Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Murphy’s Decalogue

Murphy’s Decalogue


Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
Work expands to fill the time allotted.
Employees rise to their level of incompetence.
Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Communication cannot cross a power gap.
Nature sides with the hidden flaw.
Everything takes longer and costs more.

Bad money drives out good.

Satisfaction is not guaranteed. 

There is no free lunch.


I propose this as a lapidary inscription. My dream is copies of this inscribed on stones several places, accompanied by copies in Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, Hebrew, and Arabic.

 Murphy’s Decalogue is a summary of hard-won modern wisdom, well worth warning the future about. It’s a brief anthology of jokes that are really scientific laws, selected for irony, accuracy, familiarity, and concision. It contains, respectively: Murphy’s Law, Parkinson’s Law, the Peter Principle, Acton’s Axiom, the SNAFU Principle, Murphy’s Ninth Law, Cheops’s Law, Gresham’s Law, the 19th Ferengi Rule of Acquisition, and No Free Lunch.

 Murphy’s Decalogue is more like the laws of physics than the Ten Commandments. Those are prescriptive, and they require enforcement. Do this and that, or else. But the Murphy Decalogue is descriptive. It does not need enforcement. You’ll do this and that, like it or not. It’s ‘ought’ versus ‘is’; the difference between religion and science.

I made this a decalogue for marketing reasons. To compile it, I sorted through many Murphyesque laws. Alas! The more I looked, the more I found! And all of them were both sardonic and accurate! They evade Seldon’s Paradox (“Any accurate prophecy sets into motion forces that negate that prophesy”) by including paradox within themselves. 

Also, they are “useless” laws: no players can use knowledge of these laws for personal gain. That itself is a Murphyesque law! The Uselessness Law: “Accurate prophesy confers no personal advantage.”

Here are ten that didn’t quite make the cut:


Accurate prophesy confers no personal advantage.

You can’t win, or break even, or get out of the game.

The law that must be enforced is not the true law.

No good deed goes unpunished.

If it ain’t broke then don’t fix it.

May the buyer beware.

Never pay more than you have to.

Dignity and an empty sack is worth the sack.

In God we trust, all others pay cash.

Lapidary inscriptions are not upon oath.

These include a law of psychohistory, a triple tribute to thermodyamics, an anarcho-cosmic echo of the Tao Teh Ching, three anonymous classics, two Ferengi Rules of Acquisition, a satire of a bank-note slogan, and a paraphrase of Samuel Johnson.




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