Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Unanticipated consequences

Lissa has a typically perceptive post in a series asking the question that many don't:
My goal now is to avoid being an unthinking conservative. I made the somewhat-predictable mistake of thinking that, because so much of my former liberal beliefs were wrong, that they must ALL be wrong and conservative beliefs must ALL be right.
Many of us have seen ourselves swing to the right over the last years, to our still left leaning-family's dismay. Some of us stop talking politics with family; others continue, happily or not, often (mostly) convincing nobody.

The posts are worth a careful read, as are the comments (especially BRD's). But it still comes back to how do we avoid the pitfall of infallibility?

BRD's comment offers a very useful insight:
Be as free with in pointing out the hypocrisy and silliness of your own side as that of others.
I would extend that from hypocrisy and silliness to include times when, with the best of intentions, your side has just plain been wrong. You meant well, but find that you've paved another mile of the road to hell.

Now I'm less concerned about convincing other people. Maybe I'm selfish (remember, this is my blog - it's all about me me me), but I'd like to avoid the infallibility trap. As Mom reminds me, I don't wear infallibility very well.

There's a question to ask yourself "How does this go bad, if I'm wrong?" What are the unanticipated consequences of what you believe? There are a lot of these around, on all sides.

On the left, the Great Society has destroyed marriage as an institution in many disadvantaged communities.
But if you give unmarried mothers money, said the critics, you will get more unmarried mothers.
Ridiculous, said the proponents of the change. Being an unmarried mother is a brutal, thankless task. What kind of idiot would have a baby out of wedlock just because the state was willing to give her paltry welfare benefits?
People do all sorts of idiotic things, said the critics. If you pay for something, you usually get more of it.
C'mon said the activists. That's just silly. I just can't imagine anyone deciding to get pregnant out of wedlock simply because there are welfare benefits available.
On the right, the War on Drugs has led to the militarization of the police - "we had to destroy the village in order to save it":
The jury concluded that Chavalia reasonably feared for his life when he heard the gunshots. I guess they were then willing to overlook Chavalia's mistaking an unarmed woman holding a baby for an armed drug dealer, and the fact that he fired blindly into a room without first identifying what he was shooting at. It's too bad that that same sort of deference isn't given to the people on the receiving end of these raids when they too understandably confuse the police officers who wake them from sleep and invade their homes for criminal intruders.
There's a very interesting discussion involving what many see as a slow but continual loss of freedom:
But Mr. Vanderboegh has convinced himself (or is working himself up to it) that if a mere 3% of the gun-owning population rises up in righteousness, supported by another 10% of the population, we can defeat our collectivist enemy and restore our lost Constitution.

He is not alone in that belief.

It is a beautiful one.

Unless you look too closely at it.
I'm probably one of the white folks that Kevin is talking about here. I like shooting, and am pretty strongly small-L libertarian, but I'm nervous about this sort of talk about an 3% of the population rising up in arms. How does this go badly if these folks are wrong? Shelby Foote made his name writing about the Civil War. Not sure I'm eager for version 2.0.

I hear people saying we should put George W Bush and company on trial for war crimes. How does this go badly if these folks are wrong? Tom Holland wrote in Rubicon that the Roman Republic collapsed when they basically criminalized losing elections. Excuse me for doubting whether we're wiser now.

Neal Boortz writes about Gay Marriage from the small-L libertarian perspective: "How does it change my marriage?" I'm really in agreement here - I simply don't care if Jim and John run off to Provincetown to tie the knot. Still, there's the question: how does this go bad, if we're wrong? There's a post or ten in this, about the courts short circuiting the political process.

So may the Lord grant me humility, before my opponents do. Now if y'all will excuse me, I'm off to hug my family.

UPDATE 6 August 2008 20:52: Og at Neanderpundit has a picture perfect example of unintendended consequences. EPA shuts down polluting Coke plant at Steel mill, Coke plant sold for scrap to Chinese, Chinese reassemble Coke plant without all the annoying EPA-mandated improvements. More pollution, fewer US jobs.

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