Among the various philosophic and scientific miracles produced by the Scottish Enlightenment (1730 – 1800) was a droll little principle similar to the more infamous Murphy’s Law (“Anything that can go wrong, will”) but different enough to stand on its own – The Law Of Unintended Consequences.
This law applies to any situation in which an action results in an outcome that is not (or not only) what is intended. Sometimes this result is an unanticipated side-benefit but the law is most often cited when the result creates a situation that is similar to, or worse than the original problem the action was undertaken to resolve. For example, Antibiotics were created to kill bacterial infections, but because they are so effective they have been overused and have spawned a new strain of “super bugs” upon which they no longer work. The unintended consequence of killing bugs is to create stronger bugs.
This Law is at its most amusing when applied to social tinkering, and has become the bane of those political movements that are the most prone to enacting sweeping changes. The more you mess with things the more likely you are to create side effects. You must then take more action to cope with the side-effects which creates even more. Suddenly you are busier than a one-legged man at a bug stomping contest.
The stinging flies of unintended consequences buzz in a constant cloud around the nostrils of the Left. Sexual Revolution? AIDS and Herpes. Welfare? Dependent permanent underclass with no incentive to get a job. Sexual Harassment Laws? A more paranoid and less tolerant environment, with women losing access to male mentors who no longer wish to run the risk of taking a woman under their wings. Feminism? Post-30’s professional women unable to have children because they waited past prime fertility years, believing they could have it all. Bitterness, loneliness, acrimony. Oppose the war to bring peace? Embolden radical terrorists who bring war.
The Right is not immune, either – The Global War on Terror has spawned plenty of unintended consequences; it has created chaos in Iraq, elected a Democratic majority in the Congress and alienated Europe. But it has also forced a bizarre alliance between Islamic Fascists and the Political Left, empowered political moderates like Joe Leibermann (who, upon being kicked out of the Democratic Party, gained reelection as an Independent making him more powerful in The Senate than he would have been if he had stayed in the party) and weakened liberal candidates (like Hilary Clinton who ran to the the right to make herself more electable and now faces insurgencies on her left for supporting a war she most likely did not).
Certainly, problems in our society should not be ignored just to avoid creating new ones. However, wild sweeping changes that have not been properly thought out should be avoided. The Left is more prone this because they love such changes. They embrace global economic reorganization remedies to avoid global warming when caution suggests such drastic changes may bring about much greater chaos and misery if they fail. Speech codes designed to protect the feelings of protected classes trample on the first amendment rights of others to dissent, a principle the Left holds quite dear but apparently only for themselves. Politically Correct libertines spawn a new form of fascism which punishes deviation, stifles debate, and enforces political conformity. How is that liberal?
The Left would do well to realize that it is possible for a man to inherit the world and in the process lose his own soul, which is probably the most extreme unintended consequence of them all.