September 3, 2016

"Better than nothing! Is it possible?"

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At the theater last night. I was stunned to hear the line "Better than nothing is impossible" — so close to my oft-re-self-quoted "Better than nothing is a high standard." Had I nicked my line from Samuel Beckett?

In the cold light of morning, I buy the text on Kindle, do a search, and find that the line is: "Better than nothing! Is it possible?" That is, to one way of looking, farther from my line. The structure is different. 2 sentences. An exclamation and then a question. No flat assertion. But from another point of view, it's closer. It's got hope — hope for better things than nothing.
In spite of everything you were able to get on with it!

Oh not very far, you know, not very far, but nevertheless, better than nothing.

Better than nothing! Is it possible?

56 comments:

bagoh20 said...

Other variations:

"First do no harm."
"If it ain't broken, don't fix it."
"Don't open that can of worms."
"Don't pull at a loose thread."
"Leave well enough alone."
libertarianism

mezzrow said...

"You'll get nothing and like it!" - Elihu Smails

traditionalguy said...

"Tomorrow's another day" always sounded. Hopeful. All is FUBAR for now, but civilized seeds are being sown.

Laslo Spatula said...

From "office Space":

Peter Gibbons: Michael, I did nothing. I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything that I thought it could be.

Clip here.

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

The math behind the statement, from 1974.

Nothing from Nothing leaves Nothing/

I am Laslo.

rhhardin said...

CORDELIA Nothing, my lord.
LEAR Nothing?
CORDELIA Nothing.
LEAR How? Nothing will come of nothing. Speak again.

Laslo Spatula said...

From 'The Community of Color Gazette':

"Man of Color Considers Writing a Play"

Preston Biggs, a Black Man of our Community of Color, is considering writing a play.

"Yeah, I said that," Mr. Biggs confirmed. "We was at the park and some of the guys playing chess were talking some deep sh*t and I thought "man, you could write a play with some of that sh*t"".

When asked what some of the deep statements were, Mr. Biggs hesitated.

"We been drinking forties, so I don't remember a lot of it. But I remember it was deep, and when I remember it some more I think I'm going to write a play with it."

When asked about the possible plot of the play, Mr. Biggs answered with obvious excitement.

"Just a couple brothers, hanging out in the park, talking. I'll be keeping it real."

When asked about Mr. Biggs play, John Haskins, a fellow park acquaintance, said "Awww, I don't know about that. Biggs. He talks about doing lots of things. One week he's gonna be a rapper, the next who knows?"

When asked about any of the deep statements at the park Mr. Haskins smiled.

"That would be Grimes. He says all kinds of deep sh*t."

When asked if he could remember one, Mr. Haskins paused.

"Oh, yeah, I remember this one. 'Nothing ain't nothing to be bitching about none.' He's a deep cat, that Grimes."

So there it is: a Story of Change in our Community of Color. For more stories like this please read 'The Community of Color Gazette'.


I am Laslo.

Lucien said...

"A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying Nothing."

khematite said...

"Nothing is better, nothing is best
Take heed of this and get plenty rest"

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Better than nothing is a high standard.

I admit I don't know what that means.

Someone has a leaky roof. They lack the resources to do a proper repair. They put a blue tarp on top held in place by cinder blocks. The justification for taking suboptimal action is "better than nothing." That's a low standard.

I'm not arguing, here. I'm trying to understand.

Sebastian said...

"Better than nothing! Is it possible?" Maybe.

Better than Beckett? Definitely.

Though the poet of nothing is already better than nothing.

Laslo Spatula said...

Bend It Like Beckett.

I am Laslo.

wholelottasplainin' said...

A newspaper ad salesman used to stop in the jewelry store where I worked as a kid.


One of the women clerks would ask him:

"Ed! Hi. How's your wife?"

Ed: "Oh, better than nothing, I guess."

bagoh20 said...

I run into this at work daily where we are constantly trying to improve what we do for better quality, cost savings, or ease. You have a system, a machine, or a method for doing work, and so you look at it and imagine it being better. You have to weigh whether the current design might have evolved over time by being the best of a series of previous attempts by other people who imagined too, but ended up accepting this as best. They may have been very smart, and already tried your idea and found the flaws in it. If you try that again, you will waste a lot of time and effort that was already paid for by previous imaginers. Your creativity has had great success in the past with finding elligant new solutions, and afterward, you wondered why nobody ever thought of it before and insisted on doing it the dumb way for so long. These two possibilities tug at the decision to stay or venture into the unknown. Which path you take, is a function of your past success, your confidence, or whether you are paid by the hour or the result. For me, it's more a sickness, a neurosis. I can't resist fucking with things, but I also get pissed at myself or others who don't just leave it alone. It was working just fine. Go fix a real problem. There are always plenty of those waiting for you.

bagoh20 said...

So, Better than nothing is a high standard, unless nothing obviously sucks, like with a leaky roof.

Bob Ellison said...

The problem with the "better than nothing" philosophy is that it produces torpor.

"Better than nothing" is useful, but it's biased. You can use it as a guide to things you don't like, like turning corn into ethanol, but not to things you might like, like vaccinating children against diseases. If you use it wrong, you're being wrong.

Ann Althouse said...

"Someone has a leaky roof. They lack the resources to do a proper repair. They put a blue tarp on top held in place by cinder blocks. The justification for taking suboptimal action is "better than nothing." That's a low standard."

You live alone and have no friend to do anything with on a particular night. You're just sitting around doing nothing. Somebody calls you with a proposal to do something. It has to beat the nothing that you are doing. That's a high standard to me, in my life.

You encounter a person lying on the sidewalk, possibly injured. You think about whether you should do something. You don't just do something, anything. You could cause further injury.

There are 2 100-year old houses for sale in your neighborhood. One has never been renovated. One has been renovated repeatedly over the years. Which one would you rather buy? Obviously, you'd want to know what kind of renovations were done. Most of the renovations I would expect to find in a house like that will have made it worse and a big pain to restore.

In 2009, Congress considered what to do about a whole lot of problems in paying for health care. Here we are in 2016. Imagine the road we'd be on now if Congress had chosen to do nothing. Would you rather be on that road?

Ann Althouse said...

As for the tarp on the roof in the rain, it would meet the better-than-nothing high standard. But I can think of a lot of stupid home repairs that would not be better and would only make the work of fixing the roof harder and more expensive.

If you have a lot of home repairs and go about them with a just-do-something attitude, you're going to make a damned mess of your house.

Laslo Spatula said...

Socially Awkward Guy Who Makes No Eye Contact says:

One time when I was fourteen and wet the bed my Mother got real exasperated. She said I'd end up just like my Father, a real nothing.

I said that wasn't true: I was going to be better than nothing.

My mother replied: That's a lot harder than it sounds, son.

Sometimes I wonder if my Mother was right.

The last time I had sex was with a sixty-eight-year-old woman. I figured it was better than nothing, but it wasn't better: she was fat, like marbly fat, and she kept complaining about her hip the entire time. Then she started talking about her grandchildren and I lost my erection.

And because she is a neighbor, now I have to see her all the time: it's awkward. There is a young boy who brings her groceries, and I think they're going to fuck, and I can't help it, I get jealous, even though I want nothing to do with her.

When I think about this I am overcome with the urge to pee on a woman.

The woman I picture peeing on looks a lot like the girl at McDonalds with the blue hair.

Like no one else thinks these things.


I am Laslo.

YoungHegelian said...

"It is remarkable that as scientists stake out their own territory, they speak about something else. They investigate only things, and nothing else; just things that exist, and nothing besides; only things that are, and nothing more. What about this “nothing"?

"Big Marty" Heidegger --- What is Metaphysics?

Birkel said...

So we have discovered opportunity cost.

What other things that have been well-understood for generations shall we discover today?

Mark said...

"Better than nothing! Is it possible?"
"Better than nothing is a high standard."
"Better than nothing is impossible"

Already in the first version the poison of existentialism has seeped in, triggering an inevitable movement to nihilism. Next we get a restatement of the last version -- nothing, that is, nothingness is better that what we have, nothingness is best. And that is our "progressive" culture today. And suicide is on a rapid rise.

Bill Crawford said...

Laslo on a roll!

Ann Althouse said...

I first encountered this concept when I was about 9 years old, playing with Barbie dolls in 1960. At that time, the big thing was to buy outfits for Barbie. We each had our Barbie, but we lusted after packaged outfits that cost about 4 to 6 dollars each. Each outfit was like a little story about Barbie's life, for example, the much-prized "Solo in the Spotlight." Each came with its own set of accessories and another copy of the brochure showing all the possible outfits, and no one had enough money to get them all, but we thought a lot about the order we would buy them if we could.

There were off-brands, where you could buy clothes that fit Barbie, but they did not have the quality or detail of real Barbie clothes. And you could try to cut and sew your own little tiny clothes. Conceivably, these could be better than real Barbie clothes, but I never saw anyone achieve anything like that.

One girl had clothes for her Barbie that her mother had made. The girl would say: "They're better than nothing."

Once when that girl wasn't there, my friend mocked her — mocking girls who weren't around was considered an especially fun activity. My friend said (imitating): "It's better than nothing! It's better than nothing!" Then, as cruelly as possible: "No, it's not." That was so mean, because if it was really true that she just didn't have the money to buy genuine Barbie clothes, we should be compassionate. But that just made it funnier. Because it was transgressive to be mean. We were supposed to be nice.

But it was also true. It would be better to just have Barbie, in her original black-and-white bathing suit, that to put any ugly, ill-fitting, crap clothes on her. Put some brain power into your Barbie play: "I am Barbie, I look fabulous in this bathing suit, and I am going to the beach! I you girls aren't coming with me, I'll have all the boys to myself!"

Lem said...

no comment...

Mark said...

There is a difference between "nothing" and "status quo."

Laslo Spatula said...

I was sure that Althouse would be enthralled by my 9:30 AM 'The Community of Color Gazette' comment.

The concept of a Beckett play reflected in a man talking about a play he will probably never write: the 'nothing' of not writing possibly being better than what would be written.

Perhaps a parsing of 'Nothing ain't nothing to be bitching about none' in relation to the Althouse koan.

I do not understand how Althouse can reist my meta.

I am Laslo.

William said...

The Barbie Chronicles as told by Althouse have a quality halfway between Beckett and Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

Socially Awkward Guy Who Makes No Eye Contact says:

I have a younger sister. It was obvious Mother liked her best. When she was little she got all kinds of Barbies and Barbie clothes, while I would only get new sets of sheets. Not even Star Wars or Superhero sheets: just plain sheets. From Sears.

To this day when I get a present from my Mother it is a new set of sheets. I get it, Mom: I wet the bed when I was a kid. Thank you for never letting me forget.

Once, when my sister was away, I played with her Barbies, just to see what it was like. I accidentally broke the arms off one Barbie, but denied it when I was confronted with the armless Barbie. Sure, they knew I did it, but I was never going to admit to it.

I'm pretty sure I wet the bed that night.

Anyway, when my sister was gone again I went into her room and looked at her Barbies. I knew if I broke any more limbs off I would be in Big Trouble. This idea made me so mad I could only think to do one thing: I peed on the Barbies.

Of course I got in Big Trouble anyway, but it was worth it.

It may have been the happiest moment of my childhood.

Like no one else thinks these things.


I am Laslo.

bagoh20 said...

So we have discovered opportunity cost.

What other things that have been well-understood for generations shall we discover today?"


Can't explore that. I got lots of nothing to do, and it's gonna take me a while.

William said...

The plus side of nihilism is that if you worship at the shrine of Madre Nada, she will reward you with perpetual oblivion........A tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury is a high standard. More like a tale told by a bore full of suppressed yawns and muted farts......Not even the action adventure of that dynamic duo in Waiting for Godot. More like the droning monologue of Krapp's Last Tape--an elaborate introspection on how many bananas we can eat without causing constipation.

bagoh20 said...

Nowhere is this principle more relevant and more needed than in government. It is nearly impossible for modern government to do anything better than doing nothing. Seriously, what was the last thing the government did well: fast, effective, on schedule, under budget?

mockturtle said...

Is virtual nothing better than nothing?

Lucien said...

"Better than nothing is a high standard" works best as a maxim for legislators -- and others who hold executive or administrative power too. It is a sideways cousin of the syllogism: Something Must Be Done!; X is something; therefore, X Must be Done!, which is the principle animating most legislation and regulation.

buwaya puti said...

"Someone has a leaky roof. They lack the resources to do a proper repair. They put a blue tarp on top held in place by cinder blocks."

I've done exactly this. How did you know?

buwaya puti said...

"The concept of a Beckett play reflected in a man talking about a play he will probably never write: the 'nothing' of not writing possibly being better than what would be written."

I can see that. Whenever I start writing my novel. Nothing is always so much better.

eddie willers said...

"Nothing ain't worth nothing, but it's free"

Kris Kristofferson

Yancey Ward said...

Like Eric the Fruitbat, I think it can only be a high standard if nothing really was the option. Like Eric, however, I have more often found the phrase, nothing else possible, to be an excuse rather than a description.

mockturtle said...

And someone paid an 'artist' $35K for a blank canvas because it captured the essence of...nothing.

mockturtle said...

“But he has nothing on at all,” said a little child at last.

The Cracker Emcee said...

Laslo,

Brilliant and disturbing is a high standard, man, but you're killing it.

wholelottasplainin' said...

("Tell us again about the stories of your beach melanoma and seizures, grandmalma!")

mockturtle said...

BTW, great work, Laslo!

Dust Bunny Queen said...

No shoes or some crappy used shoes from Goodwill. Better than nothing.

No food or a piece of someone's discarded sandwich. Better than nothing.

No car or a bicycle. Better than nothing.

There are a lot of things that are better than nothing. Better than nothing is probably the lowest standard to aspire to, but....better than no standards.

tcrosse said...

Monday, nothing
Tuesday, nothing
Wednesday, Thursday, nothing
Friday for a change a little more nothing
Saturday once more nothing.
-The Fugs

A said...

Beckett, the Fugs and Barbie. Where's my Fugs record?

Earnest Prole said...

An anthem for your code: Velvet Underground's Oh! Sweet Nuthin

Smilin' Jack said...

It would be better to just have Barbie, in her original black-and-white bathing suit, that to put any ugly, ill-fitting, crap clothes on her. Put some brain power into your Barbie play: "I am Barbie, I look fabulous in this bathing suit, and I am going to the beach! I you girls aren't coming with me, I'll have all the boys to myself!"

Maybe you should put some brainpower into copy-editing your comments. Anyway, to the extent we boys thought about Barbie, we always thought about her wearing nothing, which would indeed be hard to beat.

Sydney said...

We say in medicine, "Don't just do something, stand there!"

Meade said...

Yes, and by all means -- stay away from surgeons!

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I measured my sister's Barbie to figure out what her measurements would be if she were full-sized.

Felt like I was doing something wrong.

Nobody knows I did it.

Feels like I got away with something.

William said...

Better than nothing is indeed a high standard, especially when you include the possibility of worse than nothing. I'm convinced that there is nothing anyone can say about Barbie--pro or con, inane or intelligent--that will not add to the vacuity of life. There is no truth or falsehood that you can assert about Barbie that will not also assert the sucking emptiness at the pit of humanity's soul. Barbie is a creature of the abyss........If you wish to find meaning and function in your transient existence seek them in the Star Wars action figures.

Crimso said...

I interpret it as if you are going to do something (as opposed to nothing), you need to have a damned good reason for it. The tarp on the roof is a good reason to do something immediately, but note it is itself not a solution. I would view Althouse's Law as a force against the constantly employed logical fallacy of "Something must be done! This is something; therefore, this must done." That line of thinking is seen as common sense by many, many people.

Laslo Spatula said...

The Cracker Emcee and mockturtle:

Thank you.

Sometimes I get the Yips.

I am Laslo.

Jupiter said...

The first principal of politics in democracy is that you can't beat something with nothing.

mikee said...

Mishearing is one thing, misunderstanding is another. Yesterday as my wife and I were leaving our house, our cat wandered toward the front door and sat on the rug in the entryway. My wife saw the cat and said to me, "Watch the cat!"

I stared intently at the recumbent feline for maybe 5 seconds before my brain realized that my wife had not instructed me to observe the cat's activity, but rather that I was supposed to not let it get outside as we left.

Laughing as I walked to the car, I explained my momentary confusion to my wife, who responded the rest of the day by saying, "Watch the road!" and "Watch the traffic!" and "Watch the groceries!" ad nauseum.