Friday, May 21, 2010

unintended consequences

A homosexual couple in Malawi were sentenced Thursday to 14 years at hard labor for their 'gross indecency' and 'unnatural acts.' It could have been worse -- they might have been executed.

Africa in general does not take kindly to homosexuality, a fact that fundamentalist Christians from the U.S., among other places, have encouraged and taken advantage of.

But now exponents of an anti-homosexual persuasion have proclaimed themselves horrified by the cruelty of the punishment meted out according to anti-homosexual feelings that they themselves helped to fan.

The law of unintended consequences.

Who does not want to take credit for the good that they do in the world and yet shrink back when that same good produces bad or cruel results? Wall Street bankers and brokers were gratified when the money rolled in, but have been less quick to admit their role in the worldwide economic collapse. In the Gulf of Mexico, an off-shore oil rig that produced gasoline for the car I drive exploded and is now gushing pollutants far and wide ... and yet, suddenly, no one is responsible, no one will shoulder the blame. Islam is not responsible for the group called Al Qaida -- one of the latest enemies of the United States and other well-to-do countries -- and yet this group twists the Qu'ran to its own uses and finds a following. The Catholic Church is not responsible for its sex-abusive priests.

But it is at less-exciting or headline-worthy levels that the law of unintended consequences takes a more insidious toll, I think. Everyone wants to think they are doing 'right' or 'good,' and yet shies from the fact that 'right' is not somehow unconnected to 'wrong,' and 'good' contains within it the seeds of 'bad.' The fact that such connections can be observed emprically over and over and over again is not surprising or unusual. What is interesting is the unwillingness to shoulder the responsibility for fallout from what in other circumstances can produces gold stars and victory parades, a tingling sense of virtue and hand-clapping hosannas.

Yes, I too would like to think well of myself, imagine that some good will come of my actions or typewritten words. I too have focused on the missteps of others while ignoring my own carefully-closeted contributions to error.

It's not enough to point the finger at 'them.' Pointing to 'them' is not especially stupid or bad, it's just not very accurate or true. And I don't think anyone can be happy in this life without some honesty ... some shouldering of the responsibilities they cannot evade. I cannot do much about what 'they' do or say, but I can do something about what 'I' say or do.

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