Something has to be done

Something has to be done. We can’t just sit around and do nothing.

This is what we always end up saying and hearing, reciting it like a liturgy. The repetition gives it power and reminds us all of the compelling logic that binds something and nothing as opposites. These are our options, we say. We can do something, or we can do nothing.

This ritual recitation stunts our imagination. It leads us to neglect anything and everything.

These, too, are important -things. They’re bound up with and against nothing just as surely as something is, and yet we never seem to argue for them in the same way. We never say, “Anything has to be done.” We never say “Everything is the right -thing to do.”

And thus something stands alone, giving it the authority of necessity. Something becomes imperative. It is the only option, and therefore the correct one. Thus we speak of it, always, in this language of duty and moral obligation: Something has to be done.

Anything and everything must therefore be set aside as dangerous distractions from this imperative duty. Mention anything or everything and you’re undermining that duty. Suggest the possibility of everything or anything else and you will be condemned as indecisive, unclear, irresolute.


This has a price and a consequence. The -things we have not allowed ourselves to think about have become -things we are incapable of imagining. And that, in turn, has warped the way we think of the one -thing we do allow ourselves to imagine.

Consider the following sentences:

Everything is the right thing to do.

Anything is the right thing to do.

Something is the right thing to do.

The first two strike us as obviously wrong. They seem too vast or vague to be helpful or to be meaningful or to be true. Yet somehow the third sentence sneaks past such scrutiny, even though it is every bit as vast and vague — just as much of an empty cypher as the others.

Something could be anything. Something could be everything. Something tells us nothing, but we’ve tricked ourselves into pretending otherwise. We’re looking for something to do and we want something to be that something.

And having already dismissed everything and anything else, that something becomes our only choice. We thus pretend that our decision is binary: We can do something, or not. And thus we have a duty to decisively decide to do that something, without troubling ourselves with whether or not anything or everything might have been better, smarter, more constructive, more effective, more just. Anything and everything are not up for discussion. Only something and nothing.

Oh, and somehow, as the end result of all of this, we’ve arrived at a place where something always seems to mean just one thing. Something means bombing something — bombing anything, bombing everything.

And that has become our moral duty. After all, we can’t just sit around and do nothing.

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