Anthropological Motivation For Not Fighting About Politics

For context, look up popular American news articles for March 12th, 2016.

Raja Yoga (the Hindu philosophy of using physical movement to achieve a higher spiritual state–called simply “yoga” by most westerners) seems to have arisen out of a collection of movements and postures practiced as part of human life. From bowing to a king, to taking a wide stance in preparation for delivering a sword blow, to stretching in the morning and evening to alleviate muscle and joint pain, to picking up a baby–this is a system of kinetic learning intended to explain and teach the human condition and how to function within it.

Humans are loving. Humans are powerful. Humans fight for survival, spend their days gathering resources; humans follow leaders; humans battle for control over the followers and means of acquisition. (Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably seeing you as their follower…) This method of teaching translates literally to “royal yoga”. As profound as it once was, it fails to teach apt governance or understanding in the absence of the cultural understanding that could only be truly had in the more revered and wealthy circles of the ancient world.

What would such a system look like, if it were created out of the successful strategies of governing and being governed within our own society? Are there any motions that we can still use to universally increase our usefulness and success as a part of the human meta-organism? Today, we crave a method that works for almost everyone, and mourn the absence of any such thing that can make us happy. There is currently no “one size fits most” method for anyone born after 1980, or, perhaps, before.

In politics and religion, alike, we are bereft of truly effective guidance. We celebrate the death of “storge” love while complaining about lack of agreement in public matters. (This is a contradiction.) We seek ancient wisdom that hardly translates to how to make a real living, today. We are amply taught, in school, church, home, and in casual society everything but what is known to be truly, universally effective–because nobody knows of any universally “human” means of survival that has, itself, survived the test of time.

In the last decade, much of the world has awoken to this predicament, and we are fighting each other because nobody can figure out how to make things work, again. The information age arose out from Pandora’s box, and our greatest minds have yet to tame it in a way that lets everyone live happily, who is willing to keep trying.

Or maybe that is the nature of the human condition: as the Buddhists say, “suffering exists”, and it’s up to us to figure out how to deal with that.

It is a part of human nature to fight. We committed genocide against every human species that came before us, until only Homo sapiens remained. (A chilling thought, but true, according to archeologists, evolutionary biologists, and anthropologists.) A new way of living will one day emerge out of the ashes of analog society and the minds of those who, like Homo erectus, failed to adapt (despite having a larger brain). In the mean time, let’s limit our battles to the ones that actually matter.

If an idiot or a fool gets elected president, let them show us how not to do things.

Some arguments can only be won by letting your opponent win, and then realize, on his own, that he should have been wiling to compromise (A.K.A. “adapt”). We decided in the late 40s that killing all the stupid people is wrong, so if such people end up running things, and we don’t crash and burn because of it, we will have proven that the antiquated morals of centuries past–survival of the fittest, when you boil it down enough–are truly not as good as the softer ones we revere, today.

And if letting stupid people self-actualize turns out to be a problem, we can always decide that Hitler had the right of things and commit genocide until all the stupid people are extinct, and we evolve into a species that’s better than Homo sapiens. (Personally, I don’t advocate this method.)

Seriously, folks, don’t get into physical fights over political beliefs unless you think we should silence, cage, and eventually extinct all the imbuciles–including, possibly, you.

Trump and Sanders fans, I’m looking at you.

Proverbs That Last Forever

“However, a much older Near Eastern origin is suggested by a near equivalent in the 6th century BC Proverbs of Ahiqar: ‘a sparrow in thy hand is better than a thousand sparrows flying’.”

I love finding proverbs that have somehow survived 25 centuries of linguistic translations and societal changes. Such proverbs are almost certainly somewhat accurate (in the right context), because the only way people would keep saying them for 2,500 years is if they feel like they have a decent reason to do so, themselves, and to teach their children to say them, too.

Interestingly, it’s possible that personal adherence to old texts of philosophy, poetry, mythology, scripture, and fable–stems from the same phenomena; and that, therefore, religion, philosophy, ethics, and more are a result of old thoughts being consistently seen as worthwhile enough to repeat and teach future generations to repeat.
The historic use of force to enforce adherence to ideas skews this effect, somewhat. This includes classic examples of European churches imposing laws and punishments, as well as popular non-religious philosophies making law with legislation and court cases (incl. case law), and punishing those who violate those laws. It can’t really be argued that the modern law and punishment is as brutal or authoritarian as ancient law and punishment; but when an armed person can come to your home and put you in shackles (handcuffs) for not obeying, one can neither argue that this isn’t the use of force. Sure, the methods are different, but disobeying gets you punished.
How do we decide whether and when old ideas are more/less valuable to us than new ideas? How effective have those uses of force been in making a given idea persist? Does an idea that has been appreciated (even/especially out of pure expediency) for 2.5 millennia have more (objective) believability than an idea that’s been around for 50 years? Each person chooses how to weigh these and other factors to create a personal philosophy. Then, they explain their philosophies to their children using proverbs.

When It’s “Worth It”: The Ratio of Human Interaction

There’s an inherent calculation of human interaction that goes something like this:
(How much they improve your life) : (How much trouble a person causes you)
Put another way, it’s a ratio of Benefit:Cost or Happiness:Trouble.
Most people phrase this in an emotional context, but the meaning is ultimately the same. Personally, I find a simple mathematical ratio easier to convey than the amount of prevarication it would take to express such a thing emotionally.
When that ratio is consistently greater than 1:1, that’s a person who is worth “keeping”. If it’s only greater than 1:1 in some situations, then those are the only situations when it’s worth interacting with that person. When that ratio is consistently less than 1:1, it’s time to let that person go, and avoid him/her as necessary.
Naturally, foresight and personal preference comes into play, here. If a person is mostly troublesome, right now, but you foresee him/her being beneficial in the long term, then it might be worth keeping them around. If you’re OK with 1:1, even if it’s never greater than that, then that’s your threshold for deciding whether it’s “worth it”. Most people require a ratio much greater than 1:1 to consider it “worth it”. People with large circles of close friends that they consistently have problems with are less picky (requiring a lower ratio to be satisfied); whereas those who only really want to hang out with a few people who are particularly valuable to them are more picky (requiring a higher ratio to be satisfied). I’ve noticed that this level of “pickiness” directly corresponds with the amount of energy a person has for social interaction. Those who are more concerned with other things tend not to have any interest in those with less than, say, a 2:1 ratio of benefit:cost or happiness:trouble.
If you’re not providing at least a 1:1 ratio for someone, you’re doing it wrong. If you really want someone in your life, you need to provide them a higher ratio, and be sure that they’re doing the same for you, before committing to anything long-term.
Charity is an exception to this rule. (I’m using “charity” to refer to selfless love, rather than “giving money”, which, as an exclusive term, is a perversion of the original concept.) Charity is when someone offers you less than you would otherwise accept as a ratio of happiness:trouble, but you give that person your time, energy, and resources, anyway. You self-sacrifice for that person out of kindness. We can only do this to the extent that we have personal resources (time, energy, patience, emotional stability, money, etc.) to spare, and when we run low on this excess, we can no longer afford to give without receiving; otherwise, our own lives will suffer quite substantially. One only allows that for those we love most, such as family members. We give what we can, when we can, because we choose to; “obligation” is anemic to true charity, unless it’s someone we’re truly responsible for taking care of (such as an aging parent, a sibling in distress, or a child). Nevertheless, charity is what makes society worth having. We care for people who can’t give back as much as we give them, and, in turn, people do the same for us when we’re in need. Sadly, our society isn’t quite at the point when we can do this for each other very effectively (due to economics, and anger, mainly); but as we improve our way government and interpersonal interaction, this will slowly change–as it has been since the dawn of civilization.


I’m of the generation that started off in one world and then crossed into the next during my formative years.

While those before me barely understood how to use a typewriter, I spent much of my childhood building computers and typing at a rate that would put most secretaries to shame.

My generation was the first to start off talking on a phone with a 6-foot long spiral cord, and then carry around high-powered computers in our pockets as we entered adulthood.

As soon as we entered kindergarten or first grade–since, back then, kindergarten wasn’t required–our teachers did a little bit of math on their abacuses and realized that when we graduated high school, it would be the year 2000.  I know you think I’m kidding about the abacuses, but when I started school, that’s actually what we did math on.

Graduating high school in that seminal year somehow carried a lot of weight.

It wasn’t just a number; it meant that humanity was getting a sort of “new start”, in the minds of a lot of people.  Therefore, it was generally instilled in us from an early age that it was up to us and those born at a similar time to change the world drastically and, essentially, fix all the epic screw-ups of our parents, grandparents, and every previous generation.

The funny thing is, while we were starting to learn the world and contemplate how we might change it when we finally got all grown up, it actually did change into something that nobody before our generation could have fully expected or adapted to.

Just about every piece of academic information suddenly became free.  Yes, I know that if you want to really drill into a topic, you still have to take a free online course from an actual university; but essentially, it became the new big thing that, if you didn’t know something, you could type it into Yahoo, Excite, Altavista, and later, Google, and then…you knew it.

This was really cool, and our parents, teachers, and, once we got all grown up, our bosses thought that this was the best thing ever…until they actually got a taste of what it was like to be around someone who knew more than they did.

Not long into my adult-ness I got hired on as a Computer Assisted Drafter at a door company.  This wasn’t because I’d ever done drafting of any kind before, and certainly not because I knew a thing about wood-working, beyond a few projects in elementary school; but the boss had realized that the digital age–whatever that meant–had arrived, and all the famous ink-and-paper magazines said that it was going to make her rich if she embraced it.  Therefore, she eagerly hired the first freshly minted grown-up who knew a particularly great amount about computers to do all the computer-thingies that she and her other employees didn’t really understand.

My first task was to start learning the drafting program, and my second task was to remove the plethora of viruses and other malware from all the computers on the network so that the program would actually run.  That was cool, and dollar signs began to flash before my boss’s eyes.

My next task was to actually start drafting.  This was easy enough: plug in the numbers, draw the lines, and print it out on a really big piece of paper so the guys in the shop could build it.  Except that the head of the woodworking department, who was over me, didn’t trust anything that wasn’t written in graphite.  Therefore, my final task before I could be happily away in my new career was to learn how to teach a person born in the ignorant world of pencils and paper that computers could do things better.  We were running Windows Millennium Edition, so this wasn’t an easy task.  Ultimately, though, despite all the difficulties this entailed, the company failed for the most venerable and inane of reasons: the boss liked to play fast and loose with the books, and apparently “going digital” didn’t make that any more legal.

From this, it quickly became apparent that simply knowing how to do one’s job wasn’t enough to be successful at making money.  One first had to figure out how to deal with the obtuseness of human nature.

Funny thing: in all of our classes on learning “the theory of how to do everything”, not one class was taught on how to actually get along in society.  Stuff like “how to talk to your boss without making him mad” and “what a checkbook is for, and how to make the numbers be nice to you” just weren’t considered important.  Thusly, Millennials, for all our unique insights into what technology does and doesn’t change, and despite being the foremost experts in turning an ignorant world into a knowledgeable one, it’s become a famous fact that, as a group, we simply can’t hold down jobs to save our lives.  People are just too stupid to know when they’re being stupid, and being as how (according to everyone more than 10 years older than us) we were supposed to teach the world how to drastically change for the better, we’ve largely done what any brilliantly unwise person would do and tried to actually teach people how to stop being stupid.

Wikipedia has the following to say about the Millennial generation:

Millennials [were predicted to] become more like the “civic-minded” G.I. Generation with a strong sense of community both local and global…[Some attribute] Millennials with the traits of confidence and tolerance, but also a sense of entitlement and narcissism…Millennials in adulthood are detached from institutions and networked with friends…Millennials are somewhat more upbeat than older adults about America’s future, with 49% of Millennials saying the country’s best years are ahead though they’re the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt and unemployment…Some employers are concerned that Millennials have too great expectations from the workplace.  Some studies predict that Millennials will switch jobs frequently, holding many more jobs than Gen Xers due to their great expectations…[Some describe] Millennials’ approach to social change as “pragmatic idealism,” a deep desire to make the world a better place combined with an understanding that doing so requires building new institutions while working inside and outside existing institutions.

That last part is a real pain in the butt.  As children and young adults, we were stuck playing the game of, “Yes, teacher/parent/employer, you are older and therefore much wiser than I am.  Sure, I’ll teach you how to open your word processor…again.”  Being the lowest person on the social totem pole because of your age, and having the best insights about how to actually get stuff done in this strange new world is a really fast path toward unemployment, unless you learn to (A) forget that you know what you’re doing, and become satisfied with doing everything the stupid way–at least until your so-called superiors retire, die, or stop telling you how to do things–or (B) try to be your own boss…just like every other unemployed person.  So, “changing the world”, apparently, must first start from a position of not doing anything to change the world, or being jobless.

About that.  Changing the world, I mean.  Sitting on the fence between the world of mostly-unwilling ignorance and the world of willful ignorance means that pretty much every modern “social change” movement not created and run by Millennials looks a lot like a pipe dream created by those who grew up with a search engine good enough to avoid ever having to look at anything they don’t want to.  While the older generation could, in most cases, rightfully claim to be doing the best they knew how, based on the information they were given, the generation after us sounds a little tinny when they say that “something is a basic human right” because they read it on  How do these people who started life with the best access to information that the world has ever seen still not realize that the kinds of supposedly radical changes they’re totally bent on bringing about have either failed or caused total economic, social, political, and governmental meltdowns every time they succeeded?

Sure, it must be a good idea to let Russia keep pushing west, through Ukraine, in spite of the treaty they signed at the end of the Cold War.  Maybe if we shake our fingers at them hard enough, they’ll march back to their own territory like Germany did in 1939.

The truly galling thing about this, though, isn’t the naivety of post-Millennial 20-somethings, but how the previous generation seems to have decided that if something shows up on the Internet when they type “social justice in Crimea” into Google, it must be absolute truth.  Did they totally forget about voting for education reforms that involved teaching HTML code to high school kids who showed any particular aptitude in computing?  It would take me under an hour to create a not-too-shabby-looking web page saying that cheeseburgers cause cancer because cows are naturally-occurring GMOs.  But I won’t bother to do that, because it’s already been done, and a lot of people already believe that cheeseburgers cause cancer because…”GMOs!!!!”…to a sufficient degree that they’re willing to start a protest in front of Burger King.  They might even bring their very-skinny-but-still-cute-enough-to-post-pictures-on-Pinterest vegan cats with them.

To put all this another way, Millennials who really absorbed and believed what they were taught in school tend not to start “blooming” until they’re in their thirties, if ever.

Wikipedia also notes that some sociologists refer to us as the “Peter Pan Generation”, and as horrible as it might seem to be called that, I can’t help but agree with this assessment.  How does a person learn how life works before the dawn of the Information Age, then learn how to be the fore-runners of that age, then learn how to avoid pissing people off by being too good at it, and then finally learn how to have a career (read: wait for the older generations to die or retire) without taking a long time doing it?  If we’re lucky, we’ll have started our careers by age 35, and not hate ourselves for the dead end careers we picked back before all the careers that were profitable and fun switched with all the careers that didn’t used to be.  Some of us are bloody lucky to land a “career” at a fast food restaurant by virtue of having a bachelor’s degree.  And our parents’ generation is all up in arms because we complain about having $50,000 of student debt and want the minimum wage to be raised.

Well, except for those Millennials who, against everyone’s wishes, didn’t attend or finish college.

Sure, there are a lot of people my age who managed to buy degrees that will eventually pay themselves off.  However, most of the people I know who were born around 1982 did what all the adults told them to and ended up with little more than very expensive pieces of paper and a few years wasted in college housing.

One the upside, additional time spent learning things means that, to an even greater degree, those who spent at least a little time studying the “cutting edge” in such institutions know more about this “brave, new world” than people who didn’t attend college, at all.  On the down side, we’re once again stuck trying to convince people older than us that we do, in fact, know some better ways in which to do things, that are different from how they’ve always been done, without getting into trouble for saying so.

It’s worth noting, however, that there is a very sizeable contingent of Millennials who have figured out how to “live the American Dream.”  Overwhelmingly, these are the people who were uninterested in, or just too stupid to understand all that new-fangled computer stuff, back in high school.  Sorry, but those Millennials who were good at these things know exactly who and what I’m talking about.  They did as their parents and grandparents did, before them, and got jobs doing stuff that wasn’t, in any way, going to change the world.  Some examples include accounting, vehicle repair, construction work, bartending, marketing, and anything involving keeping your head down in a bureaucracy.  Perhaps the rest of us realized too late that anything that has generated tax revenue consistently for a few thousand years will, by extension of a famous proverb, result in job security–even if it’s the sort of thing that only a trained monkey could totally avoid feeling suicidal about.  Surprisingly, most people who actually got into computers when Forbes was predicting that people who got into computers would get rich, currently do computer repair or technical support for close to minimum wage.  After all, how much are people really willing to spend to keep a computer running when they can get a cheap-and-crappy new one for around $300?

I’ve never met a business owner who wasn’t willing to save a penny, now at the cost of a dollar, later.  Computers are like that, and contrary to what one might expect, business owners are willing to pay more than most to keep theirs running.  That should put things nicely into perspective.

This has been a rather long rant, and what I really mean to say by all of it is that people of other generations gripe way too much about people of my generation not “hitting the ground running”, “grabbing life with both hands”, “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps”, and all that jazz.  The fact is, we did all that, and it turned out that both the ground and life were covered in grease.  A lot of us fell flat on our faces with suddenly-ending careers, nervous breakdowns and other mental health catastrophes, stock market crashes, unrealistic expectations instilled in us from an early age, and so on.  That we’re at all willing to try–yet again–to get back on our feet in spite of how painful and discouraging our early adulthood was, is a sign of just how great this generation really is.

And we are going to change the world, damn it.

The Lily

The rose plant grew thorns because it was tired of being eaten;
And chrysanthemums produce poison to kill predators;
The bougainvillea bush shreds the hands of an unwary pruner.
But the lily fears conflict, and is trodden under foot.

Who among us has the courage to speak, despite the threat of the shearers?

Just as a barnacle can slow a ship in its path,
And as a louse jumps away from the sweeping comb,
So, too, are the parasites who fail to act, for fear of reproach:
They halt sapient progress and frustrate their fellows.

What does it profit a person to avoid conflict?
His nerves grow thin, and his hair falls out;
He can’t stand to see the face of whom he fears,
And runs at the appearance of an olive branch.
When he sees a quill and paper presented,
He assumes it’s a sword and shield;
And at the first sign of disagreement,
He abandons the peace treaty.

How many battles have we fought out of fear to negotiate?

The hands of the fearful are streaked with blood,
And the mind of the coward waxes crimson.
He sits in his war-room, planning for his defense,
And sends brave soldiers to die in his stead.

Still, the heart of the cowardly is bold with contempt.
It induces its wearer to make dogmas;
It convinces the gullible that avoidance is the only way,
And shuns forthright conversation.

Have pity on he who speaks of blind pacifism,
And have pity on the friends of the fearful,
For the burden is theirs, who turned their eyes from Poland,
And the ashes of Jews call their names.

But to the courageous is this boon:
Although you may be shorn,
Your petals are sought by many,
And your home is a fragrant garden.

Will the lily stand tall, or the tender grass bear seed?
These only thrive in isolation.
But perhaps, one day, the grass will learn to make grain,
And a farmer will protect it with his rifle.

Government is Broken Because People are Broken–So How Do We Fix It?

This is a reply to a discussion on Facebook.  For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to copy/paste the post that started the discussion, then my reply, below.  The discussion “ran the gamut” through partisan politics, the need to regulate businesses, the problems with regulating business, corruption in government, etc.  My response, below, is after many, MANY other comments, but I hope you’ll get the “jist” of the discussion from what I’m putting in this blog post.  I encourage people to continue the discussion in the comments section!

Original Post (Erin W.)
May 14th, 2013
if there ever were a week to start leaning libertarian, this would be it….. 🙂 i invite people on both sides of the isles to consider the possibility that BOTH sides are corrupt. this is not so we can become more cynical, it’s so we can learn to hold our OWN favorite politicans just as accountable as we hold the ones we didn’t vote for.nothing really changes unless republicans start caring more about corruption in their OWN party than in the other, and democrats start caring more about corruption in their OWN party than in the other. democrats will never eradicate corruption in the republican party and republicans will never eradicate corruption in the republican party. change only comes when we start with ourselves. that is what it means to be the change.

to republicans i plead- look into the crimes you see happening now. now look back at previous administrations and recognize with humility the SAME THINGS HAPPENING. to democrats i plead- look into the crimes you saw happening in previous administrations. now look at the current administration and recognize with humility the SAME THINGS HAPPENING.

few of us want to believe it. we are much more comfortable with the soothing idea that our side is wonderful and the other side is corrupt. we rationalize and justify with great effort to avoid challenging our easy way of looking at things. our desire to be right is often so much more powerful than our desire to see what’s really going on.

we cannot begin to heal our nation until we can recognize this.

i don’t know how to help in this process. i wish i knew. i suppose i can start with me. i can do my best to be the change.

My Response

The fact is, neither conservatives, liberals, business, nor government merit more trust than the others.  They’re all just “people.”  What happens when you give a person authority over another person?  Most people will immediately begin to exercise it unrighteously.  I’ve worked for enough small businesses to see that one doesn’t have to be more than a low-level assistant manager at a “po-dunk” shack-of-a-business to start exercising unrighteous dominion over everyone whose current position is lesser than one’s own.

So, the real question is, how do we manage the human tendency to behave thus?

Clearly elections don’t work; we just end up with “leaders” who are good at playing to the public sensibilities.  This is a “macrocosm” of high school student government fiascos–and basically the same sorts of people get elected.  The only main difference is how sophisticated their deceptions are, and how many people they’ve duped into helping them do it.  Sure, they don’t promise “free Cheetos for everyone,” but they do dangle silly, unreasonable incentives that their given parties are favoring at the moment.  “Immediately deport all illegal immigrants!”  “Cut all emissions in half by 2020!”  What the claims are really doesn’t matter; they’re designed to get votes and place those running in positions of power and comfort.  Think your party/candidate is different?  You probably just haven’t really dug into the implications of its/his/her promises, yet.  (Note: you may need a doctorate degree in a particular field to do so meaningfully.)  So, let’s look at other ways of dealing with this problem of humans needing leadership, but nearly every human being someone who should NOT lead other humans.

I’d almost further the idea of a simple “lottery” to elect people to office.  This would weed out those actively seeking power (since those people are almost always the ones who SHOULD NOT have power), and ensure an even demographic of rich/poor/black/white/Ivy Leage/community college, etc.–and thus ensure fair representation in the same way that random sampling ensures representative/valid statistical outcomes.  Sadly, not everyone is actually decent at leadership or smart–or especially WISE–enough to get things done sensibly.  (Note: education does not equal competence!  Most of our greatest, most renowned thinkers dropped out of school and got any degrees they had “meritoriously,” after having done something worthwhile that they weren’t formally educated in.)  So, from this, we’d end up with, essentially, a farm run by the farm animals.  This might sound egalitarian and all that, but in reality, most people just aren’t cut out for the kinds of responsibilities that are required of those who lead a nation (or even a small city, or even a Best Buy).  I wrote an essay on the topic of why not all people should be taught to be “leaders”, in case you’re interested: “What it Means to Be Yourself—and Why You Should Buck Current Trends in Education”.

So, if elections guarantee that we get power-hungry, corrupt, and usually feckless leaders, and random sampling guarantees that MOST of our leaders will be feckless, unqualified (i.e. lacking the necessary skills and talents), and spineless (since they’re inexperienced at commanding people)–and still corrupt, in the end; then what is a good system of government?

Let’s look at a benevolent dictatorship!  Monarchy is basically the same thing as a benevolent dictatorship, but is couched in more pretense of “propriety.”  Despite our cultural preferences, this is much more sane than any other option–so long as the dictator is extremely benevolent, extremely wise, extremely ethical, and extremely intelligent.  Some such people exist and history has record of them!  Sadly, their successors are almost always the opposite.  For a Biblical example, look at Solomon versus his son, Rehoboam.  The latter was so feckless, entitled, greedy, power-hungry, and unwise that he raised taxes to the point of dividing the kingdom of Israel into two pieces (which later shattered into countless more pieces)–and they’ve been at war (under various names) ever since.  For a contemporary example (a little less stark, but good enough for my purposes), look at Getúlio Dornelles Vargas, who freed Brazil’s under class, only to be succeeded by a long chain of military despots who reversed all the good he’d done (and then some).  (See my poem, “The Cowardly Artist,” for a reference to him and his successors.)

Oligarchy doesn’t work because it has all the same flaws as Representative Democracy–albeit trending toward more competency and less “deadlock” among legislators–but has even more tendency toward corruption than our current form of government, by way of having more obvious, more vulnerable, “points of attack” for would-be bribers to exploit, and less accountability, since there are fewer people of equal position to “check and balance” them.

Pure direct democracy is much like the “circus” of random selection, but adds a huge layer of complexity to getting anything done, and would basically guarantee our destruction the first time we get attacked by another nation (militarily), by way of not having a clear, fast, and efficient power structure.  Also, who’s going to tally the votes?  There’s your “quota of corruption!”  I tend to like a lot of things about adding elements of direct democracy to other forms of government, but doing it as a pure, direct democracy is fatal.

So, how would you handle this?

Should we place our trust in those who “know better” and trust that they actually do, and won’t take advantage of us?  How would you ensure it’s so?

Should we trust the under-qualified masses to somehow figure it out?  How do we mitigate the risks?

Do we combine several forms of government, much as the Founding Fathers did–only different?  How do we avoid their mistakes without creating even more serious ones?

Should the people really be allowed to run things?  If so, what do we do when the people make bad choices?  Do we let them do it, anyway, hoping that the mistakes aren’t fatal, and that we’ll all eventually learn from them?  If we don’t allow it, then we don’t really have democracy, now, do we?(!)  How do we ensure that we do learn from them in a timely fashion, rather than simply passing around (often-pointless) blame and fear, as we do now?  Are we, as a society, anywhere near mature enough for this level of responsibility?  If not, who is, and how do we find them?

Personally, I currently favor somehow putting reasonable, minimal, safeties in place, but letting the public make all the mistakes they want until we finally “grow up” and stop being rash, easy to bribe (with “cookies” from our leaders, as above), overly-emotional (i.e. avoiding near-solutions because of the problems their flaws created–rather than seeking to perfect them), etc.  Honestly, though, this solution also scares me because I don’t believe we’re ready for it–and that the only way to become ready for it is to simply do it.  This will almost certainly result in a dysfunctional society for a decade or more (or just a few years if we’re really quick on the uptake), and people are likely to die of starvation, in riots, and in plenty other “creative” ways.  It will leave scars–but will we let them cripple us or teach us?  I just don’t know how people would react…

Please share your thoughts, below.


Update 6-25-13: Erin W. pointed out a parallel to the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, which I find quite apt.  For those not familiar with it, here’s a link:

Do you think this closely related or a stretch?

The Zen Path to Salvation for All Beings

Even though I’m a Christian (of the Latter-Day Saint variety), I find great wisdom in many other philosophies and religions.  This is an essay I wrote for a religious studies class in 2001 on the basic tenets of Zen Buddhism.  It describes the ostensible goals and methods of the religion, and may be of some use to other non-Buddhists, much as learning about it has been to me.


The Zen Path to Salvation for All Beings

By Dane Mutters, 2001


As with most other religions, the ultimate goal of Zen (Ch’an) Buddhism is to end all suffering. In doing this, all practitioners of the Zen tradition are considered to be “Bodhisattvas,” or compassionate Buddhas. A compassionate Buddha’s duty is to first clear his own mind and reach enlightenment, then to help every other creature on the face of the Earth do the same. The primary way of doing this is through perfection of karma, or works, and thereby perfection of the results of these works.

Karma can take many forms—anger, kindness, charity and happiness are all possibilities. But how does one control this karma? Is it good to only have the most desirable karma all the time? According to Zen Master Seung Sahn, this is not appropriate. He suggests that we let ourselves be a “mirror,” unstained by concepts and preconceived notions, but utterly reflective of others’ karma. “Don’t check your mind—when you are angry, be angry. When you are happy, be happy. When sad, be sad.” (p.69) When we try to change our mood and situation, we are simply putting a mask over the way things really are.

A true Zen practitioner would point out that “pleasure” and “pain” are only words, developed by those eager to conceptualize what they are experiencing, which only detracts from the original experience by taking the person away from the state of “don’t know mind” and placing him in a state of grasping, which takes him farther from satori, or enlightenment. (Sahn, p.69) This grasping causes us to create our own reality as we want it to be, instead of seeing it as it really is. For an illustration of this, I offer a koan from Beyond Marginality: Constructing a Self in the Twilight of Western Culture. Here, a disciple, Seihei is conversing with his master, Suibi:


“What is the fundamental principle of Buddhism?”

Wait, said Suibi; “when there is no one around I will tell you.”

After a while, Seihei repeated the request, saying, “There is no one here now; pray enlighten me.”

Coming down from his chair, Suibi took the anxious enquirer into the bamboo grove, but said nothing. When the latter pressed for a reply, Suibi whispered: “how high these bamboos are! And how short those over there!”

(Muller, p. 26)


Why do we want to identify and categorize feelings and motivations in every experience? Why do we insist on making connections where none should exist? Does the fact that some bamboos are short and others are tall have a deeper meaning? We should not try to associate everything we see with something other than what it is, or our experience will become only that—a “thing.” Once we have created a “thing,” our experience ceases to be. It is now no more than what we have created, and thus polluted. The goal of Zen Buddhism, therefore, is to rectify all names, and thereby eliminate them.

The problem exists in that people think using words and names. How, then, if we eliminate all such names, are we going to think? The answer is, we won’t. This is not intended in the Orwellian sense, but rather to the effect that true understanding, or enlightenment, comes before thinking and thinking before words, which lead to the creation of “things,” which cloud our view of reality. The solution, therefore, is to cut off that process once we have achieved a true understanding, and therefore cease altogether to think.

Sahn has pointed this out on multiple occasions to people who have brought questions to him. His most common response is, “only go straight ahead—don’t know.” In order to illustrate this, he uses the example of Hyang Eom’s koan, “Up a Tree.”


“It is like a man up a tree who is hanging from a branch by his teeth. His hands cannot grasp a bough, his feet cannot touch the tree; he is tied and bound. Another man under the tree asks him, ‘Why did Bodhidarma come to China?’ If he does not answer, he evades his duty and he will be killed. If he answers, he will lose his life. If you are in the tree, how do you stay alive?”

(p. 8)


If you don’t know, you’re on the right path. While a rational man might argue semantics, “being in the tree does not make me the man hanging by his teeth, therefore I will keep my life regardless;” a Zen practitioner will intuitively know the intent of the question and use it to better understand himself by probing into the nothingness that is before thought. To a Zen practitioner, lingering on wording only distracts one’s view of reality.

We now come back to the topic of karma. A true bodhisattva, intending to end all suffering, links his karma to that of every other being. So as to feel what they feel and to better sympathize with them, he must clear his “mirror” of all distractions. However, in order to avoid the pitfalls of those whom he is trying to save, he must first detach from his feelings.

Seung Sahn explains this to a mother who, though a Zen practitioner, became so angry with her delinquent son as to nearly come to blows. He states that her anger before practicing the Dharma was attached anger—she claimed it as her own, and was thus only able to let go of it after a long period of “cooling-down” time. After some practice, however, she showed reflected anger; she reflected the anger of her son, but after an hour or so was able to regain equilibrium and set things aright. With a little more practice she would attain a state of perceived anger. This kind of anger is still within, but very controllable. Eventually, continuous practice would lead to loving anger, which is not felt, but shown so that others would benefit from it.

This line of (not-)thinking points to the eventuality that all feelings are no more than our perceptions of them. Following from this comes the possibility that through ceasing to assign names and associations to our experiences, we can eliminate feelings altogether within ourselves, and through charity, eliminate them in others as well. Thus we are able to reach a state of perfect equilibrium, undistracted by our particular views of things. This equilibrium is referred to as one’s “primary point.” Sahn likens the unsteadiness of emotions to the shocks on motor vehicles. “A taxi has weak shock absorbers, so it bounces up and down when it hits a small bump. A train has strong shock absorbers, so it is very steady, no matter what. If you keep your primary point, your mind-spring will become stronger and stronger. A big problem will come and your mind will move, but it will soon return to primary point. Finally your mind will be very strong, and it will be able to carry any load. Then saving all beings from suffering is possible.” (p.7)

In order to be effective as a Zen bodhisattva, it is first necessary to disassociate experiences from words, words from thoughts and thoughts from the nothingness that is before thought. Having done so, a person can reach satori,or enlightenment. Once we have thus gained a clear mind, and are fully able to empathize with others, an end to all suffering is possible.



Sahn, Seung. Only Don’t Know. Boston, MA: Shambala Publications, Inc.


Muller, René J. Beyond Marginality: Constructing a Self in the Twilight of Western Culture. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.