In this litigious society of ours, the rights of one constitutional entity almost inevitably bump up against the rights of another, with the resolution often to be found in court. This state of affairs is partly the fault of the Constitution -- admirable document though it is -- which is filled with language of special interest to one sort of group or another. Taken together, they seem like a whole lot of groups. Put these groups together with a whole lot of lawyers, and you generate enough business to keep three or four federal court systems occupied from now until half past the millenium.

This business is not, however, frivolous in nature. Arguments over basic rights are unavoidable by-products of society's continuing evolution -- legal, moral, and political. While cracks about how many lawyers it takes to change a lightbulb (three: one to depose it, one to cross-examine it, and one to draw up the retainer) may bring knowing smiles, they do not explain away the fact that the law happens to be whatever those in control of it at a particular moment say it is. And what they say it is often is neither fair nor constitutional. To become more of both, the law must be tested in the arena of reality, where legal principle and human ambition intersect. The founding fathers would have applauded this notion. Wise as they were, the framers of our legal foundation missed out -- by accident of history -- one most of America's opportunities for continuing education: manning the ramparts of the Abolitionist movement, stoking the engines of the Industrial Revolution, interfacing with today's Information Age, where all people are created equal, with ready access to major databases.

In the case of Oaklana Scavenger Co. versus its own employees (see page 36), the rights in conflict involve two groups that are not natural adversaries: Neither one may be said to have a proprietary grip on the levers of power, constitutional or otherwise. One group is Italian by heritage and justifiably proud of its record in building a "family" company. The other is part Hispanic, part black, and justifiably peeved at the rules that deny it the benefits of family membership. For either side to have its rights abridged seems a travesty of justice, a mockery of the meaning of opportunity. That is why, perhaps, two ostensibly like-minded courts -- one trial, one appellate -- looked at the same evidence and came to two radically different conclusions.

One inescapable inference from the appellate court decision, however, is that the lowercase "d" in American democracy has a force that is strictly uppercase. No group, says the court, no isolated minority, may use the law to prosper, then turn around and draw about its own shoulders the cloak of legal discrimination. Like individuals, the law moves ahead. (Indeed, they must move together.) Sometimes this helps build causes -- or companies. Sometimes it threatens them. Always it reminds us that even good principles and worthy values must run the test of reality now and again, and time can change them. It wouldn't be reality if it didn't.

On a rather different aspect of these changing times -- the presence of Japanese industries in American markets, and vice versa -- INC. has announced its first High Technology Executive Network, to be held in Tokyo from March 23 to 31. This overseas workshop is a cousin of the INC. seminars on financial management and human resources. It will bring together 50 to 60 U.S. executives of small to medium-size technology companies with 250 to 300 Japanese counterparts. The purpose of the visit is to give American businesses direct exposure to technology vendors and potential customers.

"In Japan," notes INC.'s West Coast editor Joel Kotkin, one of our Networking '85 organizers (along with seminar director Bradford Ketchum Jr.), "there is no substitute for personal contact. The Japanese do business with people they know. Not know of, but know. Most American businesses know only the big Japanese ones. So American companies miss out on large numbers of markets, or worse, stay home."

Networking '85 is timed to coincide with two other events of note: the opening of Expo '85, The International Exposition (on science and technology) in Tsukuba, and Comdex in Japan '85, in Tokyo. Comdex 85 will feature more than 150 manufacturers, dealers, and distributors of computers and related products. From this sprawling exposition hall to the intimate gatherings of INC.'s high-tech meeting groups, we think late March in Tokyo will offer quite an opportunity to face the future and help shape it.