first, do no harm

here’s some old bullshit originally published 10/27/09, cuz I got nothin’ new at the moment. My, but I was feisty back then.

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Primum non nocere is a Latin phrase that means “First, do no harm.” The phrase is sometimes recorded as primum nil nocere.

Nonmaleficence, which derives from the maxim, is one of the principal precepts that all medical students are taught in medical school and is a fundamental principle for emergency medical services around the world. Another way to state it is that “given an existing problem, it may be better to do nothing than to do something that risks causing more harm than good.” It reminds the physician and other health care providers that they must consider the possible harm that any intervention might do. It is invoked when debating the use of an intervention that carries an obvious risk of harm but a less certain chance of benefit. Since at least 1860, the phrase has been for physicians a hallowed expression of hope, intention, humility, and recognition that human acts with good intentions may have unwanted consequences. A closely related phrase is “Sometimes the cure is worse than the ill.” source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primum_non_nocere

A common statement made when liberty activists are arguing with one another about the best way to proceed is “At least we’re/they’re/he’s doing something.” I don’t know where this idea came from, but it sure makes me want to smack people upside the head sometimes, in hopes that some common sense will be jarred loose from whichever internal part of their brain it’s currently trapped. There are plenty of life scenarios where doing something is not necessarily better than doing nothing. If you’re overweight and out-of-shape, going out and running five miles is not better than staying on the couch, if those five miles trigger a heart attack in your shocked and unprepared body. If you’re in Vegas with your life savings in cash in your wallet, betting it all at the blackjack table isn’t necessarily safe, wise or better than doing nothing with it.

Now granted, we’re all operating with unknowns. Inside-the-system activists (which I will abbreviate as ITS) have never actually succeeded in getting someone like Ron Paul elected to the Presidency (or a governorship… or a Senate seat… or even a Congressional district outside of Bumfuck, TX). If something miraculous happened and this occurred tomorrow, there would undoubtedly be unexpected hurdles and side effects prior to achieving the presumed goal of making our society freer (like, oh, say, the President still has to deal with CONGRESS). Outside-the-system activists (which I will abbreviate as OTS) have never (talking about the last 50 years in the U.S. here, not the whole history of history) actually succeeded in making a state or a town free of the coercive grasp of government. I could write a whole science fiction novella about the possible ramifications of the abrupt removal of coercive government from a community unprepared and ill-equipped to handle that, but I’ll save myself some time and just refer you back to the news coverage of the aftermath of Katrina, where the jackals of human society lost no time feeding off their slower and weaker neighbors.

What’s my point? We’re all operating with imperfect information, and no one truly knows the quickest, best path to creating a free society. (Freeing yourself is a different subject which numerous philosophers, political thinkers and spiritual leaders have addressed elsewhere; for starters, I refer you to the excellent How I Found Freedom In An Unfree World by the late, great Harry Browne ). But to blindly argue that all strategies are equally valid, and doing something is always better than doing nothing, is to willfully turn off the analytical, pattern-recognizing part of your brain that can project likely outcomes from actions not yet taken.

Ben Franklin advised: Do not squander time for that is the stuff life is made of. I see people in both the ITS and OTS groups running around like chickens with their heads cut off, breathlessly doing something and acting self-righteous about it. If you’ve thought about what you’re doing, believe you know what the consequences will be, and you like those consequences, then more power to you. If you’re not sure, or haven’t even begun to think about it, your brain is your friend and wants you to use it.

Another thing: back seat drivers. We all hate them. However, to argue that if someone doesn’t live in New Hampshire, and/or is not engaged in the specific type of activism in which I am engaged, they cannot possibly have anything of value to say to me about what is going on here… I mean, seriously? Are we that full of ourselves? The beauty and power of media (the written word, and more recently, audio and video) is that it enables us to communicate asynchronously with people in other times and places, and to, God forbid, learn from someone else’s insights or wisdom. Why not keep an open mind when advice or critiques are offered?

4 thoughts on “first, do no harm

  1. Dear Sandy:
    “…But to blindly argue that all strategies are equally valid, and doing something is always better than doing nothing, is to willfully turn off the analytical, pattern-recognizing part of your brain that can project likely outcomes from actions not yet taken.”
    and
    “If you’ve thought about what you’re doing, believe you know what the consequences will be, and you like those consequences, then more power to you. If you’re not sure, or haven’t even begun to think about it, your brain is your friend and wants you to use it.”
    The two Sandy quotes above seem to me entirely too intelligent for most people living in the US today. In fact I think the two quotes may actually characterize the very nut of the problem that is THE problem in the US today, no one considers unintended consequences, nor even realizes that consequences ensue whenever someone makes a decision. Consequences may be good or bad, but surely will come to the decision-maker, who should have thought before the decision was made what might happen, pro and con. I find this to be nearly completely absent in our society and in fact people are encouraged to make bad decisions by governments at every level that reward those who make bad decisions with large amounts of other peoples’ money.

    I know there are kindred spirits out there, but they’re hard to find. I find some kindred spirits as well as news at http://www.zerohedge.com where I find a mixed bag of daily articles and the often-hilarious, often illuminating comments about the articles. For nme, this is in lieu of a “daily paper”. I offer the website because you may find kindred spirits there.

    • Brava to the both of you! (bravas?)

      I kept interrupting my ever patient hubby to read him every paragraph of this post as I finished it (working from the rude even when (occasionally) true presumption that whatever _I_ am thinking/reading about is more interesting than what he has chosen to fill his time with).

      Because Hazel is right — finding bright people who can clearly express their thoughts is quite the rarity. Must be why I keep returning to the classics — Thoreau, founding fathers, and yes, Harry Browne! Oh, and Sovereign Sandy!

      • Well, I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve been grouped with Thoreau, founding fathers and Harry Browne! Thank you for the kind words!

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