism, the intention to receive from giving, and a government which is lead by leaders unreceptive to the needs of the governed. Perhaps all this could be changed if the writings of Lao Tzu became amendments to the constitution and all of America was required to read his philosophical rules for living.