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He who studies, accumulates every day.
He who follows the Way, diminishes every day.

Diminish, and diminish again,
until you achieve action without force.
Take action without force,
and there is nothing that cannot be accomplished.

If you would change the world,
genuinely relinquish your self-interest:
by clinging to your self-interest,
you become insufficient to change the world.


chapter notes:

The text of this chapter is a straightforward translation; even the chapter title does not particularly redirect its intent.

(or: The Consultant Doesn’t Get Out Much)

Without leaving your door,
know the world.
Without looking out the window
know the Way of Heaven.
The farther you go,
the less you know.

Therefore the Consultant
can elicit the requirements without travelling,
can write the code without setting eyes on the client,
can complete the project with a minimum of hassle.


chapter notes:

Whatever the ancient virtues of staying put might be, telecommuting is the obvious modern target for this chapter.

I find it interesting that only here, in the entire book, is knowledge spoken of as something to be sought. So, if escaping knowledge is an essential Daoist virtue, one could read this chapter in reverse, and count travel as beneficial, after all.

When the world follows the Way,
algorithms are published in the journals.
When the world does not follow the Way,
patent portfolios are built up in self-defense.

There is no misfortune like avarice:
no evil greater than unchecked greed;
no disaster more tragic than the inability to be satisfied.

Even minimal understanding
of when to be satisfied
is sufficient.


chapter notes:

Since horses are no longer instruments of war, and war is outside my target context, I have converted them to software patents.

For those unfamiliar with the issue, software patents are a genuine bane to software developers of any kind. Most software patents are useless except as a threat for legal harassment; in the rare case where the content of the patent is actually useful, the patent causes the underlying algorithm to become “encumbered” (an actual term of art in the computer world), and developers avoid it like the plague.

Great quality may seem defective,
but use does not wear it out.
Great fullness may seem empty,
but use does not exhaust it.

Great truth may seem warped.
Great skill may seem clumsy.
Great wealth may appear mediocre.
Great eloquence may sound inarticulate.

Agitation fights the cold,
but stillness overcomes the heat:
purity and equilibrium can change the world.


chapter notes:

The text of this chapter is a straightforward translation; the chapter title only suggests a concrete example.

Your reputation or your life:
which is closer to your heart?
Your life or your money:
which is worth more?
Growth or cutbacks:
which is more disruptive?

Where you place deep attachment,
there you will spend most deeply;
where you have heavy investments,
there you will take heavy losses.

to avoid disgrace, know when to be content;
to mitigate risk, know where to stop:
these make lasting endurance possible.


chapter notes:

Even in the original, this chapter reads like a tutorial on utility theory and risk management; I have emphasized this aspect.

Flowing water grinds hard stone to dust;
insubstantial air penetrates the seamless wall:
these show the virtue of taking action without force.

Speaking without voice,
taking action without force:
few can approach these.


chapter notes:

I have answered the riddle in the first verse, but otherwise I have not tried to distort this chapter.

The Way gave birth to Unity:
zero and one generate binary,
and binary is sufficient
to run the ten thousand programs.

Today, the ten thousand programs
are the medium of the creative,
and the instruments of control.
Together, they have the potential
to create harmony.

The world hates the orphaned, the abandoned, and the obscure,
yet sometimes these things may rise to dominate the market.

Sometimes, less is more.
Sometimes, worse is better.

Having learned, one may teach;
the father of my teaching might be:
“He who lives by force will meet an unnatural end”


chapter notes:

I have dropped “three” from the first verse, as an inauspicious number in the new context.

In the second verse, “yin” (the female principle) corresponds to “creative”, “yang” to “control”, and “qi” to “potential”.

The proverb in the last verse corresponds closely to the well-known Christian verse, “he who lives by the sword will die by the sword”, but the religious associations were distracting.

When the wise man hears the Way,
he tries to practice it.
When the mediocre man hears the Way,
it is hit and miss.
When the fool hears the Way,
he laughs at it.
Well, if he did not laugh,
it would be something less than the Way.

Therefore, it is said:
The bright Way seems obscure.
The Way forwards seems backwards.
The smooth Way seems rough.
High virtue seems like a deep chasm.

Great purity seems impure.
Broad virtue seems indiscriminate.
Solid virtue seems doubtful.
The truly original seems derivative.

The great System has no portals.
The great Project is finished last.
The great Sound is without voice.
The great Form is without form.

The Way may be inarticulate and nameless,
but only the Way is as useful for the beginning as it is for the end.


chapter notes:

Except for two lines in the penultimate verse, this chapter is a straightforward translation. The first verse is hard to improve upon, and many of the proverbs are as self-evident today as they ever were.

To return is the movement of the Way;
to yield is the operation of the Way.

The ten thousand things are born of necessity;
necessity is born of emptiness.


chapter notes:

As this chapter is so short, repurposing it was touchy. I managed two gratuitous computer allusions and a hint at a modern proverb, but on the whole, it is still a central comment on the basic philosophy.

(or: Why Maintain Integrity?)

From ancient days, those which found unity:
the Market found unity, and became efficient;
the computers found unity, and became operational;
the Valley found unity, and became full;
the Net found unity, and became transparent;
the corporations found unity, and developed ten thousand programs.

On the other hand:
when the Market is inefficient, it becomes systematic theft;
when the computers fail to operate, everything grinds to a halt;
if the Valley is abandoned, nobody will bother to return;
if the Net loses its transparency, it will be a tool for extortion;
if the corporations cease their R&D, they will lose their position.

Just as the high-level rests on a foundation of the low-level,
great wealth and power have their root in the labor of the lowly.
When powerful politicians denigrate their intellect,
affect a folksy demeanor, attempt the “common touch”:
they pursue their power through its roots in the base.

The greatest notoriety is no notoriety.
You need not choose the spotlight,
nor echo like loudspeakers.


chapter notes:

Again, I have arranged a mock cosmogony, and adapted that of the original to the new. I have arranged the ordering to make the most sense in the new context; the best correspondences are:

  • Heaven -> Net
  • Earth -> Market
  • spirits -> computers
  • Valley -> (Silicon) Valley
  • rulers -> corporations
January 2010

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