Earth. Mostly harmless. — Douglass Adams.
primum non nocere / First, do no harm.
The original Hippocratic doesn’t actually say this. “Do no harm” is not the first rule of medicine; it’s not even the second.
But I propose that the question of what makes the “good life” good needs to be reframed not in terms of things that are done, but rather, things that are not done. The goal of doing good is far too big a hurtle for our humble species. The collective focus instead be on doing no harm.
This means reframing Bentham’s hedonic calculus or felicific calculus, whereby the goodness of badness of a given action is determined based on whether it engenders the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people, or, in Bentham’s words, “Ethics is the art of directing men’s actions to the production of the greatest possible quantity of happiness, on the part of those whose interest is in view.” Again, forget whether it increases happiness; does it cause harm?
This means a lengthy and attentive meditation and cataloging on all the ways one does harm, often unconsciously.
One central assumption is that all human beings, simply by being born, begin causing harm (Diapers as a metonymy for the original sin of capitalism).
Examples of Ethical Not-Doing:
Staying home during a pandemic. (And all the nonsense myths of nature recovering, dolphins returning to Venice, etc)
Not drilling for oil.
Scholarships to do nothing.
Not producing greenhouse gasses.
Michel Serres idea of grace:
Whoever is nothing, whoever has nothing, passes and steps aside. From a bit of force, from any force, from anything, from any decision, from any determination… Grace is nothing, it is nothing but stepping aside. Not to touch the ground with one’s force, not to leave any trace of one’s weight, to leave to mark, to leave nothing, to yield, to step aside… to dance is only to make room, to think is only to step aside and make room, give up one’s place (MacCormack 2018: 156; Serres 2008, 1985: 45).
An excellent example of not doing:
In essence, grace is the conscious act of not doing something, of not firing one’s gun, of holding the jaws of the lion shut—in precisely the way that Samson does not