Is “better late than never” always true?

The Question

Is “better late than never” always true, or are there times where never would be the preferred option?

PCGuyIV’s ‘Truthful Tuesday’: June 1st, 2021

After pondering this awhile, I have a problem with this, as it’s not one question, but two. And I think that, to answer it, it’s necessary to focus on the words ‘always’ and ‘never’.

To take the second part first: I think that ‘never’ can never be the ‘preferred option,’ as in ‘one that is deliberately chosen’. One could only ever choose the ‘never’ option if the benefits of doing so were to outweigh the benefits of taking the planned action, and, barring a change in circumstances that might negate the original plan, I cannot think of a single example where that might be true.

Missing the launch window

As PCGuyIV points out in his own answer, ‘late’ implies a deadline. If that is time-critical, failing to meet it can make further action towards the goal pointless, or nonsensical.

Take, for instance, a Mars probe: if its launch window is passed and the rocket is still on the launch pad, the mission has to be postponed — for two years or more — or even scrubbed entirely. While this equates with ‘never’, the option is not one that was chosen in advance; the situation has changed. There will, presumably, have been unavoidable reasons for the delay, despite best efforts to achieve the objective.

Altered circumstances after the event

‘Never’ can also appear to be an ‘option’ if new facts come to light that reveal that the failure to meet the deadline has changed — or, even, possibly, improved — the situation, despite initial conditions that may have suggested action was required. But since this implies a faulty analysis, or misunderstanding, of the conditions leading to the original action plan, the ‘never’ option can never be the preferred choice for that original plan. And such should never be used as an excuse to procrastinate, although sometimes this is exactly what does happen….

So, is “better late than never” always true?

My answer to this is a simple ‘no’. As PCGuyIV says, one has to consider the consequences of not meeting the deadline; but since there are some situations in which being too late can have disastrous results, defying rectification by any action (the Titanic comes to mind), the maxim is not always true.

Delaying action on climate change, for example, is something homo fatuus brutus has been doing now for decades. The “we need more information” mantra has been pushed by many, fuelled largely by vested interests and the merchants of doubt with the intention of maintaining business as usual as long as possible, despite the evidence. While the mantra sounds reasonable, what some demand is 100% certainty, which is totally unreasonable (it’s a science denial technique known as ‘impossible expectations’).

Graph of CO2 mitigation curves at different starting points
(click to embiggen) — blatantly thieved from The Conversation without permission

Coming up to the tail-end of 2014, I asked a question of my own: “Are we ready for 2015?“. It was, of course, rhetorical; but the CO2 mitigation graph above gives a clear answer that: no, we weren’t ready. And now, six-and-a-half years later, we’re still not.

About peNdantry

Phlyarologist (part-time) and pendant. Campaigner for action against anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and injustice in all its forms. Humanist, atheist, notoftenpist. Wannabe poet, writer and astronaut.
This entry was posted in ... wait, what?, Communication, Core thought, GCD: Global climate disruption, Phlyarology, Strategy and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Is “better late than never” always true?

  1. mistermuse says:

    BETTER NEVER THAN LATE works for me if Trump is denied in his unending push for the second Presidential term he claims he won in the last election.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I like whate mistermuse said and your post here is sobering. We will be a species that causes its own extinction (and the extinction of many other species).

    Liked by 2 people

  3. revruss1220 says:

    I don’t think it is always true, despite the fact that it is a great summary of my own life story. However, when it comes to climate change mitigation it seems “Late” is the only option we have left. “Never” would hasten the demise of life as we know it.


    • pendantry says:

      Sadly, when it comes to climate change mitigation, ‘late’ is TOO late. And if you believe that action will be taken, even at this late stage, you are, I’m afraid, fooling yourself. “Never” is going to be the reality.


  4. Always and never are terrible words there is nothing in this world so absolute
    Keep Laughing! Someone may be watching

    Liked by 2 people

  5. masercot says:

    He who hesitates is sometimes saved – James Thurber

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Gray Dawster says:

    I think ‘Better Late than Never’ can be debated continuously without any of us reaching any lasting conclusions.

    Actually, and this has nothing to do with your question, typos can have a jovial twist in commenting, for instance adding a ‘B’ instead on an ‘N’ in Never gave me an instant chuckle, sure the word isn’t spelt right but the thought was funny.

    Anyway getting back to what I was saying, it’s an interesting quote, and is it better to be late than never in all scenarios will have their own set of consequences and dilemmas.

    On climate change the outcome is obvious, late is as almost as bad as never, especially when nobody wants to take action. Time and time again we see the same questions being unanswered, simply because nobody cares about such things until the warnings of doing nothing actually happen, but then, as always it’s too late, so late in fact that doing nothing wasn’t an option.

    It is after all a very interesting, mind boggling, infuriating world that we live in, so I guess the question will be with us through infinity, unfortunately.

    Great post.


    Liked by 1 person

  7. An interesting twist on the saying. I never thought of it that way, but I always thought it only applies to the things that need/ should be changed. If there is no need, then, it can be later or even never.


  8. Pingback: Truthful Tuesday: June 8th, 2021 – Thoughts & Theories

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