By Robert L. Cain, Copyright 2005 Cain Publications, Inc.
Let us consider noses. Your nose belongs to you and my rights stop right where your nose starts. Noses are also used to stick in other people’s business. Noses that get stuck in other people’s business sometimes end up complaining about their rights.
“The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins,” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Let us consider what is best for people. I don’t know what is best for people. Rather I have to rely on them to decide. I know some things that are probably bad for them; some things are bad for me, too. Too many cookies are bad for me. The cigar I smoke once a month is probably bad for me. Having three drinks in an evening is probably bad for me.
Even so, I have to ask myself, am I sure what I think is bad is truly bad for them? It is not just a question of whether I am sure, either. It is also a question of whether I know a workable solution for what is bad for them. And if it truly is bad for them, and I know the solution to what is bad for them, does my nose belong in trying to sort out a solution for them?
Let us consider unintended consequences. You can’t do just one thing. You can never drop a pebble in the water and have it go straight to the bottom affecting nothing on the way down.
Watch the pebble. When the pebble drops in the water the first consequence is the ripples it creates that will go on and on until something gets in their way and stops them. What happens when the ripples hit something? Maybe nothing that we can perceive happens. Nonetheless, something happens at least on the atomic level that affects another atom, which affects another atom, which affects another, ad infinitum. We can in no way predict from there what the effect will be, can we? Chaos theorists have tried to predict, but it is still only speculation.
Watch the pebble. As it drops toward the bottom of the pond, it scares a fish who will dart out of the way. What will the fish run into? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. But for the pebble, the fish probably would not have gone where it did at that moment.
Watch the pebble. When it hits the bottom of the pond it creates a crater of mud that sprays up in all directions. It is not a big crater, just a little one, almost unnoticeable. What will be the result of disturbing the mud? We certainly can’t predict that with any certainty whatsoever. Maybe a stash of frog eggs will be uncovered, providing food for the fish that just got scared by the pebble. That is bad news for tadpoles that will never become frogs, but good news for the fish.
Watch yourself. I’ll watch myself, too. Everything everyone does has consequences that cannot be predicted. Most assuredly you can predict an immediate consequence. If you pound a six-penny nail into a two-by-four, the board will have a new hole in it filled by a nail. What happens after that? If the nail goes all the way through into the surface beneath, it makes another hole. Maybe you shouldn’t have been using that table to pound on. Now the table has a hole and your wife sees it.
She gets angry with you and storms out of the house. While she is out, she passes a store that sells lottery tickets and decides to buy one. It turns out to be the winning ticket for the $100 million PowerBall jackpot. Now you can retire in luxury and buy all the tables you want. All that was the consequence of pounding a nail. Of course it could have turned out far differently. But we can never predict.
Let us consider technology. Modern technology has made it oh so much easier to drop pebbles into ponds and create waves that can go around and around the world. The invention of the word processor, for example, had the consequence of making it easier to write and fill up many more pages than necessary to say what we might have said 30 years ago in fewer pages.
The word processor has helped undermine good grammar and punctuation. That is certainly a big ripple. All kinds of opuses are self-published every day because they can be. They are published replete with grammatical and punctuation errors that make me cringe when I read them—at least as far as I read. People for some reason tend to believe things they see in print or on their computer screens. When they see improper use of the English language, they might think that either what they see is correct or “if proper English usage isn’t important to anybody else, why should it be to me?”
Modern technology in the form of the world-wide web has made it infinitely easier to communicate all kinds of information, true or not, interesting or not, well-researched or not, all around the world in an instant for everyone to read. In fact it seems as if a need has sprouted that compels people to try to be first with the news, regardless of how it comes out. Not entirely correct? Oh, well, we got there first. We can sort out what passes for truth later. Lying to so many people has never been so easy.
Since people believe what they see on the internet is correct; or they think what they see there is something to be emulated; or they think that when they see unethical and immoral people misbehaving it is acceptable, a consequence is an increasingly downward-spiral of ethics and morality. Is that the only cause of moral and ethical misbehavior? Certainly not, we have always had ethical misbehavior. Modern technology can’t take credit for lack of ethics. It is just so much more easily communicated today.
Let us consider noses again. The fist of the misuse of technology is either rapidly approaching our noses or has already hit them. The question is do we swing back? If so, what do we hit back with? Watch the pebble. When you drop the pebble into the modern technology morass, you can’t tell what the ultimate result will be.
Let us consider those unintended consequences before we swing back. What can we do to correct those easily perceived abuses, while saving the life of the technology goose that is laying the golden egg? Let us consider unintended consequences and noses.
I say with Thomas Jefferson, “The government that governs best governs least.” The society that interferes as little as possible in the lives of its citizens survives intact and prospers best.