Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Woops . . . didn't see that coming."

The Twentieth Century was one 100-year-long lesson in the Law of Unintended Consequences (now that I think about it, it’s ironic that the acronym spells LUC).  Look at the outcome of WWI.  No one really wanted to spur Germany to transform into a tyrannical giant that would swallow up over 11 million souls after it was finished, but that’s what happened.  When we stopped short of stomping in Saddam’s guts in the first Gulf War, we didn’t do so in the hopes that it would create a 7+ year war with Iraq in the future.

The thing is that no matter how noble an action, no matter how morally right and justified it may be, that action will inevitably produce some consequence that we seriously did not intend.  Let’s take a hypothetical situation through to its logical conclusion.  A good friend of mine has always claimed that alternative fuel technology exists, but the technology is held back because the fat cats of the oil industry want to get every last cent from every last drop of fossil fuel.

I thought to myself, “wouldn’t it be great if something like a water fuel cell existed, and the only fuel we ever needed was water?”  Sure, it’d be awesome for me and most people.  We’d just hook our shit up to the hose and we’re good.  But then think about how many lives that sort of technology would ruin.  “Jack, the fat cat oil douche bags have billions of dollars!  Their families will never have to lift a finger for the next 3 generations!  They don’t need anymore money!”

Oh, if only the sole employees of oil companies were the big wigs at the top running shit.  Sure they’d be okay, but what about the thousands of normal employees that make a living off of fossil fuel?  Think about it: how many people would be completely screwed if gas stations became obsolete?  What would they do?  Where would they go?  How the hell would they eat?

We can broaden the context a bit to technological advancements as a whole.  Any time we innovate or advance, some group of people are inevitably boned by it.  Just look at the Navy.  The technology on ships is constantly being improved upon with the goal of reducing the manpower required to run it. 

Right before I got out, my specific work space was getting a huge system upgrade.  While I salivated at the things promised by the upgrade, I was also keenly aware of what it meant in terms of staffing.  We would no longer need 6 operators, but only maybe 3.  Eventually, the system will be so automated that it will be able to be accessed remotely from shore, and the only personnel needed on the ship would be the maintenance guys.

Just take The Dark Knight for example.  The consequence of Bruce Wayne running around town fucking up bad guys dressed as a bat was some psycho running around Gotham fucking up good guys dressed as a clown.  That was one of the big, overarching themes of the film, the notion of escalation.  While it's admirable to try to make the world a better place, we have to remember that there are people out there who profit off of the world being a shit hole.

If there were no war would there be a Northrup-Grumman?  If there were no sickness would there be a need for doctors?  If there were no asshole criminals would we need police and lawyers?  These people provide very valuable and noble services, but their livelihoods depend on people being shitheads to each other, or for the random fury of nature to open up whole truck loads of misfortune on entire civilizations.

We just have to realize that despite our best intentions, we’re going to ruin someone’s life.  Even the most altruistic deeds of good faith and virtue may actually cause harm to someone, somewhere.  In a world of limited resources and competing interests, someone is going to go hungry.  It's foolish and pointless to believe otherwise.


Silverfiddle said...

So true. What many do not realize is that there are no silver bullets or magic wands.

Life is about tradeoffs and the grass ain't always greener.

Harrison said...

Well, punishing German so severely definitely spurred them on for starting the sequel. I would modify your statement and say nobody saw overlapping alliances as what would drag the nations into WWI.

You can't predict everything but if you stick with human nature your record will be pretty good. What so much politics is about, however, is ignoring human nature which is why there are so many "unintended" consequences.