Well my friends, it seems that the law of the land continues to exercise its big twitching muscle. Our Supreme Court is about as obfuscating, and living a virtual contradiction, as are any of us mere mortals. In this “nation of laws,” it is now a fact that not only is a corporation a person; it now seems that police requesting someone of apparently Hispanic descent to stand and deliver his or her immigration documents is not really a case of racial profiling after all. Well, I am certainly glad we cleared that up. Yet, only a highly irritable and unforgiving god knows exactly what this Court will pronounce concerning the presidential healthcare clusterfuck. Either way, “we, the people,” stand to be screwed. OMG… Just this afternoon, the Supremes upheld the universal mandate as allowed under the law. What did they do? They simply redefined it as a tax issue; and we all know that the federal government has the right to tax us anyway they like. The interesting twist here is that this new tax will be paid to commercial insurance companies. Is this a great nation, or what? There is absolutely nothing free in this freedom loving nation.
This is where the specific gravity of the Western curriculum comes into clearer focus, its self-justifying logic, and the deep fissures of arbitrariness characterizing our institutions. The very structure of our reasoning process gives scientists, politicians, legislators, and judges the capacity to reshape our reality constantly and conveniently through redefining what is and is not the case – socially, economically, or physically. These definitions are then institutionalized through the articulation of governing laws and validating opinions meant to reflect those very same states of affairs. Such laws stand uncontested until and unless circumstances arise that put them again into question. Law – itself a convenient type of hypothesis formation intended to justify our opinions and “save the appearance” of our ever-changeable reality – shows itself to be the unseen medium in which we move, and the controlling mechanism by means of which we interact with one another in civil (i.e., post-traditional) society.
In the social realm, law provides us with a world built upon the codification of rights, obligations, duties, and responsibilities – property rights being foundational among them. Even the most profoundly personal relations between persons – the intimate activities between partners – are turned into contractual agreements concerning property rights and obligations. And as we have already witnessed, decisions concerning our own personal healthcare are already the object of legal control and contractual obligation, as we find in our managed care plans, and soon to be in our federal insurance mandate. One thing is clear. Laws are intended to protect property and those who own it. The more properties you own (real estate, capital, factories, workers, etc), the more the laws will function to your satisfaction and the protection of your properties.
And while we say there is only one legislative branch of government in the USA, the fact of the matter is that all three branches here are consumed with the articulation, execution, or adjudication of law, whether through legislative action, executive order, or judicial opinion. Legislating is what modern governments were designed to do best. And the logistical ordering of legislative processes, ties every judgment about culpability, liability, and the assignment of guilt directly to the curriculum through the causality implicit in the syllogism.
In this way, we in the civilized West (and increasingly those in the civilized East) manage things and people by explicitly binding agreement, grounded in a very formalized and unforgiving logical structure, and the codification of that calculative thinking into specific laws. Whether it is a futures’ contract in commodities, an insurance contract on the car, a service contract on that new i-phone, a mortgage contract on the house, or a publishing contract on our next book release, the issue is quintessentially about property, it’s disposition, and our rights or obligations relative to that property. Contractual arrangements are concerned with the pure application of an unrelenting logic, without regard to personal circumstances or situational concerns (that is, unless of course you are a politician, and then you get a sweetheart deal); just ask those who recently lost their homes through foreclosure. The law even has the ability to transform other persons into commodities or properties accountable and manipulable under formal contractual arrangements; for example, the employment contract or the marriage contract, to name only two.
So: when we lose the Way we find power; losing power we find goodness; losing goodness we find righteousness; losing righteousness we’re left with obedience.
Obedience to law is the dry husk of loyalty and good faith. Opinion is the barren flower of the Way, the beginning of ignorance. (Tao Te Ching #38)
And “ignorance” is as good a definition as any in describing what we now have leading us, as we limp and lurch around looking for another silver bullet to save the day.
On the other hand, in a world anchored by kinship and predicated on sharing, social and environmental relations are orchestrated through the concrete, albeit often complex, realities of consanguinity (blood) and tribal affinities (compatibility). There are no abstract legal agreements controlling relations in primal human societies. Laws and contracts are creations of the logic of the civilized world; such contracts, like written codes or laws, are unknown in the pre-civilized (pre-literate) milieu. Certainly, we find customs and myths in this world, the glue that cements and under girds primal social interaction. However, this is grounded in the realities of the daily surround, and a foundation of egalitarian relations. And just as there are no laws regulating one’s role within the social fabric; so too there is no formal hierarchy. Where kinship exists, kingship is not necessary, and laws are not required to manage the affairs of the group. Custom silently regulates the relations between and among members of the tribe.
Our civilized societies are peopled with strangers – individuals relocated and living anonymously clustered among apartment buildings and overpriced cul-de-sacs. Even the remaining “villages” we may inhabit here in the West are now large enough, by the thousands in many cases, and alien enough, to militate against knowing those with whom you struggle daily to survive. Thriving in this quaffed but treacherous urban landscape requires strict focus on the superficial, on the games that we all are forced to play just to get along and fight for the crumbs falling off the table of plenty.
Yet, for many of us, money is not the primary concern or the motivating driver. Peace, meaningful engagement, a less complicated life, these are the things to which we all look forward: to die a good death, a happy death. To be loved by those whom we love; to be missed by those whom we will miss; to be remembered in fondness by those with whom we were acquainted. To hope for anything more would be overreaching and selfish. This is already enough. But the more forcefully we lean forward into that anticipated future, a future informed by the recent memory of the historical past, and seek to navigate our way to a chosen but distant horizon, in that moment the options and the journey close-off to us. And we are lost.