Governing a large country
is like frying a small fish.
You spoil it with too much poking.
Center your country in the Tao
and evil will have no power.
Not that it isn’t there,
but you’ll be able to step out of its way.
Give evil nothing to oppose
and it will disappear by itself.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 60, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
My, how the time does fly by. We are, already, to day four of our series of chapters on the art of governing, a manual for would-be leaders. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu uses a simple metaphor we can all understand. “Governing a large country is like frying a small fish.” I doubt I am the only one out there who has ever spoiled the little fish I was frying, with too much poking. And, when it comes to governing, the temptation is even more great. The will to power is a very corrupting influence. You see all the things that are “wrong” in the world, and you just have to poke, poke, poke at it. Why not intervene, interfere, “meddle” in things you really have no business meddling in? What could possibly go wrong, when you are using force (violence) for good? Good intentions are the worst kind of intentions. Even worse than bad intentions? You bet! Because those with bad intentions are easily dealt with. But, those with good intentions never do go away. When things don’t go their way, they’ll just roll up their sleeves and redouble their efforts.
In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu tells us how to deal with those with bad intentions. And, if we truly have good intentions, we best heed his advice. So, how do we deal with the problem of evil? A problem, you probably don’t need reminding, which has been around for all of recorded history. If we learned the lessons of history, we wouldn’t have to keep repeating the same lessons over and over again. Will we ever learn?
Here is the one method, which has hardly ever been used, though it is guaranteed to work, if you really want evil to have no power. “Center your country in the Tao” and let the world govern itself. Wait just a minute! How does that deal with evil? Oh, evil is still there, but you will be able to step out of its way.
I am writing this thinking of the recent “terrorist” bombings in Belgium; yet another excuse being offered by the war party to poke, poke, poke at the hornet’s nest. Yes, I do think of evil as a hornet’s nest. Why on Earth would we want to poke at that nest? Much better, for everyone concerned, if we step out of its way. What makes hornets mad? Giving them something to oppose. What makes evil strong? Giving it something to oppose. “Give evil nothing to oppose, and it will disappear, all by itself.”
Oh, I know how my detractors will respond. “That is hopelessly naive. Utter foolishness. We must do something! We can’t just leave it alone. Evil must be confronted. It must be opposed.” You mean, like we have been doing with evil throughout recorded history? How has that been working out for us?
And the beat goes on. The steady drumbeat of war. Endless war, endless shedding of the blood of innocents. All in the name of opposing evil. Violence always rebounds on the violent. We would like to think we are just doing the rebounding, on those who are violent. And, we are shocked, shocked when it rebounds on us. So, what exactly have we accomplished over the course of the so-called war on terror? We have claimed to kill untold leaders, again and again and again. Literally. Some of those killed, we have claimed to have killed multiple times. Yet, evil keeps coming. The number of terrorists remains unchanged. This is what poking gets you.
But I suspect Lao Tzu’s teaching, and my commentary, will fall on deaf ears, once again. The codependent relationship between the State and evil will continue as always. They need each other to thrive. And, both are happy to oblige the other.