“Now that we can do anything, we must do less.”

Brilliant. Might even serve as a title for some forthcoming text on sustainability. One could easily do worse.

The first internet mention of this remark I can find occurred in the comments section of the Archdruid Report  in July of 2008. The author claims to have been saying this for years. I’ve no reason to doubt him. Him you ask? Couldn’t a female have coined such a phrase? I suppose. But I’ve reason to believe this is a him. His name is Ruben, and he has his own blog (which is where he boasts of original authorship). Now I also have it on fairly sound intel that Mr Ruben is a heterosexual married man. This implies he has a female wife. She may well have influenced and or somehow enabled his epiphany. I don’t doubt that a bit. And we may one day learn the truth of this supposition. And perhaps not.

I wanted to fetch my lance from the barn and have a go ‘tilting’ at this windmill of a phrase. But it was raining at the moment and getting wet in order to go tilting didn’t strike me as all that much fun. So I just sat and pondered it for a bit. Can we do anything? Well, of course not. We can’t stick a thermometer on a spaceship today and measure the temperature of the inside of a black hole tomorrow. But does that really count as something we need to do in the first place?

Is there something serious we can’t currently do that we really should be attempting to do? Why of course there is. If you need some assistance imaging something, anything, that we ought be able to do that we can’t currently do… leave a comment and I’ll leave a hint or two. But at the end of it, is this a sufficient skewering of the sentence? In formal logic, I’d say, yep… kill the predicate and the rest is trash. Was this meant as a logical offering in the first place? I’m not sure. But I’m guessing no.

And what’s all this about “must”? Have we no free will? Couldn’t one be content with a mere “should”? [actually, I am a bit partial to this latter complaint]. In the end, this is not my sentence; not my idea. If Ruben wants to bandy it about as is, he should. From this keyboard all good blessings are wished upon him and those with whom he would share the credit (or blame).

Why have I gone to so much length, been so wordy, ranting over the issue of a ten word sentence? A little back story. Years ago (more than 30, let’s leave it at that) I was younger and more impressionable. I loved to grab onto clever phases and thoughts; things I hadn’t imagined myself and that I considered worth keeping close. I began a collection of these witticisms with a mind to populate a calendar with ‘thought for the day’ quotes. I even asked folks around me if they had any particular favorite quote or line they might share for the project. As it happened there was a young man who worked as a janitor in the building where I was employed at the time. He wasn’t the brightest candle, but he was a very nice person, cheerful and good at his job. He overheard a conversation concerning this quest for favorite quotes and he set down the trash can, turned to us and offered: “There’s a bunch in every crowd”.

I smiled and duly wrote that down on my pad of paper. It was a “Life is like a box of chocolates” moment. I’ve since forgotten his name, which I’m confident I did append to the notion scribbled on my pad… but the pad is likely buried somewhere far afield. I just remember how cleverly simple and almost meaningless the sentence is. Almost meaningless. The logic is impeccable. If you need to know how many are in a crowd, you can do worse. If you are a janitor and you need to clean up behind a crowd, recalling that E=mc2 gives little solace.

     Life is like a box of chocolates.  Mom is so smart.

Context. Context is key.

Ruben dropped by GP the other day. He left a thought. Short, succinct, perhaps even pithy. He said, “I vote tomatoes”.   He can be a wordy guy. But for now, I’m writing him down for 13 words. “We must do less”.

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4 comments

  1. I think perhaps, Clem, there might be another post in this where you can parse, “I vote tomatoes”. In fact, I’m going to start working that into conversations and claim attribution when admired. If not admired, well, then I’ll let Ruben have the ownership of the phrase.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree there is more to the three word “I vote tomatoes” then acknowledged thus far. I’d actually like for Ruben to expand upon the opportunities. As for owning the phrase – it get’s complicated I think. My rationale is the context angle. Context is key.

      In a simple conversation with the spouse about what to have with sausages for supper it doesn’t exactly conjure images of Aristotle or Plato. When deciding with the spouse what best fits in the last few square feet of the garden… a bit more significance is attached. But Plato seems still on the sideline. In a community gathering to determine which course to take between a pair of controversial proposals I think these three words could: a) induce a grin here and there; b) ruffle the feathers of the overinvested; and c) conjure some deeper consideration (and possibly reach for some ancient Greek thinker).

      It’s also not escaped my notice that in the original post I offered that if you’re looking for a tasty tomato, vote for me. To which Ruben passed me over and offered to vote for the tomato. Again, context is important. I’d rather not believe he is serious that a tomato might actually serve the polity better than I could… but I do have to admit it might be my own personal hubris holding me back from seeing the wisdom in having a tomato for a representative. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is declining to put a tomato in a fruit salad. Freedom, peace and prosperity might well proceed from having a tomato as a representative.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. And, there we have it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. When I first read this, I was obviously flattered to merit critique, or even conversation.

    And then I thought of a great example that totally solidified my position with searing insight.

    And then I forgot what it was.

    Liked by 2 people

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