The Inescapable Unintended Consequence

One of the primary claims people make against Christianity is that most people are not intentionally evil. “How can you look at my parents, or brother, or friend, and say this person is evil? They try their very hardest to do the best they can.” Quite often my counter to this has been, “So you’re telling me this person has never done anything intentionally wrong, anything intentional to hurt another person, in all their lives?” But I think there is another way to show the world is fallen, broken, and essentially evil.

Rather than looking specifically at the moral dimension of the problem, we can look at the rational dimension of the problem. And there is no more solid evidence of the fallenness of man’s mind than the inescapable unintended consequence. Perfect examples of unintended consequences war for our attention every day. There are the poverty programs that don’t ever seem to really relieve poverty. Bank bailouts that don’t really help the banks. Housing programs that leave more people lacking housing than ever before, rent control that drives up the cost of rent, and many, many others.

But perhaps one of the most amusing is the “buy local” phenomenon.

As the “Buy Local” campaign has taken off, I have been troubled by its logic. There are a number of arguments to support the campaign, which, upon closer reflection, do not appear to hold water. Or at least they do not convince me that I ought to buy wine bottled from grapes grown on the Mission Peninsula rather than the New York Finger Lakes or California’s Napa Valley. –

The theory runs something like this: When you buy products made or grown locally, you’re helping local people get paid, and thus helping the local economy. The unintended consequence? As the author of the story above points out, when you refuse to buy apples from some other place, they will refuse (or not be able to) buy some other product from you. The entire concept always wraps around and hurts you and your local economy.

But what about the “green argument,” which goes something like this: When you buy products made or grown locally, you’re reducing the amount of carbon emissions due to transportation, and hence you are helping to “save the planet.” A moment’s thought will destroy this entire concept. It should be obvious to just about everyone that some parts of the world have a better environment than others for growing certain things. Suppose you live in a rather parched, dry, community, like Southern California. You decide to grow rice locally, rather than shipping it over long distances, in order to reduce your carbon footprint. Where are you getting the water from? Hmm… Seems like you’re going to have to have it shipped in. Now which takes less carbon to ship, rice or water? I bet I know the answer to that one without even putting a lot of work into it.

So the “buy local” movement can, in the end, cause more economic harm than it resolves, and it can cause more carbon output to reach a particular standard of living, rather than less.

What does all of this tell us? Simply that the human mind isn’t able to accurately assess every possible outcome, nor every possible input. Shouldn’t this problem of understanding tell us something? Perhaps the thing it should tell us is that we are fallen creatures, less perfect than we could be.

In fact, this is exactly what the Scriptures say –that in the end, sin makes you less intelligent. Adam certainly wasn’t thinking straight when he tried to hide his sin from an omniscient God using fig leaves. That we can’t anticipate unintended consequences is a clear sign of a mind that was once more able to cope than it is today, and hence a clear sign of some form of fall from that higher plane to the one we’re on now.

The impact of sin on our minds is no less a proof for the reality of the original sin than our inability to follow the standards we set for ourselves.

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