"I'd Cut Off My Arm If I Could Just Undo That!"

We’re talking here about the most infamous law on the books: The Law of Unintended Consequences.

You know, all those decisions you made in the expectation they would generate good results. Like that dream car that turned out to be a lemon…that relationship you thought was made in heaven that quickly turned into hell….taking that other job, moving to that other city, joining that other movement.

History is like that too. The noblest plans often collapse into the worst of consequences. Take the noble 18th C Enlightenment movement and the equally noble 20th C Civil Rights movement:

* The intellectual ferment known as the Enlightenment was headlined in Europe by thinkers like Descartes, Rousseau and Locke; in America by thinkers like Jefferson and Franklin. After 1500 years of god-centered medievalism, these minds offered instead man-centered rationalism. The idea that humanity has the capacity for its own progress through its own reason and science.

The consequences have been a Western world liberated from ancient taboos. However,the unintended consequences have been a Western world often cut off from its god, its heaven, its morality, its you-simply-can’t-do-whatever-you-feel. To make the point, watch a dedicated Salvation Army worker get in a debate with a passionate college student over the glib atheism of a Bill Maher or Richard Dawkins.

* Then there’s the intellectual ferment known as the Civil Rights Movement. The marches, the sit-ins, the crusades, and of course Martin Luther King. It shed light into some of the nation’s darkest and dirtiest racial sins. As King himself put it: “At last, thank God almighty…”

But among the unintended consequence has been the mass migration of “freed” Southern Blacks to the greater opportunities of Northern cities. Once here, the dream got complicated, as uneducated families found themselves floundering in cities that were not economically and spiritually read for them. The result? Black populations have won their long-overdue civil rights, but with the result they may have only replaced Southern Jim Crow laws for Northern ghettos.


As historians are inclined to say: Careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

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