November 19, 2015

Moses & Pharaoh: Why do We Work? – Part 2

workAs I argued in the previous installment on this subject, it is the hallmark of a Pharonic society that it subordinates the growth of the individual for the sake of the social project and the social project is about the immortality and aggrandizement of those in control. This is the paradigm exemplified by ancient Egyptian society. A Mosaic or prophetic society is radically different insofar as it applies the social project to the end of enabling free and mature people, where the leadership of this society expend themselves to this end. In the story of Moses and the Pharaoh, there are therefore two societal paradigms of leadership depicted, which are the complete inverse of one another.

When asked the question which of these two paradigms of leadership is most legitimate, it is clear that the more legitimate one is the Mosaic one. This is very significant as it shows that correct leadership entails understanding that the role of the leader is to serve or care for the followers. However, this care is fundamentally about the growth of the individual, in other words, cultivating the individual’s freedom, maturity and power. It is about cultivating the individual’s capacity for unconditional benevolent action. Legitimate leadership is about the care and growth of the follower. Likewise, a legitimate social order is about the care and growth of the individual.

The question may arise “How does a leader of a society get chosen?” or “how do you choose a legitimate leader of a group?” Actually, the mechanism whereby a person attains power is absolutely irrelevant. It is what the person does with the power that is the point. You can have absolutely any mechanism to choose a leader and you could still have a self-interested ego maniac ending up in a position of authority.

I would imagine the Founding Fathers of America were all well-intentioned men. They tried to do that which in their view was benign, fair and would put people in charge who would responsibly govern the interests of the people of the United States of America. That very mechanism put George Bush in charge of the USA.

It is entirely conceivable that a person who is a hereditary king acts consistently with being here to serve the people, and we know stories of hereditary kings where this was the case. This was the case in every civilization. On every continent and at very age you will find examples of a hereditary king or a hereditary chief who was extraordinary, who demonstrably governed in the interest of the people rather than to get something from the people.

If the problem of legitimacy is how you get power then what you are doing is you are replacing a requirement for what makes power legitimate with a rule of succession. A rule of succession is not a model for what power has to do. How you get power is different from what power has to do. It doesn’t matter what the rule of succession is – you can be just or unjust once you have the power. So our current argument that we put forward around democracy and democratic social orders has a naivete to it because it confuses the idea of legitimacy and legitimate power with a rule of succession. They are two different things.

I am not suggesting that we should not work. We all need to work, initially, to put a roof over our own heads and then later on to live up to the responsibility of taking care of those near to us. I am suggesting that we need to review the purpose of our work. Particularly when we get to a point where our achievements seem a bit facile it is helpful to remember that the purpose of work is a transformed self.

At some point we no longer work to earn money. The money may or may not come but this is not the issue. We work because when we work we change. The purpose isn’t the other, or of achieving things in the objective world. The real purpose is a transformation of the subject, the seer, the inner self.

So this is the insight that the account of the distinction between pharaoh and Moses makes possible. Pharaoh is about useful work that builds things, but actually it is all just a ruse. In this case the real purpose is entrenching those in charge, forever if possible.

Good work produces good men and women as a by-product of that endeavour. When these people work, they no longer work to sustain themselves, no more than the wanderers wandered to sustain themselves. Every task in their working day is concerned with perfecting the work of art called their lives.