In Article 89 a monkey, a dog, and a chicken try to get through a fence. The monkey finds a hole in the fence, the dog follows the monkey, and the chicken stubbornly bangs against the fence.
Plato used the myth of the metals to assign attributes to different people. Today we will perform the exercise using the collection of animals: invent, follow, and deny.
In my upbringing, heaven includes three degrees: the highest for enlightened people, the middle for faithful followers, and the lowest for practitioners of willful rejection.
Pondering this theme has taught me that it applies exactly to our present circumstances. People in my world are composed of the same metals—that is, fall into those three categories. We admire those who apply intelligence creatively to improve themselves and the world. We appreciate those who can follow obediently without rocking the boat. We avoid those who oppose progress and tear down the work of others. In other words, the present world is constructed the same as heaven. People disclose their selection here, not at final judgment. That close correspondence between the concept of heaven and the observable world underlies my earlier declarations that we create not only our own worlds but also our own heavens (article 52).
Present existence – past, present, future
Note that the above paragraph overlays or correlates the present and the future. Ancient teachings illustrate this fusion using a river as metaphor: the river appears fixed, always the same flow of water. However, the water it contains moves downstream and is replaced. The always-same entity is actually always different. From the viewpoint of the water, there is uninterrupted movement, a relativity perspective that we have discussed before (article 92). The river has a past. The water has a past. In science we refer to the water cycle. In philosophy this can represent the union of past, present, and future. Our perspective reveals where we are in the rhythm.
Dealing with darkness
In article 84 I deny an evil world. Light has positive existence and darkness is merely absence of light. In that sense, evil is not its own existence. However, evil can alternatively be viewed as a negative entity. In the above layering of degrees, the bottom ranking has to do with destructive behavior. The lowest order is not merely having less light. It involves destroying or detracting from that which comes from the light.
It is improper to dismiss people as evil. In article 6 I look for the Paul inside every Saul. However, it is realistic, proper, and necessary to raise defenses while we are waiting for the transformation. Predators must not prevail. We must survive to be good examples. We are not rejecting the perpetrators when we deny them the opportunity to commit crimes.
I sorrow over robbers and armies who plunder peasants. I decry companies that fail to provide necessary protective equipment to employees. I am disappointed with those who cheat their fellow humans. In our happy human family, some things are to be kept out. Therefore, I acknowledge protective systems that facilitate our ever new world. I am not permissive of the forces that revert back to jungle law, conquering by might.
Choose the highest degree
Article 17 instructed us to be considerate of others. For the construction of our new, happier world, our common operating principle is putting others ahead of self—that is, being for others. My favorite metaphor is the world where chopsticks are six feet long. In the dark side, people swear at the chopsticks. In the light side, they feed each other. Read the following ideas looking for the path that best feeds the human family (article 49).
Article 56 identifies dangers of gridlock in government. Competition and infighting destroy collaboration. Especially vulnerable are two-party systems (article 7) because they easily split down the middle into opposing forces. Instead, multi-party systems (article 8) can provide exchange of ideas where coalition building on one issue leaves open the possibility of different alignments on another issue.
Another great drawback of government power is a one-size-fits-all mentality. Members of the state desire equal treatment, that is, basic fairness. However, circumstances vary. For example, in the United States there may be a uniform standard of providing heat in rental apartments, but there cannot be a uniform national code for a given thickness of insulation. At the very least, a government solution needs to be suited to the lowest practical unit of application. Weatherproofing standards should be set at the community level.
These are a few of the considerations limiting government action. It can be frozen by gridlock and it can be counterproductive if it tries to impose improvements on unwilling residents.
On the other hand, some forms of uniformity are useful. There was a period when interracial marriage was illegal in some states, effectively preventing such couples from moving there to take up employment. That example taught the country to have a uniform national standard protecting same-sex marriage.
Sometimes government is the only institution large enough to be effective. In other circumstances, its inherent limitations prevent it from being effective. It is not universal panacea.
When government wields much power over people’s lives, public distrust exacerbates the weaknesses enumerated above. Sometimes self stands in the way of making progress (article 55). When individuals in government put self ahead of others, the people suffer. Article 56 suggests a contrasting solution: where government fails, private individuals take over the load. Articles 79 and 80 provide concrete examples of individual contribution to the public good.
Private entities may be less subject than government to gridlock. They can choose their partners. They can easily be localized so that they are adapted to the size and extent of problems they address. They can be flexible and creative because they more easily break loose from overbearing individuals—unless, of course, the private entity is an overbearing individual. Private policies are not required to be so universally applicable as public policies. Adaptation or fine-tuning is more practical at the private voluntary level.
On the other hand, here, too, there is a temptation toward one-size-fits-all mentality and insensitive imposition of solutions. Private companies and individuals can be as corruptible as governments. Where that is not the case, personal virtue in the private sector can be customized, creative and effective.
My recent courses (as a student) have taught us to begin with the end in mind. To me that means to think consequential thoughts. Every outcome should be a consequence of good choices I make. I am accountable for every decision.
Today I have been laying a foundation for my assertion that creating the new world is serious effort. I have previously welcomed you to disagree (articles 53 and 64) and differ (article 46). Success is dependent on tolerance! I am pleased with the variety of available talents and concerned that they might be stifled by enforced uniformity. Instead of answers, I specialize in fresh questions that increase your courage to be original and creative.
I am not pointing out a direction. I am recommending how we interact with each other. The better world does not result from victory of a party or the adoption of an exact monetary policy. Improvement is the result of improved behavior. My primary key is to put others ahead of self. Remember that what tiger eats becomes tiger: As long as you remain sensitive and your heart is pure, you are feeding your human siblings in this world where the chopsticks are six feet long. Take courage because your way does not have to be the same as my way. The end in mind is that we all are fed.