The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Wednesday 9 August 2023

Should Not Wisdom

There is a common saying that, for some reason or other, is getting mentioned more frequently of late. The saying is this: “Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”

This saying has been attributed to Confucius, or sometimes simply noted as a “Chinese proverb.”

There are at least two caveats or questions that must be applied to this proverb.

First Caveat

There is no evidence that Confucius ever said this, and it may not even be of Chinese origin. The misappropriation to Confucius is because of the once popular phrase: “Confucius say…” followed by the supposed Confucian saying. According to William Peterson (professor of East Asian Studies at Princeton University) such attribution was a fashionable way to introduce a stupid remark or weak joke.

If anything, the phrase may be of Austro-German-American origin. In 1867 the Austrian born cartoonist Joseph Keppler emigrated to the USA. In 1876 he founded the New York based humour magazine Puck initially in the German language, and in English the following year. Most of us know of the mischievous Shakespearean character Puck. Puck likes to play tricks on people. Indeed, the word puckish means mischievously playful.

A December 1902 edition of Puck included this sentence:

‘Things move along so rapidly nowadays that people saying “It can’t be done” are always being interrupted by somebody doing it.”

Sixty years later an adult education periodical adapted the phrase as an adult education motto, writing:

‘Confucius say:Man (sic) who say it cannot be done should not interrupt man doing it.”

The saying is not one of Confucius, and is not even Chinese.

Second Caveat

The saying as it stands speaks of action, inaction, knowledge, and applied knowledge. Either it can or cannot be done.

There is at least a third possibility.

The wisdom to ask, should it be done?

Simply because something can be done, does not imply that it should be done.

Environmental law includes a precautionary principle, a translation of the German Vorsorgeprinzip in the 1970s. German lawmakers introduced a clean air act that included banning of substances suspected of causing environmental damage even though conclusive evidence of them doing so was inconclusive. Simply put, this is erring on the side of safety and caution.

Being cautious is wise. Had the physicists working on the Manhattan Project applied the precautionary principle we may not have seen the horror that was unleashed upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Indeed, in hindsight, two eminent physicists expressed regret following the dropping of those two atomic bombs. The head physicist of the Manhattan Project, Robert Oppenheimer, met with President Truman in October 1945 (just two months after the bombs had been dropped) and told Truman, “I feel I have blood on my hands.”

When Albert Einstein, whose famous equation E = mc2 set the foundation for the possibility of harnessing enormous energy (and explosive power), heard of the bombing of Hiroshima wailed, “Woe is me!”

Asking “should it be done?” is an example of the precautionary principle at work. It also asks us to apply wisdom to our endeavours, instead of recklessly approaching the future making and doing things simply because we can.

Would we be in the mess we are today if we had asked this question in earlier times? It is impossible to answer this question. However, we can ask the question as we head towards our future.

Most importantly it is the question we should be asking of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The three most prominent business uses of AI are: chatbots, predictive behaviour analysis, and highly personalised customer experience. Is this the future we want?

Or, would we prefer a future where we are not treated simply as consumers. Do we want a future where community and human-to-human interaction is valued? Would we prefer to not have a future where a nameless, and faceless, artificial intelligence is predicting our every move?

These are questions we must ask ourselves.

“Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it” is the advice given. However, both (the denier and the doer) need to listen to the wise person asking, Should it be done?

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