In Germany, before Adolf Hitler came to power, there was a contingent of aristocratic military commanders who snickered at the idea that such a rabble-rousing upstart, a World War I corporal, could come to power. It was unthinkable among men of position and honor that a lower-class ignoramus should walk the halls of power. These were upright men convinced by their own decencies and privilege. In their excellence, they allowed themselves to be blinded to and dismissive of mediocrity. Hitler outflanked these men who knew how to duel and which fork to use with the salad ... and the rest is history.
In India, a group of disgruntled workers stopped a manager's car, doused the car in gasoline and then set it on fire. There had been layoffs and more were feared. The manager did not survive.
In Ohio, a bill to wipe out union rights for public-sector employees passed the state senate and was on track to pass the house and be signed into law. "For as far-reaching this thing is and how many lives it will affect, I can't believe how fast it moved," said Columbus Police Sgt. Shaun Laird. The legislation -- in Ohio and elsewhere -- is largely the brain-child of Republicans, whose interest in working men an women is largely limited to improvements in a stock market whose companies have spent millions purchasing the best lawmakers money can buy.
Republicans who seem to know which fork to use on their salad may be snickering at the upstart rabble now. But I wonder that they don't take some lesson from a car doused in gasoline in faraway India or a conflagration that probably consumed many of their forbears.
Dave, a friend of mine who used to own a small plastics factory, once told me that he tried to make sure his workers were represented by the Teamsters, a feared union known for its pricey dues and sometimes corrupt practices. Where other companies did their best to keep the Teamsters out of the local labor mix, Dave welcomed them even though the union drove his prices up. Why, I asked him. Because, he said, the Teamsters delivered ... they did what they said they were going to do. If the Teamsters said the trucks would roll at 6 a.m., you could take it to the bank that the trucks would roll at 6 a.m.
Why are the uprisings in the Middle East only seen as uprisings in the Middle East? Facile explanations of dictatorships that do not apply in the USA seem short-sighted. Aren't the human longings in Tunisia and Libya and Egypt and Yemen often the same demands in Ohio and Wisconsin? Of course, lawmakers can snicker and scoff at the very notion of a resistance by the great-unwashed, the ones who eat their meals with a single fork, but how wise is such tunnel vision? As a Somali intelligence officer recently observed more or less when discussing the roots of piracy that has been a lucrative business in his country: "If you do not share your wealth with others, they will share their poverty with you."
And besides the social observations that can be made about frictions between the haves and have-nots -- how much of anyone's appreciation of life is based on a sense of their own particular aristocracy, their own relaxed and clear and hardened vision of the world around them? And how many are forced to face the uprisings and contradictions presented by the circumstances of life. Over and over again, the one true faith, however altruistic or self-centered it may be, is forced to confront the upstarts and boat-rockers. And it is not just a war with others. It is also a war within. No one can sweet-talk a burning car into submission. When I assert my salad-fork philosophy or religion or demands, life will always offer a variety of other options -- some of them quite horrific. My "excellent" way confronts the "mediocrity" of other ways ... each of which offers the reassurance of "excellence."
And it is within this framework that I think Gautama's words ring true -- not just for something called "Buddhists" and not just for something called "Republicans" and not just for those rallying for "what is just." To me, what he said makes excellent sense for human beings seeking an end to endless wars ... who long for an honest peace that does not rely on either aristocracy or rabble, salad forks or burning cars, expectations or disappointments. What Gautama was quoted as saying is this:
"It is not what others do and do not do that is my concern. It is what I do and do not do -- that is my concern."
I'm not saying it's easy. I am saying it's the only thing I can think of that makes much sense.