In addition to introducing some of the more important terms of mistranslation here, I have introduced "Design" de novo; the original lines are something like: "Together they are called obscure: the most obscure of the obscure".
This chapter lends itself wonderfully well to misappropriation. The sense of the last lines is reversed from the original -- generally, "living on forever" is supposed to be a good thing.
This is the first chapter in the original which is specifically about political philosophy, as well as the first which advises against knowledge.
Here, as in most other cases, I have retargeted political philosophy to apply to the running of a company, division, or project rather than to the ruling of a state.
Advice against learning has in part been replaced with a modern virtue ("remain [...] without preconception") only vaguely related to the original, and in part replaced wholesale with something somewhat relevant to the overall text ("keep office politics down to a dull roar"). In this, it is also exemplary of other such cases.
The /dev/null line is one of the things I'm most proud/ashamed of. For those who are not familiar with Unix, /dev/null is a virtual device file that discards all data written to it, and returns end-of-file when read. As arguably the most literal possible representation of this aspect of the Dao, I could not pass up the opportunity to use it here.
The first verse in the original is not popular among the self-help set, as it recommends a ruthlessness appropriate to the practical political philosophy of governing a state, but not to interpersonal relationships. Fortunately, it is fine for my purposes.
This is the first place where I have introduced "the Market", standing in for "Heaven and Earth" (i.e., the entire world) in the original.
The chapter title identifies "the Valley" as Silicon Valley.
This is also the first case where "the feminine" appears in the original, and is converted to "the creative".
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).
The title ("Principles of Least Action") is a reference to a classical principle in physics, in which minimizing "action" (suitably defined) mathematically determines the natural motion of objects in the world. This resonance with the philosophy of the Dao De Jing is remarkable (though I should note that it is also metaphorical, not mathematical).
The second verse is the first major collection of proverbs in the original (whether novel to the original, or "established sayings"). Here, as elsewhere, I have at least given the nod to any modern sayings that appear especially appropriate.
The only intentional mistranslation in this chapter is converting "work" (gong) to "project", which is arguably a perfectly fine translation.
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.
This chapter has no deliberate misappropriation at all. Only the title ("The Empty Disk") suggests a computerish relevance.
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.
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.
I was fairly straightforward with this chapter. I have taken some liberties with the final verse, though.
One of the most useful skills I learned in school was how to read math books (and, by extension, any dense technical literature):
You may need to repeat the last two steps a few times, but eventually you will be enlightened.
Of course, this assumes you understand the prerequisites, and leaves out looking up other sources, discussions with teachers and peers, working out problems assigned or otherwise, and so on. But the primary points are these:
At any rate, to me this chapter seems the very image of this process, and the attributes of the ancient masters seem like a description of the virtues of a well-written paper -- with simplicity at its core, care in its composition, and opacity only as a consequence of the fundamental concepts to be grasped.
I have mercilessly abused this long, chaining chapter to make it applicable to software development, with a combination of low punnery and gratuitous analogy.
Some people read the Dao De Jing as a pointer towards physical immortality. Besides incorporating a common saying from its new context, the final verse is an explicit repudiation of this.
Transmuting "rulers" into managers, and "the people" into developers is almost all that was needed to mistranslate this chapter.
In this chapter, the deprecated "knowledge" has been replaced by "development methodologies and theories of management" -- basically, excessive cleverness, again.
The principle being espoused in the original is readily recognizable as the KISS principle.
Compared to all other chapters in the Dao De Jing, this chapter is remarkable in its personal and subjective attitude, as well as its unique whininess. I suspect that Consultants from any age are subject to the same kind of lamentations.
Here, I have translated "qi" to "potential", and essentially deleted two phrases about how genuine and trustworthy it is. In translation, the added emphasis only served to weaken the entire chapter; I have settled for simply describing it as "true potential".
Again, there is no original correspondence for "Design", which I have introduced given relevance and opportunity.
Again, I have substituted Western sayings where they have the same sense as the Eastern ones. In particular, everybody seems to have an old saying about the oak and the reed, so I have converted the unspecific Chinese to the specific species.
For my chosen target for this chapter, presentation, the Dao provides two resources:
This chapter is another straightforward translation. Note the congruence here between the ancient scholar-Sage and the modern Consultant: in order to find a post or a contract, they each need to be known somehow. Apparently, obnoxious self-promoting behavior was as common back then as it is today.
Besides the virtue of sheer silliness, working the birth of the Net into a putative cosmogony helped solve the riddle set by the second verse: how to make the chained phrases relevant in the new context. Once I knew to turn "to(proceed/pass/go on)" into "to be connected", everything fell into place.
This was one of the earliest mistranslations to present itself, and it's still one of my favorites.
I apologize for using "hacker" in its popular, pejorative sense as a breaker of computer security, and not in the sense of the Hacker's Dictionary: a computer expert who enjoys programming (and related explorations) for its own sake. I'm afraid the old MIT term has been fighting a losing battle for a while now, though. Also, the popular term fits the original text really well.
I should also note that the lines about security and design were originally more similar to the first lines. I have rephrased them, to somewhat awkward effect, in order to recognize good computer security (and good engineering design) as relative, not absolute.
Note that literal accuracy is not a requirement here; it's just that claiming absolute security, or foolproof design, is an exercise in hubris: someone will break your unbreakable security, and the world will provide a greater fool than you ever anticipated.
Aside from inserting the Consultant into the final verse, the changes I have made to this chapter are more along the lines of adding cohesion to the original sense, rather than converting it to some new relevance.
Unlike most such cases, I have left the imagery of the feminine pretty much alone (except for pointing the subtitle at it...).
I have introduced Open Source here in place of "sacred vessel", reversing the sense of the comparison with the world.
In the second verse, the original text refers to "things" only, and does not have the "ten thousand" here.
As usual, I have repurposed political philosophy as management philosophy, finding counterparts in corporate conflict at every turn.
I have moved the last verse from the general to the specific, choosing a familiar failure mode for technical companies.
In the original, this chapter relies on cultural elements irrelevant to my purposes, so the difficulty was in finding something appropriate to convert them to. In addition, the logic of this chapter leaves something to be desired (although perhaps it was originally a parody of Confucian arguments?)
At any rate, I found two comparable modern left/right tropes (which are obvious only in retrospect!), and have deployed them in similarly unconvincing style.
In the final analysis, the advantage of corporate warfare over the real thing is that, usually, there are no actual deaths: in this context, wasted time, opportunity, and resources stand in for them.
The chapter title identifies "the uncarved block" as representing the Open Source project. In the original (and in mistranslation, too), "the uncarved block" represents primal simplicity, but some contexts it also appears fairly descriptive of the way Open Source maintains its cohesion in the face of attempts to appropriate it.
Again, I have gratuitously inserted "ten thousand" where it does not appear in the original.
For this chapter, I introduced "true strength", to differentiate from the sense of "strength" in later verses; this usage has been extended as a parallel throughout the chapter, making explicit in the result what might be implicit in the original.
In the first verse, "river" may be only vaguely consonant with the original. I chose it in the following sense:
On a historical scale, the great rivers of ancient China writhed across their valleys like angry dragons. To protect their lives and livelihoods, the Chinese raised levees to constrain the flood; these were the work of generations and the labor of millions.
Inevitably, the levees fail. When this happens, it is always too late: without regard for humans or their works, the river finds a new path -- left, or right, as it may be.
In the first verse, I have changed "image" to "form", and emphasized the conditional.
I have tweaked the proverbs in the first verse to emphasize the kind of corporate treachery to be expected with this kind of strategic manipulation.
The art of managing an open source project, and the nature of the peculiar institutional self-preservation open source possesses, seem like particularly Daoist features of the Consultant's world. Retargeting the chapter to this purpose seems more descriptive than explanatory, but it still works reasonably well.
In the second verse, I have substituted "speaking" for "taking action".
This is one of the few cases where I have let political philosophy lie more or less undistorted. Although you can apply the lessons here to internal corporate bullshit, it is still more apposite to political demagoguery.
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:
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.
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.
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.
I have answered the riddle in the first verse, but otherwise I have not tried to distort this chapter.
Even in the original, this chapter reads like a tutorial on utility theory and risk management; I have emphasized this aspect.
The text of this chapter is a straightforward translation; the chapter title only suggests a concrete example.
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.
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.
The text of this chapter is a straightforward translation; even the chapter title does not particularly redirect its intent.
Except for the last line, this chapter is straightforward; the sense of the original seems to apply to both ancient and modern Consultants.
As there appears to be disagreement over the interpretation of the first half of this chapter, I have found something modern which is hopefully consonant with the original.
For those not familiar with software development, a "death march" is a software project that is doomed to failure, but whose failure is politically impossible. Working on a death march project is very stressful for all concerned, as well as being a bottomless hole for the resources of the organization supporting it.
The second half is straightforward. As Lao Tzu is commonly portrayed with his trusty water buffalo, I have chosen "buffalo" as a dangerous animal here. Although the water buffalo had long been domesticated, wild water buffalo are aggressive and dangerous, and would have been a hazard of wilderness travel.
In addition to targeting programs instead of generic "things", I have tried to pursue specific interpretation of the sense of the generic original.
The content of the second verse is still somewhat subtle: it defines the *sense* in which things honor the Way. The point, as I understand it, is that we are not speaking of any kind of anthropomorphic honor and respect -- only that Virtue and the Way are essential aspects of the origin, development, and functioning of things, so their natural operation necessarily reflects that.
In this case, the Heaven and Earth (i.e., the world) is translated to the System being administered. While this changes the sense of the chapter somewhat, it seems comfortable in its new context.
This is another case where I have left political philosophy undisturbed. The chapter itself is a straightforward translation; it likens aristocrats to robbers, pointing out their common attributes.
The title may seem to lend a libertarian cast to the material, but that is not my exact intent. Libertarians like to think, because the state grew out of a bunch of predatory thugs, that this is its essential nature; therefore, minimizing the state is necessary to minimize its evil: "that state is best which governs least" has a plausible Daoist gloss to it.
However, this libertarian view requires a willful blindness to the services a state actually provides, or an unreasoning idolatry of the capabilities of the Market with which they intend to replace these functions.
If there is a difference between a government and a bunch of robbers, it is in the benefits it brings to its people. Thus, the extent that it rises above its predatory origins is the degree to which it can be judged a useful state.
This mistranslation was fairly mechanical -- only some terms have changed.
This chapter is a straightforward translation.
The second verse mirrors chapter 4; otherwise the translation is straightforward.
After converting advice for the state into business advice, there was the question of what to do with those lines which were only relevant to the state. Some of these are obvious in context, but others required some thought. The correspondences I chose:
The last verse has been converted to a hierarchical sequence, rather than uniformly referring to "the people".
The overall sense of this chapter is as applicable today as it was when it was written. The Warring States period was a time of great social and (for the time) technological change. While much of the suffering and dislocation was a consequence of pervasive war, rather than the the disruptive technological advancement of the modern era, the effect may be comparable: charting a course is difficult when the landmarks change daily.
In such a time, perhaps the most reliable advice is to go with the flow, keep your eyes open, and above all maintain your balance.
Aside from retargeting the political to the corporate, this is a fairly straightforward chapter.
Since many of my audience have probably never cooked a small fish, I have included an explanation with the first verse.
Since spirits are not relevant to the corporate world, I have converted them to FUD here.
In this case, I have again converted the political to the corporate.
In converting to a development/corporate context, the management perks have been considerably downgraded!
In the first verse, I have converted "taste the tasteless" to "keep the way in mind" -- rather than propagate a trivial riddle opaque to my primary audience, I have answered it.
Note that, in combination, "handle the small like the great" and "handle the great by addressing the small" can be read as a prescription for recursive decomposition (which is useful for both problem solving and algorithm design).
This translation is more poetically idiomatic than literal. As usual, I have incorporated popular sayings; as the particular version of the proverb "A thousand mile journey starts with a single step" has become popular in the West, I have used this rather than any ancient or contemporary Chinese version.
In the last verse, I have converted advice against learning to "learn how not to learn".
As advocacy of mass ignorance is the subject of the first verse, I can find no honest way to translate it without acknowledging this. I have resorted to simple historical acknowledgement, rather than attempting to justify it in some modern sense.
The second verse is a simple statement of one aspect of Daoism I find personally useful.
In the first verse, I have again gratuitously used "ten thousand" where it did not originally appear. Otherwise, this is a pretty straightforward translation -- although the chapter title picks a target example of particular modern relevance.
This chapter is a straightforward translation.
My understanding of this chapter is that, while "compassion" here implies deep empathy and understanding, it does not necessarily imply benevolent action as a consequence; q.v. chapter 5.
The first verse is somewhat idiomatic; the second verse is literal; both are otherwise straightforward.
In the first verse, the first half of the proverb is originally something like, "I dare not be the lord, but rather the host". My understanding is that this is in the sense it is a lord's task to visit his vassals; I have translated the underlying implication that battle on your own ground is preferable to that chosen by your enemy.
Aside from inserting terms from the world of the modern Consultant, this chapter is fairly straightforward.
This chapter is paraphrased as straightforwardly as I could manage while still remaining comprehensible.
The first verse has been converted from a warning of political failure to a practical note on employee retention. Otherwise, translation into the modern context has left the sense of this chapter remarkably unaltered.
Overall, this chapter is a fairly literal translation. However, the sense of the second verse is somewhat warped by its new context.
As the original topic of capital punishment is not appropriate to the new context, I have (as before) converted it to being fired.
In this case, I have translated the abuses of the aristocracy to those of management. I have also adapted the general to the specific; in particular, I have split concerns over life and death into concerns about "jobs" on the one hand, and "life" in the modern colloquial sense (as in "get a life").
As usual, I have translated the generic "things" into "programs". I have also reused the proverb of the oak and the reed -- creating a connection not explicit in the original.
The original metaphor of drawing a bow has been replaced by developing a program.
"The Way of Heaven" vs. "The Way of Man" contrast has been replaced with "The Way of the Market" vs. "The Way of Monopoly". Since my target audience has likely played Monopoly, this is intended as a tutorial reminder of how an economic monopoly actually works.
The sense of the remaining verses is fairly conducive to their new target, without quite as much abuse as the first two.
This translation is fairly straightforward -- though, again, the chapter title chooses a particularly relevant modern example.
Like chapter 26, this mistranslation practically leaped off the page. Aside from the punchline, this is an otherwise reasonably literal translation.
Once converted from a description of a small state to a that of a small software company, this chapter ends up being a pretty good description of my last place of work.
I have converted the warning against wisdom to a contrast between the academic and the practical. Besides from being an issue in the world of software development, I expect this was a problem in ancient China, as well -- as newly trained scholars, appointed to government posts (or old functionaries, assigned to an unfamiliar task) tried applying their book-learned wisdom to an uncooperative real world.