Most of our laws are man-made, and this is why we humans have such a massive problem complying with them. The one law that will catch us all is the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Some fantastic examples of this law in action include the introduction of the cane toad into Australia to control cane pests only for the toads to become far bigger pests in their own right. Or the decision by Barbara Streisand to sue pictopia.com for posting a photograph of her home online; before the lawsuit began, only six people had downloaded it of which two were by her lawyers, by time she won her case 420 000 people had downloaded it.

Although there have been some positive cases of this law including sunken ships becoming artificial coral reefs and the sectioning off of huge tracts of land so that the nobility could hunt in peace becoming the green lungs of most European cities, the Law of Unintended Consequences usually carry a heavy penalty.

Where the Law of Unintended Consequences gets nasty has been in the realms of politics, economics and social issues.

It must have seemed like a good idea to the victors of World War One to severely punish Germany and push for maximum war reparations, but all this did was to create greater animosity amongst the German population, especially with one really angry WW1 corporal, and this lead directly to the Second World War with death and destruction on all sides on an industrial scale.

Economics often falls foul of the Law of Unintended Consequences. The global economy still reels from the effects of the sub-prime crisis. This crisis started with the best intentions; the US government insisted that banks should make it easier for poorer people to buy their own homes and the easiest way to do this was to lower interest rates and to loosen up the loan requirements. This lead to some really bad lending practices and a domino effect as people who would never ordinarily qualify for a loan started defaulting.  Six years later, we still feel the effects.

You can easily apply the same sub-prime template for the unsecured loan crisis which is gripping South Africa and led directly to the failures of African Bank, Bridge Capital as well as the Marikana massacre. The government thought that they were being very clever by passing the National Credit Act, but hiding inside was the formalising of the heinous practice of micro-lending and garnishee orders. People got in over their heads, banks couldn’t collect money from people who had none left and workers demanded higher salaries because a huge chunk was missing.

It is, however, the effects of the Law of Unintended Consequences on social issues which are usually the most severe. Oddly enough, these are the most difficult to discuss without seeming like an uncaring brute.

When Bob Geldoff saw a BBC documentary about a famine in Ethiopia, he called up his musician friends and Band-Aid and Live-Aid were born. This lead to Ethiopia becoming the 1980s social issue de jeur and millions of dollars of Western aid and food flooded into the rain starved country. In 1984 Ethiopia had a population of less than 35 million people; thirty years later the population is 90 million and the land and economy cannot support them. The next tragedy is inevitable.

South Africa is reaping the effect of our own attempts at social engineering. By passing our BEE and Affirmative Action legislation, the effects are unintended but predictable. Qualified “non-whites” are enticed to join our large companies and the public sector at the expense of experienced whites. These newly unemployed whites have no option but to start their own small businesses using their considerable networks and skill sets.

This led to whites getting richer, which led to politicians getting angrier and passing more social engineering legislation, while skilled blacks become wage slaves at large corporates where they are not trusted to perform because of the perception that they were never employed on merit in the first place. You would have thought that a country like South Africa may have avoided this trap given that our previous attempt at social engineering, apartheid, didn’t work out so well.

Clearly history failed to teach us that social engineering will not work, because soon enough some action, whether well-intentioned or not, will fall foul of the Law of Unintended Consequences and the punishment is usually severe.

In 1996, internet service provider AOL added a profanity filter and this had the unintended consequence of blocking all email addressed to anyone in Scunthorpe in North Lincolnshire, England!

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Comment: (1)

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Dirk Van Der Walt

September 30, 2014 | Reply

Well said sir. Frans Cronje mentioned in his recent presentation beginning of September in the Sheraton Hotel with Dawie Roodt the other day, that each of us present had the inherent possible ability to change the future of South Africa due to the Butterfly Effect our actions may have. This is true, but it also sounded a bit desperate and disappointed in other possibilities. Which brings me to the problem we have with the Rhinos in South Africa. It is the very same reason we can’t solve that problem, that we can’t fix the World, or our own Municipalities. Recently read an article asking if the concept of a Nation State is still relevant, in other words – are Italians still Italians, and do Italians still need Italy, Greeks Greece, British Britain etc, or do others need Britain more than they do? So if Brits relax their immigration laws enough so that the Arab contingent of their populace become strong enough to be a competitive force, and if the traditional Brits are not cohesive enough, or care enough to voice and mobilize a coherent opposition if they so wish, then others will, and their causes will dominate, and in the process Britain would need a Name Change, and so will Greece and Italy and Pretoria. I am saying we are loosing the Rhino Battle because the problem is with organized crime from the top down and we can’t fight the top because we are not a coherent unified voice because we are not a “we” any more. We are World Citizens. World Citizens are of no use to each other really. And so the Rhino looses his nose.
Democracy is a a fallacy, votes are bought as yours and my opinion gets swayed by biased propaganda, swaying our votes.
Very seldom in today’s world do you really see any community fighting and achieving anything real for a large community by a large community.
We could use 9/11 as an example but let us use ISIS, according to certain investigative journalists, ISIS was brought up by America to serve a purpose.
I am mentioning this to illustrate that politics and power has grown into such a vast and complex creature, that Democracy and the “Persuit of Happiness” has become a childish pursuit, and we the people, have become a mockery to the Powers that Be. We may as well just go and braai, because tomorrow we die.

Ps: The Article I refer to was written for The Daily Maverick by Simon Alison, and it was called: “Analysis: Has the nation state outlived its usefulness?”

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