It’s Not Just a Bad Idea, It’s the Law

The Law of Unintended Consequences (TLOUC). Supposedly coined by the British Philosopher and Physician John Locke in the 17th Century. Roughly stated, Unintended Consequences are any unforeseen effects of a deliberate course of action. Example, when kudzu was brought in as an erosion control plant in the 1930s Southeast. Now it covers large areas of my home state and others because…well, it grows fast. In hindsight, they should have seen that coming. I’ll give the soil conservation people a pass and say they didn’t anticipate just how much kudzu would love that steamy climate, but the damage is and continues to be done.

Now consider the humble tomato. I grew up with home-grown tomatoes. They were delicious. Were. Now, not so much, and I’ll argue that anyone under the age of forty who says they don’t like tomatoes have never had a real one. See, sometime in the past century people got together to solve a problem in the shipping of tomatoes. They bred varieties with a tougher skin that would survive shipment better. Didn’t taste as good, but who cared? It solved the problem. Now almost any tomato you buy or grow tastes the same, because pollen is a promiscuous wanderer and the new varieties cross-bred with everything. Now, I do accept the idea that a person’s tastes change as they get older, and maybe I’m remembering the older varieties with a touch of nostalgia. Maybe, but every now and then, against the odds, I’ll get one that tastes the way they all once tasted, and get mad all over again.

While dwelling on these I was thinking, as almost universal as it is, TLOUC doesn’t cover everything and maybe we needed a new formulation. Maybe the Law of No Skin Off My Nose, to cover cases where people knew there would be problems with a course of action but did it anyway. When I looked up the formal definition of TLOUC, however, I found that TLOUC has three categories:

  1. Unexpected Benefits. As when a policy/action has a good effect no one saw coming.
  2. Unexpected Drawback. The same, except not good.
  3. Perverse Result: The action/policy has an effect opposite of the stated intention.

So the actions of the Governors of both Texas and Mississippi in repealing the Mask Mandate before the Covid vaccine rollout is complete still fall roughly under the umbrella of TLOUC. If I were feeling kind, I’d say #3, since the stated goal of restarting the economy will take a huge hit if Covid spikes again, as seems likely. If I’m not feeling kind, I might think #1 applies, since the people most at risk are not necessarily people who would vote for them anyway. It takes a leap of faith greater than mine to think this hasn’t crossed their minds.

Or maybe I’ll be generous and say they just don’t give a damn, in which case The Law of No Skin Off My Nose probably applies better. Even to the tomato thing.

Apologies for the lateness of this and my absence last week. Sometimes adulting is just too hard.