ALS Topic 62 - A Life of Unintended Consequences

Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar Saturday, 20 June 2020 11 am to about 1:30 PM (end time flexible)

Venue: Zoom online meetup

About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding

Focus Questions

1. Are There Only Good Guys and Bad Guys? Look at your life experience - how often have good things come through for all the "wrong reasons" or from the "wrong people"? Look at history - how often have the best intentions led to catastrophe? Examples?

2. There are probably some decisions you have made in the past which had unintended consequences for your life. Examples?

3. What have been some unintended consequences from the upheaval caused by the convid-19 virus?

4. Human attempts to control Nature almost always have unintended consequences. What are some major examples of this, past and present?

5. "Streisand effect - The Streisand effect is a social phenomenon that occurs when an attempt to hide, remove, or censor information has the unintended consequence of further publicizing that information, often via the Internet" [Wikipedia]. What are some examples of this phenomenon?

6. Core religious texts in most of the world's religions embrace wise values, especially for the societies in which they emerged historically, and in many cases for all time in all societies. Yet the very authority of these texts has seen them weaponized and willfully misinterpreted for political ends, again and again over the centuries. The same thing happens with documents like the United States Constitution. How can we protect against iconic texts like this having unintended consequences?

7. The Australian government is proposing some cash give-aways to stimulate the economy. For example - a) $25,000 for home renovations; b) the early release of superannuation savings. From past experience, what are some unintended consequences of this sort of cash stimulus?

8. Our lives and cultures have been turned upside down in the last 30 years by the emergence of personal computers, smart phones and the Internet. What have been some unintended consequences of this revolution? [This will be a harder question for digital natives than digital immigrants].

9. Not only success, but also apparent failure can have unintended consequences (for both individuals and institutions). What is a "failure" from your earlier life that a younger version of yourself might have had trouble understanding or predicting? [For example, losing a particular job might be the best thing that ever happened to you].

10. The actions taken by political leaders often have unintended consequences. That is, the outcome may have been unintended by the institution they represent, or unintended by the individual politician. [e.g. Trump had a peaceful demonstration cleared by tear gas in order to walk across Lafayette Square in Washington and pose with a bible in a photo op. No doubt he thought he was appealing to a key constituency. Instead he earned instant, nationwide condemnation.  ] Can you think of other examples of politically unintended consequences?


Extra Reading, Comments and Links

Wikipedia (2020) "Unintended Consequences" @ 

Anonymous (n.d.) "How Unintended Consequences Rule Our Everyday Lives - What do rabbits in Australia, digital communications and financial independence have in common? The answer: they all provide examples of unintended consequences." Hustle blog @ /

Wikipedia (2020) "Streisand effect - The Streisand effect is a social phenomenon that occurs when an attempt to hide, remove, or censor information has the unintended consequence of further publicizing that information, often via the Internet". Wikipedia @ 

Wikipedia (2020) "Manichaeism" @  [ "To be Manichean is to follow the philosophy of Manichaeism, which is an old religion that breaks everything down into good or evil. It also means “duality,” so if your thinking is Manichean, you see things in black and white."]

Barton Gellman (24 May 2020) "Inside the NSA’s Secret Tool for Mapping Your Social Network - Edward Snowden revealed the agency’s phone-record tracking program. But thanks to “precomputed contact chaining,” that database was much more powerful than anyone knew". Wired magazine @  [Thor, comment: This is a story we see repeated again and again in an age of exploding technical capability - Officials with justifiable intentions of curbing illegal activity in a community make use of a powerful new tool to track the bad guys. But it doesn't just track the bad guys. It tracks everyone, and sets up honeypot for potential future blackmail and extortion, either from hacks of the data, or from deliberate misuse by political criminals in elected office].

Emma Dawson (5 June 2020) "The homebuilder scheme is simply pork-barrelling to the Coalition's electoral base - It’s a terrible use of public funds, will exacerbate inequality and do little to create new jobs." The Guardian @ 

Rudyard Kipling (1889 ) "The Ballad of East and West" Bartleby website @

"Oh, East is East, and West is West,
and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently
at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West,
Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
though they come from the ends of the earth!"]

[Thor, comment: The unintended (and fortunate) consequence of this famous poem is that two blood-sworn enemies from utterly different cultures enter into a potentially deadly encounter, but recognize a greater value and respect in each other's courage. (Maybe it is also a reminder that most murders, treachery and acts of brutality are driven by the petty vindictiveness of petty minds incapable of seeing a greater good)].

Robert Burns (1785) "To a Mouse". Poetry Foundation @ [Thor, translation: "The best laid plans of mice and men are apt to go astray". Robbie Burns writes in 18th Century Scottish dialect]

"The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!"

Wikipedia (2020) "Blowback" @  _(intelligence) [Quote: "Blowback is a term originating from within the American Intelligence community, denoting the unintended consequences, unwanted side-effects, or suffered repercussions of a covert operation that fall back on those responsible for the aforementioned operations" . Examples - Nicaragua and Iran-Contra / Afghanistan and Al Qaeda / Syria and ISIS / Yevno Azef and Russian Imperial secret police / ]

Wikipedia (2020) "Boomerang effect (psychology)". @  [Quote: "In social psychology, the boomerang effect refers to the unintended consequences of an attempt to persuade resulting in the adoption of an opposing position instead. It is sometimes also referred to "the theory of psychological reactance", stating that attempts to restrict a person's freedom often produce an "anticonformity boomerang effect".]

Wikipedia (2020) "Pandora's Box" @'s_box  [Quote: " In modern times an idiom has grown from it meaning "Any source of great and unexpected troubles", or alternatively "A present which seems valuable but which in reality is a curse".]

Wikipedia (2020) Serendipity" @  [ Quote: "Serendipity is the occurrence of an unplanned fortunate discovery. Serendipity is a common occurrence throughout the history of product invention and scientific discovery. Serendipity is also seen as a potential design principle for online activities that would present a wide array of information and viewpoints, rather than just re-enforcing a user's opinion".]

Ben Wallace-Wells (2007) "How America Lost the War on Drugs After nearly four decades and hundreds of billions of dollars, drugs are as cheap and plentiful as ever. An anatomy of a failure". Rolling Stone magazine @  [Quote: "“The lesson of U.S. drug policy is that this world runs on unintended consequences. No matter how noble your intentions, there’s a good chance that in solving one problem, you’ll screw something else up.”] [Thor, comment: US$500 billion down the drain and total failure by 2007. By 2020? More money, no change. This is a long article - so immediately 90% of people can't or won't read it, but it is worth reading. The article captures why the U.S.A is a failed state regardless of the administration elected. It's not just about 'left' or 'right', 'progressive' or 'conservative'. It it about the corrupting incentives of political power. The US has failed again and again, not just with drugs, but with education, policing, health, with infrastucture, with shooting wars ... Doing the same failed things again and again is supposed to be a definition of stupidity. There are always good, smart people who know what needs to be done. Invariably their voices are drowned out].

Lloyd Green (31 May 2020) ""The Inevitability of Tragedy review: a life of Henry Kissinger for our Trumpian times"". The Guardian @

Michael Hirsh (7 June 2020) "Welcome Back to Kissinger’s World". Foreign Policy magazine @  [Thor, comment: Idealism in international relations always leads to unintended (often bad) consequences. This is the crux of Henry Kissinger's lifelong thesis. Kissinger (now in his 90s) is the doyen of the American foreign relations establishment, often ignored and reviled as a war criminal. He has plenty to answer for. But his coldly pragmatic judgements, in the end, have often correctly predicted outcomes. American moral "crusaderism" has had poor outcomes for America, and catastrophic outcomes for people in other countries. Kissinger has visited China as a statesman over 100 times. He has no expectation that China will become America-lite with similar values. He believes that it is best for both countries (which politically are both internally weak at the moment) to reach an unsentimental live-and-let-live accord. My own Australian perspective (Thor) is that both USA and the PRC are likely to use Australia as an easy, proxy target for contest and punishment with a low risk of damage to the main contestants. This happened repeatedly to smaller states during the Russian-USA Cold War]. [Note: to access this article press the Reader View app in the address bar of your browser]

Thor May -
事与愿违 [shì yi yuàn wéi] 'Things turn out contrary to the way one expected' - Chinese idiom (... thanks Chen Chen for this )

Thor May - 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions'. - English idiom


Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar

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Convenor : Thor May Personal website (legacy)
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A Life of Unintended Consequences (c) Thor May 2020 

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