If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Thursday 2 August 2012
Read gnomica 1-50 here!
“It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.”
Deng Xiaoping (22 Aug 1904 – 19 Feb 1997)
This reforming Communist, as paramount leader (1978-1992) of the Republic of China, did much to undo the appalling, catastrophic state into which the state had plunged under the loopy ‘guidance’ of Mao. And for that specifically – his involvement in the 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square notwithstanding – he surely merits praise. I don’t know the exact context of the comment above (some claim he actually never made it!), but one could easily imagine it as addressing the fact that where communism just doesn’t work in the real world, a western-style market economy does. So, as long as things get done, does it matter whether it is the work of a communist or a capitalist? If the object is to catch mice, is it more important that the cat be black or white, or that it catch mice?
The underlying idea has, of course, far-flung applicability beyond the narrow confines of mice-catching or economy-goosing. Unlike Mao, the reality-denying fantasist, Deng was a realist, a pragmatic ideologue, a person who had spent time outside China in the 1920s (in France) during his formative years and thus had a more catholic view of what is practical.
I like this maxim for its oblique directness about the world as it is, even if that world refuses to conform to a passionate but fuzzy and unworkable idealism about how things should be. For things simply are what they are. No amount of wishing differently will alter the facts. And from time to time I actually come upon situations in my own life where Deng’s comment offers a wholesome reminder of the implacable nature of what is and thus, on more than one occasion, has redirected my agenda.
For me it makes little sense to begin with lofty ideological constructs and expect reality to comply with their dictates – rather than take the world as it is and then see what kinds of ideological formulations might as consequence be pragmatically codified into a system.
Of course, that’s just me — and right there you have a grammatical calico cat catching and mercifully dispatching a syntactic rule!