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.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 60, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
My posts the last few days have been rather long. I hope that hasn’t been too discouraging for those of you that want to read them. Today, I am hoping to keep it shorter. Yes, as you could already tell by reading the quote today, Lao Tzu is still talking about the art of governing. Today, his focus is on the maddening desire to interfere. For Lao Tzu, the art of governing, is really the art of living. Instead of having rulers who are driven by the will to power, he is looking for those who want to be great leaders, those who will be content to serve as an example.
Governing really is an art. If you are talking about governing a large country, the temptation is to think that bigger means a greater need to interfere. But Lao Tzu uses the illustration of cooking a small fish to illustrate the art required in governing. Yes, I have fried fish before. I know how strong is the temptation to poke at it. Any of us that have tried our hand at frying fish, know what happens when we succumb to that temptation. I have spoiled quite a few fish I was frying.
The lesson that Lao Tzu is wanting us to understand is that the art of governing is just like that. The greater the temptation to interfere, to poke, the more we need to resist that temptation.
But… There is always a but. What about the problem of evil? People can’t be trusted to do the right thing. We can’t leave the people to their own devices. And that would seem to be more and more true the larger the country.
And Lao Tzu has an interesting solution to the problem of evil. What is his solution? Don’t poke at it. Don’t interfere with it at all. Leave it alone. Center your country in the Tao and evil won’t have any power. Won’t have any power? But evil is all around us. Of course, we have to acknowledge it. Of course, we need to try and do something about it.
Lao Tzu doesn’t deny the presence of evil. But when he says it will have no power, what he is really saying, is we are the ones that give it the power. If we are not interacting with it, it won’t have any power. Center your country in the Tao. Evil will still be there. No, he isn’t promising that it is going to go away. It will still be there. But, we will be able to step out of its way.
Maybe that sounds too simple to you. The will to power is strong, indeed. And plenty of would be conquerors of evil will rise up to make grandiose promises of deliverance from the evil. But I think Lao Tzu has a point here. What is it that gives evil its power? When we are in its way. And why are we in its way? Because we are wanting to confront it. To deal with it.
I am rather sure that if Lao Tzu believed for even a moment that we could successfully confront it, and deal with it, once and for all, that he would encourage us to do just that. But Lao Tzu understands what we all need to understand. The problem of evil isn’t something that can be successfully confronted and dealt with. What we want to do is create for ourselves a situation where we can successfully step out of its way. That is the only thing to do with evil. Avoid it.
Now this is not going to go over too well with those with the will to power. So, it doesn’t surprise me at all that the U.S. government creates evil wherever it can; so that we can then have to confront it and deal with it. U.S. foreign policy has been a prime example of this for decades now. The situation in Iraq with ISIS or ISIL or IS, or whatever they are calling themselves now, is only one of the more recent examples of this.
Now, I have no problem acknowledging that the people that are a part of this Islamic State business are the very definition of evil. But, I also know that if we would only center ourselves in the Tao, we could very easily step out of their way. They are egging us on right now. That is good news for the powers that be. They have been looking for an excuse to get us back in Iraq since we got out of Iraq. But it isn’t good news for the rest of us.
Some are going to tell me that, sure we created this mess, but now we have an obligation to clean up the mess. And I am going to counter that, we never do actually clean up the messes. All we ever do is make more messes which we will then need to go clean up.
Tl;dr? Give evil nothing to oppose and it won’t have anything to oppose.