Nothing we can do

Published 10 Comments on Nothing we can do

I passed a guy on the sidewalk talking to his friend. He said,

“I know it sucks…but there is nothing we can do.”

I have not idea what he was talking about, but those words haunted me from that moment until now. At first I was sad, thinking that life is truly hard. What can someone do if they are born with down syndrome or into poverty or an abusive family? What can you do if your coworker is an asshole but they are “indispensable”? It’s often tempting to say that there is nothing that can be done.

Then something inside me swelled up. It was a feeling of determination and hope. I wanted to run back to that guy and grab him by the shoulders and say, “There is something you can do! You just don’t want to do it!”

We can eliminate carbon in the atmosphere if we wanted it bad enough. We can hold elected official responsible for wrong-doing if we all used out rights as citizens. We can change our names. We can move to different parts of the world. We can invent things and create. People are fucking awesome. We can do amazing feats of engineering, art and thought. We can invent an oxford comma and then decide not to use it.

Of course there is something we can do! We just don’t want to. It’s not helplessness that holds us back. It’s the unwillingness to do the hard things it takes to create happiness. We are lazy and afraid of change. We are afraid of standing up for what’s right. We don’t want the consequences of standing apart from the crowd. People suck.

Every once in a while someone stands up and either they become a matryr, a saint, or a villain.  I wonder what would happen if we all stood up for what’s right at the same time. Would it be chaos? Is life better when we are all sheeple? We have no simulator (yet) that can answer these questions.

For now, I just keep a little part of brain alive with the words, “There is something we can do.”



  1. What? “We can eliminate carbon in the atmosphere if we wanted it bad enough.”?
    If we did that, then we’d all be dead.
    That was a joke you made – right?

  2. Ah, sorry. It wasn’t a joke, It was apparently an excessive/hyperbolic statement relating to a religio-political ideology, or something.
    First off, you added “and greenhouse gas levels”, but water vapour forms the largest proportion of greenhouse gasses, and I was unaware that we needed to reduce that.
    So I can’t see that you made a correct/true statement.

    Rather than answer your question with an opinion, I’d recommend the answer came out of taking the scientific method/approach, as espoused by Feynman. If there is a disconnect between the observations and the “accepted” hypothesis, then the data (observations) trump the hypothesis and one thus needs to go back to the drawing-board with the invalid (QED) hypothesis:

    As Deming put it: “In God we trust. All others bring data.”

    Speaking as a botanist and a keen environmentalist, the planet is going through a greening phase, presumably due to the extra CO2 (which is literally a plant fertilizer), and the incremental warmth, which can’t be bad for the earth and its flora and fauna – e.g., we know that from the MWP data, as well as other inter-glacial data..

    What I would worry about is ensuring that we understand how to protect the atmospheric oxygen (O2) cycle, so that we maintain the ratio of O2 at about 20%. Humans need that to be able to metabolize (“burn”) glucose for energy at the cellular level. This is what we need to stay alive – 18 minutes without sufficient oxygen and we are decidedly dead. If the O2 were to fall by (say) around 5%, then that could wipe out most mammalian life.

    From my perspective, that’s a very good reason for reducing our burning of fossil and ALL other fuels. I mean, it competes for the very air we need to breathe to survive. Why would we do that? In the same vein, I would recommend we discourage growing so-called “renewable” plant-based energy sources, because it also carries the additional risk of competing for the food we need and could have grown on the same arable resource. Why would we do that?

    In both cases, the answer to the Q is probably: “Because of a likely combination of greed/corruption/money, blind ignorance and a disregard for the environmental footprint.”
    These though are usually likely to all be regarded as “externalities” to the typical ideal of the good corporate psychopath. The only way to fix this would seem to be to address/ what seems to be the causal problem – the issue of the definition of the identity of the corporation as a legal person.

    Since those selfsame legal persons fought tooth and nail to secure that figment in historical law and precedence, they could no doubt be expected to fight tooth and nail to resist any changes to it. Bit of a challenge, that.

    1. So the point of this particular post is: there is always something we can do about it problems, whether global or personal. Hopelessness is not a good strategy for positive change. Thank you for your insight into greenhouse gasses.

  3. Yes, the hypothesis of your (Glen Lipka’s) post is that “there is always something we can do about it (sic) problems”, but that’s presumably regarding REAL and defined problems – e,g., (say) The Elimination of Global Poverty) – as opposed to IMAGINED or poorly defined/understood problems – e.g., (say) The sky is falling down.

    We can test that hypothesis, using these examples. For example, do we still have Global Poverty?
    Answer: Yes.
    Test: Why do we still have Global Poverty, given that the WHO defined Global Poverty as disease Z59.5 in the classification of diseases, and targeted it for eradication in their publication: “World Health Report 1995”, section “The state of world health” – executive summary?
    Answer: It was probably just a political football that seemed suitably popular to address and pontificate about, at that time.

    Does this case prove or disprove the hypothesis “there is always something we can do about problems”?
    Answer: Disprove.
    Why is that?
    Answer: Probably because we still don’t understand the root causes of the problem, or we are unable to address those root causes for some external reason.

    So, the hypothesis of Glen Lipka’s post is apparently not substantiated in that case. If it does not hold true for all cases, then the hypothesis has to be taken back to the drawing-board.
    Sorry about that.
    That’s one of the difficulties about trying to make generalisations.

    This categorically does NOT mean that I consider that one should resign oneself to hopelessness. This is because, at the personal level there is ALWAYS something one can do, no matter how small.
    For example: Reducing the scale of the plight of the homeless in society.
    For years, me and my wife and children have collected discarded food (in unopened containers), clothing and appliances from apartment buildings’ rubbish skips, for a local charity to use or sell in its “opportunity shops” across the city. I must have collected thousands of dollars worth of good produce/products for them. They feed the homeless from their kitchens, and clothe them from their stores, giving Christmas hampers to needy families with children, at Christmas-time.

    Giving one’s OWN EFFORTS directly to work with charitable organisations (.e.g., The Salvation Army) in this way can do something. If one cannot give of one’s own efforts, then one can give money – but the individual effort is probably worth more.

    I’m not particularly religious, and not a good student of the Bible, but I was interested to read recently that this ability to give of ourselves was documented rather well some time ago

    The text is Matthew 25:31–46:
    Jesus said to his disciples:
    “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

    “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

    The lesson here would seem to be that hopelessness is NOT an option. Giving what one can, DOING what one can, is what is important, and is an option that remains always open to us, regardless of one’s religio-political ideological beliefs.

    Interestingly, this would seem to support your (Glen Lipka’s) post that “there is always something we can do about it (sic) problems”, though I am not sure whether it proves the hypothesis.

  4. I’m sorry Glen, I’ve had your blog in my BazQux feed-reader for ages, because it seemed to me that you occasionally made some interesting/useful or thought-provoking posts. I wouldn’t normally have commented, but that, in this post, you made a preposterous remark: “We can eliminate carbon in the atmosphere if we wanted it bad enough,” where I presumed that you were making a joke, because, zero CO2 = dead planet. However, it seems it wasn’t a joke, but apparently just a misstatement or misunderstanding about a prevailing dogma, and you then offered as a more correct alternative: “Reduce carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas levels….better?”

    Unfortunately, that rather seemed to make it worse, not better, because, by making the explicit distinction between the two, you apparently did not seem to realise that CO2 was a greenhouse gas – i.e., when you added “and greenhouse gas levels”. But that was also wrong, because we rather need the GHGs (greenhouse gasses), and if we didn’t have them in the prevailing ratios – especially water vapour – then we’d probably be dead anyway.

    I did not want to outright refute your hypothesis that “there is always something we can do about problems”, because I thought it was a usefully positive hope. However, I did refute it (QED) because it does not stand up to a test of reason, but I countered the value of that by also stressing the need to retain a positive mental focus on what one can do/contribute at a personal/individual level – something (an idea) which is as old as the hills (or the Bible, as per the example given). Never give up hope. Keep incrementally trying to make the world a better place. (As a matter of principle.)
    I’m not talking here about being an “activist”, by the way, but being a contributor. Make an effort.

    When you facetiously say “Any other thoughts? Don’t be shy.”, I would presume that this may indicate that you maybe don’t understand what the heck I am on about, or have not made the intellectual effort to understand, or don’t care to. I don’t mean to be rude, but at the same time you would seem to have failed to articulate that you comprehend the nature of CO2 or GHGs, or the method for making a sound argument. This isn’t just an imprecision in the language you use (but if it is, then you may need to fix that.).
    It is generally not a good idea to attempt to make a reasoned argument using poorly- or half-understood concepts. It’s not a good look. An argument that cannot be substantiated is invalid, by definition. If any part of the structure of an argument is invalid, then the whole argument is invalid.

    Yet, in your post on “Make Something Great Again” you state: “I am cursed with trait of overthinking every single thing I see/hear/experience.”.
    So, I now wonder whether your “curse” may have worn off, or failed you and simply left you confuzzled by life experiences.

    “Yet is it far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness.”
    – The English Wesleyan minister William Lonsdale Watkinson used this expression in The Supreme Conquest, and other sermons preached in America, 1907.

  5. Fine, let’s get real. It’s one thing to raise an important distinction or point. It’s completely another to troll or go off the deep end.

    Reread your comments above. Brevity is a blessing. You could have said what you wanted to say in 1-2 sentences. And you could have been kind about it rather than accusatory and rude.

    The whole point of the post was that I overheard a guy on the street saying “there is nothing we can do” (about what, I have no idea) and I thought, “that’s not right, there is always something you can do.” That morning, I wrote about it here. The point about CO2 or greenhouse gasses wasn’t the focus or point. It literally was a random example that popped into my head.

    We can (and likely will) do something as a civilization about climate change. My kid is completely depressed about it. He thinks society is about to collapse because of rising temperatures and sea levels. I am an optimist and believe there are things we can do. Its possible I’m wrong, but I choose to believe in the potential of humans to make things better through innovation, engineering and creativity.

    Your replies miss the point completely. You are writing novels instead of simple sentences. You are being accusatory instead of collaborative and kind. You are not engaging me, you are alienating me.

    Writing this blog over the past 20 years has been a creative outlet and a way for me to process different kinds of thoughts. It also serves as a journal for myself. The fact that other people benefit is nice, but if I had zero subscribers, I would still post.

    We all have flaws. We all make mistakes. Please, take a deep breath and try to reset. I have a short memory for these sorts of things. I don’t want to be in some flame war on my own blog. Your points about the science of climate change are valid and possibly educational.

    Not sure what else to say. I will hold my hand out to shake hands (digitally). If you want to just close the issue, just shake the hand and briefly nod your head.

  6. I am sorry if you see things that way. Methinks you may be being unnecessarily overly sensitive, but I understand if that is how you feel. Though I don’t especially care if people call me names, It was not really necessary to label me as a “troll” or suggest that I had “gone off the deep end”, but, by all means, if that helps you to cope with and reject what I wrote – rather than respond to it in more thoughtful fashion, then I could not reproach you for it. Indeed, it is very natural. The 3,000 year old Vedic philosophy teaches us that we tend to live in a subjective state of mind and generally only accept those perceptions or thoughts that support what we need to accept to maintain our prevailing ego-state of ahamkara (which can maintain us in a state of illusion that seems very “real” to us). Ahamkara temporarily obliviates one and subsumes the Self for a period of time – the Self is kind of kept “asleep”. Most of us are thus apparently not “awake” (having both consciousness and objective awareness) for most of the time.

    I did wonder when I wrote my comments whether you would be willing/able to understand or even want to understand what I was writing.
    I explained above that I have your blog in my BazQux feed-reader. I have read and retained all your posts going back to November 2014 (“Prediction: Upcoming Android Names”), and I recalled the very interesting “My Personality Test Results” post which displayed your being “Deliberate (Stress)” in the “Examine” quadrant of the “5 dynamics energy map”. I too have had that and many other tests, but in my case I go off the scale (“Extreme”) on “Examine” (analysis and judgement). Probably a result of having Asperger syndrome, I suppose.

    It seems that you may have misinterpreted my relative bluntness as being incivility/rudeness. I assure you that nothing could have been further from my intentions. After years of training, for lecturing, writing and consulting, I usually try to speak and write clearly substantiating whatever I say/write, so that it can stand on its own two feet.
    Anyway, initiating a dialogue by making a comment on your blog and then engaging in discussion was (for me) an exception, as I described above, Still, it seems it was not such a good idea and was probably unwanted. I can understand and accept that.
    So I shall refrain from making any further comments and I promise never to darken your doorstep again! 😉
    I apologise if I you felt that I was intruding in any way.
    I shall keep reading your blog though, because I quite like it
    Good luck in all your endeavours!

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