“Everything Is Awesome!”
As we’ve seen, one of the most telling differences between ancient Greek philosophy and ancient Chinese philosophy lies in their attitudes toward imprecision. It was anathema to the Greeks, yet the Chinese were quite comfortable with it. A philosopher like Plato or Aristotle will say—rightly, I think—that without more detail, it’s hard to tell whether the Daodejing supports Democrats or Republicans, Greens or Libertarians (or for that matter, red ants or black ants). On the other hand, the authors of the Daodejing are also right to be suspicious of specificity. Too often one-size-fits-all means one-size-fits- poorly. What works for King A might not work for Queen B, and what worked last year might not work next year. Thus it’s better for rulers to take wei wu wei as their default position and then judge each novel situation on its own merits.
LEGO Master Builders understand this. Perhaps you’ve seen the video that went viral of a young woman building her own prosthetic leg out of LEGO. She doesn’t have an instruction booklet; she only has a goal. Through time-lapse photography we watch her test the fit of the new LEGO limb, see how well it bears weight, pull a few pieces off, stick a few on, test-fit it, modify it, test it again. This is the Daoist model of government: commit yourself to the goal (in this case, a harmonious nation of flourishing citizens), be willing to be flexible, and voila, you’ve freed yourself of the tyranny of the instruction booklet. Will you make mistakes along the way? Sure, but that’s exactly why you don’t want to take a heavy-handed approach. Like Rodin, chop away all the parts you don’t need. Be empty in your politics: throw out parties, platforms, and ideologies, aligning yourself instead with the dao.
Or don’t. Sit at home with your LEGO and build to your heart’s content. That’s another teaching of the Daodejing: “There is no crime greater than having too many desires; there is no disaster greater than not being content.”12 For millions of adults and children around the world, sitting down to a big pile of LEGO is the very picture of contentment. The fact that it appeals to so many, of so many ages, in so many cultures, over so many decades, is arguably due to its dao. Because it’s empty, it contains infinite possibilities; because it tries to be nothing, it’s capable of being anything; because you can’t contain its awesomeness in words, it expresses awesomeness to everyone, everywhere, in every language.13