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Since capital punishment is not generally a management option these days, I have converted such references to being fired, instead.

Alternately, I have sometimes contextualized “life” in the modern colloquial sense, as in “get a life!”.

At the risk of stating the obvious: note that, in the original context of the Dao De Jing, capital punishment was very much a management option. So much so that an entire chapter (#74) was basically a reminder than any threat, even the threat of death, loses power if it is overused.

A windfall is as great a cause for concern as a disaster;
value your greatest fears as you do your life.

What does this mean?
When the bug fixes itself:
what is origin of this windfall —
where did it come from,
and when will it leave?
Your greatest fears:
their origin is that you have a life —
if you have no life,
what need for fear?

Therefore, he who puts his life before his job
can be trusted with his job;
he who puts his life before the world
can be trusted with the world.


chapter notes:

While retargeting the second verse, I have preserved much of the sense of the the original, but the structural parallel between the two explanations is novel.

In the last verse, I have translated “world” to “job” in the first statement, and left it as is in the second statement. Note that, in the original, the ideal is for “the ruler”, “the Sage” and “the people” all to value their lives, but there does not seem to be any particular emphasis on a parallel between them.

Computer graphics distract the eye.
Downloading music distracts the ear.
Browsing the web disturbs one’s taste.
Video games obsess the mind.
Ordering online disrupts one’s judgement.

Therefore, the Consultant
cultivates his intuition, instead of distracting himself:
by avoiding the one, he chooses the other.


chapter notes:

I had a lot of fun with this chapter. My favorite part was replacing “riding and hunting” with “video games”: when you think about it, that is really the closest modern parallel.

For that matter, considering gaming-obsession and hunt-madness as similar phenomena goes a long way in explaining the original line to a modern reader.

Thirty spokes join at a single hub;
its use depends on the hole in the center.
Clay is formed into a pot;
its use depends on the hole in the center.
Doors and windows make a building;
its use depends on the hole in the center.

Thus, though something may have value,
it is the nothing that makes it useful.


chapter notes:

This chapter has no deliberate misappropriation at all. Only the title (“The Empty Disk”) suggests a computerish relevance.

Cultivating mind and body as one — can you stay undivided?
Focusing effort and achieving flexibility — can you become childlike?
Polishing subtle code — can you ensure no bugs remain?

Working with the developers and writing code, can you avoid cleverness?
Amidst acquisitions and reorganizations, can you remain creative?
When you grok the entire system, do you mistake your knowledge for wisdom?

Begin the project, develop it;
build the team though you do not manage it;
bring the product to market, though you do not control it:
this is called Subtle Virtue.


chapter notes:

The second verse has two exhortations to be “without knowledge”. The first has been converted to a (contextually appropriate) warning against “cleverness”, while the second introduces an unfavorable comparison to “wisdom”.

Both are common dodges among more straightforward translations.

November 2009

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