Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission

A recent Telegraph Technology Intelligence newsletter featured an interesting comment: “The last decade has seen a surge in discussions of UBI, driven in no small part by anxious tech barons wondering what the rest of humanity will do once they’ve turned everything into an app. This industry always prefers to ask for forgiveness rather than permission, and so the plan seems to be to gaily automate everything possible and then maybe make up for it with some kickbacks.”

The expression, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission”, is a quote generally attributed to U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper (source). Quote Investigator: “The proverbial form was in use by 1966 as shown by the statement from David Hernandez. QI hypothesizes that it was circulating before that date and was anonymous.”

Many people seem to be aware of this proverb without actually knowing it:

  • Love: children cheating on their parents (eg, candy, money);
  • Money: employees taking company assets to their homes (eg, coffee, paper, staples);
  • Philosophy: athletes cheating in tournaments (eg, cricket, soccer);
  • Politics: asking for forgiveness after being caught in a scandal (eg, NYT);
  • Religion: believers faking religious pilgrimage (eg, hajj scams);
  • Science: performing highly criticized tests (eg, human embryo gene editing);
  • Truth: non-verbal apologies for lying (eg, WaPo-2019).

Hence, all of the 7 Belief systems above feature transgressions in which “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission“.

A simple explanation for the validity of this proverb may relate to our risk appetite: “the level of risk that someone is prepared to accept [] before action is deemed necessary to reduce the risk” (ie, asking for forgiveness). In other words:

  • Permission is taking zero risk and giving full accountability over motives;
  • Forgiveness is taking 100% risk and giving partial to full accountability.

Risk management in belief systems is nothing new. Take the argument of Blaire Pascal (1623-1662): “a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.), whereas he stands to receive infinite gains (as represented by eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (eternity in Hell).” Note: italic and bold markings in quote by LO.

“[] we are fast approaching the stage of ultimate inversion; the stage where the government is “free” to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may only act by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of humanity, the stage of rule by brute force.” A quote by Ayn Rand (1905-1982), Russian writer and philosopher.

Please Forgive Me (1993) by Bryan Adams
artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Note: all markings (bolditalic, underlining) by LO unless stated otherwise.


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