A rather odd blog post over at Huffington Post College, by Keith Weigelt, a Professor at the Wharton School, gets off to an incongruous start:
I am a strategist in the Daoist tradition. One tenet of Daoism is that individuals are responsible for their reality.
I am not sure what it means to be a "strategist in the Daoist tradition," since Daoism, generally - or, at least the Daoist principles I find in the Daodejing and Zhuangzi - are not really "strategic" in the common sense of that term. And for that common sense meaning, I would turn to the OED: "....a plan for successful action based on the rationality and interdependence of the moves of the opposing participants."
On the face of it, Daoism urges us to eschew planning precisely because we cannot really control the complex reality that surrounds us (which we might take as dao - way). Let's go to passage 24 of the DDJ:
Stretch on tiptoes and you never stand firm. Hurry long strides and you never travel far.
Keep up self-reflection and you'll never be enlightened.
Keep up self-definition and you'll never be apparent.
Keep up self-promotion and you'll never be proverbial.
Keep up self-esteem and you'll never be perennial.
Travelers of the Way call such striving 'too much food and useless baggage.' Things may not all despise such striving, but a master of the Way stays clear of it.
I take this as a rejection of self-conscious definition of interests and preferences and, thus, an undermining of the first stage of any sort of planning.
And I am completely aware that this could also be seen as a king of meta-strategy; that is, by avoiding "strategy" in the first instance, you actually come out in a better place. A sort of anti-strategic strategy. Very Daoist that.
But that sort of anti-strategy strategy is not what Weigelt seems to have in mind. He is a game theorist:
We all have the power to change our reality because of what game theorists call interactive payoffs. When you interact with others, the consequence of your decision depends on the behavior of others. One's world is not filled with solitude. Because consequences depend on one's actions and those of others, you must consider their actions in choosing yours.
This is a good starting point for understanding game theory but, again, it has virtually nothing to do with Daoism. Of course a Daoist would agree that the consequences of our actions depend on the behavior of others. But a Daoist would also assert that we cannot know what the actions of others might be and that there are myriad other unforeseen factors that can disrupt any expectation of the behavior of others. Zhuangzi is the antithesis of a game theoretic strategist:
Birth and death, living and dead, failure and success, poverty and wealth, honor and dishonor, slander and praise, hunger and thirst, hot and cold - such are the transformations of this world, the movements of its inevitable nature. They keep vanishing into one another before our very eyes, day in and day out, but we'll never calibrate what drives them. (5.4)
Instead of Hinton's "we'll never calibrate what drives them," Graham gives us: "knowledge cannot measure back to where they began." We cannot know the origin or development of the most basic human forces: life, death, failure success, poverty wealth.... That last pair - poverty and wealth - is especially telling for Weigelt, who is ultimately interested in understanding and reversing economic inequality in the US. That is a noble cause, one that I certainly support. But it is not at all clear how his game theoretic approach to that problem has anything to do with Daoism.
Weigelt also states:
Daoists believe since interactions define the future, they must be actively managed.
To which we have to reply: No. Daoists do not believe that our interactions with others must be actively managed. Quite the contrary, we have to let go of conscious management and let relationships emerge and unfold in context as they will, without our purposive effort to steer them in certain directions.
We'll let Zhuangzi (5.5) have the last word:
The Sage never makes plans, so what good is understanding?