Monday, September 12, 2011

Unintended Consequences on Several Levels

Edward Tenner's take on the unintended consequences of technological advances is an obvious pick for a discussion both of the psychology of the human animal and of the interactions between us and Mother Nature.  Is there any doubt that the day we domesticated animals, we opened that Pandora's Box of which he speaks so eloquently?

Here we are, a few bazillion years from the origin of our species, and we still don't have a grip on the ripple effect.  In his classic story "A Sound of Thunder", Ray Bradbury brought the "butterfly effect" into the public lexicon.  A single idiot breaks a single rule, a single step kills a single insect, a prehistoric lizard misses dinner, and eons later the world is a different place, tossed from its intended path.  Our problem?  We can't see the future no matter how hard we try.

Predicting outcomes is the stuff of science and science fiction.  If you've read 1984, then you know how badly we judge what our actions will produce.  Orwell focused on leadership and our intense drive to take advantage of each other.  He missed the part about our inability to agree on anything ever.  Though many argue that Big Brother is alive and well in our society, the truth is a bit less dramatic.  If we could all vote alike and think alike and elect someone with that sort of vision, perhaps we would fit that mold.  But we can't.  We can't even agree on whether a yellow light means pause and then go or just drift slowly into the middle of the intersection while we discuss our relationship on our cell phone. 

Tenner deals very neatly with the domestication of foodstuffs, and we can certainly apply that same imagery to the horses in our barns.  The use of horses for hauling and eventually riding was only the beginning of the chaotic rise and fall of this horse business.  Handy for dragging heavy things and transporting lazy butts long distances, the horse, much more cooperative and like-minded than we humans, opened himself to the real  advent of Big Brother.  Lives there a horse herd untainted, uncontrolled and unbroken by human intervention?  If so, we know where they are, have named their members, and there are YouTube videos of them in their most private moments. 

Courtesy of Jess:  Unintended consequences galore

Leather harness gave way to saddles.  Basic saddles gave way to more intricate equipment for controlling the horse.  Getting from Point A to Point B yielded to "my horse is prettier than your horse" which led to dressage, jumping, and My Little Pony.  All unintended consequences of the poor horse's usefulness as a draft animal. 

Natural pasture settings are replicated (not very well) at farms all over the world, and natural horsemanship techniques supplanted basic abuse and incarceration.  Still, none of it harks back to the origins.  How far we've come, and mostly without a plan.  The whole thing is reminiscent of a vacation my SA, the Girl Child and I once took.  He thought I had the map.  Uh.....

And still we push forward.  We breed for specific traits without bothering to calculate which other traits will have to be deleted from the master blueprint to make room for the change.  Horses' feet get small, bodies grow large, joints deteriorate.  Horses designed by nature to be 15 hh max are topping 17 hands and we don't get why they're breaking down before their teens.  Tiny heads are called "refined".  Big barrels are "stock type".  Over-muscled?  How can that be bad?

We train using gizmos and gadgets instead of common sense and don't understand why the kind animal before us is glaring, teeth bared, as the straps force his body into unnatural positions.  And the horses become "unruly", "unmanageable", "inappropriate", and, eventually "free to good home". 

Undomesticated looks really, really different from domesticated.
Unintended consequence?  The fox gets evicted from his turf.

If we take the horse thing to the next level, we see that the unintended consequence of primitive man's need of transport and discovery of horse power is also the rise of folks wanting to keep the current crop alive and out of harm's way.  Rescues were born, and from rescues, scams became an offshoot.  Illegality abounds in this area.  Which Hittite would have been the Futurist of his clan that pointed at his horse and pronounced, "One day we will be asked to send money through the air to people we've never seen to pay for the upkeep of horses we've never ridden, and we'll see that ill-gotten money spin the wheels at casinos in the City called Atlantic!" ?

This is a subject dear to me as I spent my adult life helping children, disturbed emotionally and physically by the unintended consequences of the treatment they received, cope with the world.  I could go on for days, and would if I didn't think my Faithful Readers would x-click me in a heartbeat....unintended consequence of wordiness that I do my best to predict.  So I'll quit while I'm ahead and hope that the minds far more brilliant than mind are working hard to train us to stop and think now and then.  

1 comment:

Crowzma said...

I'd stop the train and get off if I knew how ... are we all just hanging on for the ride? That's my fear.