The Law of Unintended Consequences

My mind often wanders into strange territories. For some weird reason this idea of unintended consequences captivated my gray matter this morning. Not sure that there is anything legal about this law.. it is more on par with Murphy's Law.. I opined about that last year. Here is a definition from the wiki:
The law of unintended consequences is an adage or idiomatic warning that an intervention in a complex system always creates unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes. Akin to Murphy's law, it is commonly used as a wry or humorous warning against the hubristic belief that humans can fully control the world around them.
Here are a few of their examples of how this law sometimes plays out:
Kudzu, introduced as an ornamental plant and later used to prevent erosion in earthworks, has become a major problem in the Southeastern United States. Kudzu has displaced native plants, and has effectively taken over significant portions of land

Prohibition in the 1920s United States, originally enacted to suppress the alcohol trade, drove many small-time alcohol suppliers out of business and consolidated the hold of large-scale organized crime over the illegal alcohol industry. Since alcohol was still popular, criminal organizations producing alcohol were well funded and hence also increased their other activities. The War on Drugs, intended to suppress the illegal drug trade, has likewise consolidated the hold of organized drug cartels over the illegal drug industry
I remember visiting my dad in Mississippi and seeing Kudzu for the first time.. talk about in-your-face unintended consequences! When I think about prohibition.. and no I was not around when it was enacted.. I think about how people can have the best motives and still reap unintended results. Consider these examples:
  • Medicare and Social Security: Baby Boomers may eventually bring unintended consequences full bore on these programs.
  • Iraqi War: In the beginning who would have thought that this would end up to be more of a nation building effort than a war?
  • Offshore Oil Wells: Yikes! All of us watched in horror as billions of gallons of oil gushed into those beautiful gulf waters.
  • Drug Side Effects: Even when they are listed in the fine print these things surprise us. Makes me wonder about the stuff not listed.
  • Bell System Breakup: Who could have envisioned a day when AT&T (now at&t) would once again be servicing residential land lines?
  • Afghanistan: Ever seen Charlie Wilson's war? Our covert efforts in this country have definitely had unintended consequences.
I hesitate to bring up this years' massive healthcare reform but I do wonder how insurance companies will capitalize on it and give us results that we did not predict.

One great personal story is one that happened when Ann and I were married in 1995. I do not think that either of us ever imagined the joy that we would experience watching Toby, Ann's Border Collie, and Whitey, my Westie, chasing each other around the house and in the yard. My heart still smiles when I remember how they played and lived with other for the next 10+ years. Sometimes you just can't predict these kinds of things!

What examples of this phenomenon come to your mind? Any personal stories?

1 comment:

  1. pursuing things to gain fulfillment, only to feel more empty and feeling the need to pursue even more things. Until you find jesus.


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