Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Cautionary Tale

There once were two brothers
Unless this is fable
Or perhaps twin others
So like Cain and Abel
That we find them today
In business and travel
When siblings they slay
And truth starts to ravel
Beyond our best senses
For unintended consequences

There are versions of the story of Cain and Abel emanating from many cultures, but there are some constant themes among them that we could take into our learning. Foremost among them is the notion of unintended consequences. Cain just did not know what to do with the corpse once he had killed Abel. Several versions imply that God sent a raven to Cain so that he could follow the raven’s example of burying a bird. It seems odd that Cain would be so determined to kill his brother but so unaware that Abel’s body would present problems. Maybe we are slow learners. Maybe each of us needs to learn directly and we tend to ignore history whether fact or fable.

When President Obama was swept into office, there was an almost histrionic expectation that everything would be resolved by the mere fact of his election. The truth is that there is nothing that simple. Worse, the behavior of progressives who fully expected that this election empowered them like the Enjoli advertisement where a woman was able to do it all. She could “bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan” and meanwhile be sexy and smart. The ad implies that there are no priorities. We can have it all…NOW. Guess what? Progressives have great expectations and there is something very positive about that. We need great expectations. We also need patience and we need to acknowledge that perhaps the agendas of same-sex unions or removal of all troops from Iraq are less critical than the American economy or health care.
Some versions of the Cain and Abel story have God questioning Cain as to the whereabouts of Abel. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Let me ask the question in today’s context. Are you your brother’s keeper? Do you need to keep your brother from harm? Do you need to know how your brother is solving his problems so you can be more helpful? Maybe there is no raven and maybe there never was a raven to give us a clue. Maybe all this is inductive reasoning that requires us to think before we act and especially before we speak. As attractive as the Enjoli ad was, it was grossly unrealistic. We do ourselves harm and perhaps even great harm by joining in the Enjoli chorus.

Perhaps the most flagrant of the unintended consequences is that by joining the Enjoli chorus, we are on the same tune as the “just say no” right wing extremists who want to return to the last eight years of Big Government supporting Big Pharma which is how we dug the hole we are in. We are now witnessing Progressives joining with right wing nuts damning Obama as though he was the enemy. In the cascade of unintended consequences, be careful what you wish for. Conservatives are arguing that the “underwear bomber” should be treated far differently than the “shoe bomber” who was convicted in a civilian court. Senator DeMint is refusing to allow a vote on the head of TSA arguing that TSA employees should not be unionized (implying both that the new director would do so and that doing so would weaken TSA more than no leadership at all). Do you really want to be counted among the rabid right? Maybe you are not your brother’s keeper, but killing him won’t get your wishes achieved.

George Giacoppe
31 December 2009

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