Sunday, September 4, 2016

Laws and Order.

Law and Order?
More than 45 years hence Alvin Toffler (then considered to be “futurist”) wrote Future Shock, a book many considered to cause a paradigm shift in how we think about, and react to an unfolding future, particularly a future that speeds up and disrupts societal standards thought to be fixed. He followed with The Third Wave and Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century in which he further delineated the plight of those who resist inevitable change. His solution? People who learned to ride the wave of change would be most likely to survive and do well. And those who didn’t adapt would be drowned by the waves of change.

Toffler was unusually prescient and fairly well defined the turbulence of the present day. The short take-away of Toffler’s thesis is this: We humans resist effervescent conditions that disrupt the status quo and thus cling to fixed standards, even when such standards may never have existed, or if they did exist we tend to imbue them with inflated and idealized values. In short, we don’t embrace change and end up trying to bulwark thin air. Furthermore when such changes wash away set standards, we yearn for the “good old days” when law and order prevailed and seemed to insure stability.

Some years earlier Alan Watts came to mainstream attention with his book The Wisdom of Insecurity in which he observed that our lust for stability was grossly out of kilter since nothing in the phenomenal world is stable⎯all is moving and changing each and every moment, and to cling to the idea of stability was a sure fire prescription for failure. I offer these two summations for a reason that is particularly germane today, and what it should tell us about the value of fixed standards, otherwise known as “laws.”

We humans are creatures of habit and once we have made decisions, we are reluctant to admit the error of our ways. That notion has a name and a well founded pedigreed in psychological terms. It is known as a “confirmation bias” which means we are much more inclined to seek confirmation of our preconceived ideas than to seek the truth. While it may be understandable and even desirable to live with standards, it is likewise a problem when we try to box in change. It can’t be done, since no law, or set of laws, can ever counter continuous change. So what to do?

The Buddha offered the perfect solution which he called “upaya,” a Sanskrit word that translates as “expedient means,” where justice is a built into the premise. Instead of inflexible laws, upaya is flexible guidelines that allow for the nature of change. Upaya is rooted in the inherent wisdom of all of mankind, whereas the desire for inflexible standards is rooted in the opposite thought: Because we are by nature immoral, lacking laws will result in lawlessness, thus we must have a crutch to compensate for our lack. Ultimately this issue boils down to what we think of one another. Are we naturally moral? Or naturally immoral?

Another ancient sage by the name of Lao Tzu said this in chapter 57 of the Tao Te Ching: 

“The more laws and restrictions there are,
The poorer people become.
The sharper men’s weapons,
The more trouble in the land.
The more ingenious and clever men are,
The more strange things happen.
The more rules and regulations,
The more thieves and robbers.

Therefore the sage says:
I take no action and people are reformed.
I enjoy peace and people become honest.
I do nothing and people become rich.
I have no desires and people return to the good and simple life.”


Given the vector in the world today it is high time we reconsider how we understand one another, and rethink what we do about it. This may seem like a risky venture but how much greater is the risk of the direction in which we are now heading?
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