The Corner

Lessons from Old China

Last night I was reading Monkey, Arthur Waley’s part-translation of a classic 16th-century Chinese novel. The main protagonist is actually a Monkey, a superhero with tremendous powers. He’s also a Buddhist priest, religion-name “Aware of Emptiness.”

Confident of his super-powers, Monkey is up for any kind of adventure. He balks, though, when some Taoists challenge him to a meditation contest. He tells his companions:

If it were just a matter of playing football with the firmament, stirring up the ocean, turning back rivers, carrying away mountains, seizing the moon, moving the Pole-star or shifting a planet, I could manage it easily enough. Even if it were a question of my head being cut off and the brain removed or my belly being ripped open and my heart cut out, or any kind of transference or transformation, I would take on the job at once. But if it comes to sitting still and meditating, I am bound to come off badly. It’s quite against my nature to sit still. Even if you chained me to the top of an iron pillar, I should start trying to swarm up and down and should never think of sitting still.

It brought to mind our restless, busy, interfering federal government. The one thing they cannot do is … nothing. In his press conference last week the President chided “a set of folks who … just believe that we should do nothing.” This got loud protests from various quarters on the right that, no, there are no such folks. We all want the government to do something.

Well, I’m for nothing. Perhaps not quite nothing:  If Congress were just to go on a 12-month vacation, that would be a good thing; but even better would be if they were to spend 12 months doing nothing but repeal bad, stupid laws. (Repealing the CPSIA would be a good warm-up exercise.)

Like Monkey, they just can’t sit still. This preposterous “stimulus” package is just one particularly big and obnoxious instance of a malign phenomenon — too much government action. Don’t just do something, guys, sit there. But that, of course, is the one thing they can’t do.

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