Gongol.com Archives: August 2021

Brian Gongol

August 19, 2021

News And then, what happens next?

One question pays greater dividends than almost any other: "And then, what happens next?" You see, the law of unintended consequences follows us everywhere, because we are fallible human beings without the omniscience to see all possible results of our behavior. But that iron law doesn't excuse us from blustering recklessly into mistakes. ■ Once you become aware of a blind spot, it becomes a moral imperative to try to erase it, at least to the most reasonable extent of your capacities and the resources available. Rear-view mirrors are better than nothing, and backup cameras are generally better than rear-view mirrors alone. Being conscious of the potential for unintended consequences is a duty for anyone trying to make good decisions. ■ Anyone who cares for a garden or who plays groundskeeper for their own lawn is familiar with an unavoidable pattern: Any space that is cleared to bare soil will quickly sprout seeds unless someone is there to pull them or to cultivate the soil with something else. Nature is tough that way. ■ One doesn't have to actively play full-time gardener to still choose the kind of things that will sprout up. But even wildflowers still need some soil preparation, seeding, and early care in order to take hold of a space, and a healthy grass lawn still needs overseeding from time to time so that the grass prevails over invasive weeds. ■ Some of the most alarming aspects of the present situation in Afghanistan reflect a failure to apprehend "And then, what happens next?" When President Biden says of the Afghan military's collapse, "I don't think anybody anticipated that", then someone should be asking, "Why not?" We should never expect good to fill a vacuum faster than bad. ■ In the time outside forces have been in that country, some good has been seeded: Look, for example, to the way literacy among young women there soars above literacy among their elders. But we cannot look away from the fact that the departure of just a few thousand American troops has left thousands of people in crisis. Abruptly clearing the ground invited an invasion -- and not by wildflowers. ■ It is sometimes pointed out that free societies can choose different visions of the garden: The French garden is tightly controlled and purposely ordered, the English garden embraces the impulses of nature. But whatever vision is put to work, unintended consequences will still emerge, and ongoing attention is still required. ■ In the movie "Being There", the joke is that Chance the Gardener advised the President knowing only as much as he had learned from tending to his flowers, and what people perceived as his metaphorical wisdom was nothing more than practical advice gained from managing a rose bed. The garden, though, is a place where even the simplest person can see the importance of asking, "And then, what happens next?" Perhaps we ought to insist that more of our powerful decision-makers spend more time working the earth with their own bare hands.

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