You are currently browsing the daily archive for October 27, 2009.

The Market may crash, but it never dies.
The reason why the Market persists
is that it does not live for its own sake;
that is why it cannot die.

Therefore, the Consultant
does not set out to innovate, yet finds himself on the cutting edge;
does not found his own company, yet finds his consultancy thriving.
Does he have no interests of his own?
Perhaps this is why his interests thrive.


In this chapter, as in chapter 5, “the Market” stands in for “Heaven and Earth” — idiomatically, the entire world. Since, storms and earthquakes aside, the market tends to be a bit less stable than the heavens or the earth, the first line emphasizes that as a phenomenon, its existence is more or less independent of good times or bad.

chapter notes:

Along with chapters 5 and 6, this chapter introduces “the Market”. Ancient China was not big on markets: in the Confucian view, the merchant is given the lowest possible status, and unlike many other Confucian principles, the Dao De Jing takes no exception to this.

However, the Market is pervasive in the environment of the Consultant. It inspires both vilification and idolatry, both of which cause a great deal of foolish behavior on the part of people who really ought to know better.

My position here is to treat the Market with a mixture of caution (as for any sharp and effective tool), skepticism (as a perennial avenue for abuse), and engagement (as an inescapable aspect of the modern world).

As an over-literal interpretation of the original term tends to lead to a common misunderstanding of the original philosophy, I have chosen a more concretely specific phrase for the mistranslation. I am still not entirely happy with it, but I have not found anything I like better.

The philosophical error to avoid is to interpret this phrase as a recommendation to withdraw from the world, sit there like a lump, and do nothing, unconditionally; I think it is safe to say that this is not what Daoism is all about.

Viewing the Dao De Jing as a whole, one striking aspect is the amount of advice it gives for those engaged with the the world: hermits have little need for political philosophy, military advice, or social recommendations. While reserving action is certainly appropriate in many situations (and it seems clear that identifying such cases is an aspect of the particular Daoist virtue represented by this term, “wuwei”), it is not appropriate for all situations, and any philosophy that claims it is would be both foolish and boring.

Rather than translating the term over-literally, I have chosen a phrase that suggests working with the nature of that which you are engaged with, as opposed to bringing brute force to bear on a potentially uncooperative reality.

October 2009

Post Categories