““It was the best of times, it was the worst of times;
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness;
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity;
it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness;
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair;
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us;
we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.”
As in all times, those were the days of Robert K. Merton. The year was 1936 and our friend had written a novel piece of non-fiction titled “The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action.” Thus began the formalization of the theory of The Law of Unintended Consequences.
In short this law simply means that if you don’t think about what might happen, or don’t know what might happen, there is a reasonable chance that what you didn’t think or didn’t know will happen. Not is not essentially where the problem exists!
The far more serious problem exist when you don’t prepare for the unexpected to happen. Unintended consequences have their greatest impact on those with that have unintended reactions.
We frequently observe this phenomena occur with zeal among government officials. Government officials tend to be eagerly engaged in “setting thing right.” These are the pandering potentates of populism that rush to reorganize the kitchen because a flash in the pan of social insult. Stated differently a little spilled oil causes them to slide mercilessly into leaving skid marks on routine social events.
I make reference to one such faux pas; the unintended consequence of seeking even greater society wide applause for being in office.
Over the years politicians have talked, argued, and pontificates about voter turnout and participation. I believe there is a couple of reasons for that discussion. First, and maybe foremost is that it is a safe subject. A politician can’t be made to look too much jackass by encouraging more people to vote. Unless, of course, that jackass is a Democrat.
The second reason is because some politicians actually believe that any participation by the electorate is better than informed participation. “Better a posse of galloping fools, than the man who knows the truth.”
So I have set the stage for my particular bias. Not only is it unnecessary to encourage uninformed voters, it is detrimental.
Yet, the analysis goes further than that. Unintended consequences.
As politicians have sought to make access to voting easier I doubt it has made voting more informed. Some statistics support my assessment. And, as we all know, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.
Online voting, mail-in voting, identification-less voting, etc. have been promoted and continued to be flaunted about by the vote buyers. The unintended consequence has been a deterioration in the perceived merit of voting. Generally, people are less inclined to vote because the value of voting has been diminished.
There is a saying I heard once those goes something like this. Performance monitored, improves. Performance monitored and measures improves dramatically. The sentiment applies with easy voting. When a person needs only put in minimal effort to vote the performance of voting will not ultimately improve.
Measuring and monitoring voting should have an element of required effort by the participant. The intended consequence will be improved performance.
The years of unfettered and “make-easy” voting have had the unintended consequence of lessening the perceived value of voting. Sadly, because one element that causes unintended consequences is as Sociologist Merton said;
“The two top reasons why the law of unintended consequences works, according to Merton, is that the framers of
a social change are either ignorant of possible far-reaching effects of the law or make errors when they develop a
change that don’t have the effects they desired.”
A person’s value system may also fail to make them look past their system when taking an action of any kind to evaluate how the law of unintended consequences might work.
Rather than perpetuating a theory that easier voting will improve voting, perhaps we ought to reverse course from that preconceived notion. Make the merit of voting have a little touch of personal effort.
I suggest a modest proposal, hopefully suitable to at least Jonathan Swift.
1. Get the government out of the partisan candidate selection process.
2. All voting return to being required at a polling place; just dump all of the mail-in and online voting nonsense. Both are unmonitorable and logistically measurable.
3. National elections should be 24 hour events. Every poll in every state opens at the same time and closes at the same time, regardless of time zone.
The emphasis on ease has failed us. It is one of the unintended consequences. However, the devastating outcome has been that our eager beavers of social restructuring (elected elitists) remain unprepared for the FACT that unintended consequences have occurred and thus continue spin their wheels while bogged down in the mud of self-importance.
That Is The Way I See It.