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Consequences

A lot of the dialog in the culture war lately has been about consequences. The idea of consequences was front and center in the recent debate about contraception. The idea is that people who make, shall we say, less than (small-c) conservative decisions should be forced to take their medicine, whether they like or not.

Jamelle Bouie flags a Washington Post blogger, Alexandra Petri, discussing a fatal episode of domestic violence  at the University of Virginia. She’s obviously disturbed by the incident, but doesn’t seem to be able to come up with a narrative that can explain what happen.

She argues that the system is to blame. It was too lenient. It let these kids think they could get away with murder.

This is a story of growing up in a world where people sand off life’s edges on your behalf. Where parents and institutions exist not to protect you from mistakes, but from their consequences.

The setting is a character on its own: the college campus, where hook-up culture runs rampant and you are expected to drink four times a week, where you can sleep with someone and he can come to the stand and say that you were just friends, and it can be true. It’s a no-man’s land in which everyone wants to have fun without consequence. Where people are just mature enough to act immaturely.

[Accused killer] Huguely sent Yeardley Love, his girlfriend, a hand-written note saying that alcohol was ruining his life. He choked her. He threatened her.

Huguely’s friends said that at one point, they thought of staging an intervention because of his drinking. They didn’t. Why would they? They were college students.

It seems to me that the fact that this guy’s friends even considered an intervention means that they understood consequences. They realized that things were spiraling out of control. I’m sure they wanted to help but didn’t know how. After all, they were college students.

But I wanted to talk more broadly about how some people think of consequences. The idea is that every action has a predictable consequence that should not be mitigated. If you fuck, someone’s going to get pregnant and you should shut up and have the kid. If you drink, I guess someone will end up beating you to death? I’m not really sure where the Right is going with this.

My point is that of course we try to lessen the consequences of various dangerous activities. Negative consequences are bad and I don’t think we’re spoiling ourselves by looking for work arounds.

Think about the result of a car crash. It can be pretty catastrophic. That’s why we’ve built seat belts and air bags and the like. We want drivers to be safe, but ensuring the worst possible consequences for any failure is not the way to do it. We do not have a moral imperative to make cars unsafe.

The world is a complicated place. There are too many factors involved in any action to always be able to determine what the consequences should be. Of course, we need to consider the possibilities before we move. We need to think not just of ourselves but of those around us. But too many are still stuck in the puritan mindset that says the only way to keep people in line is through fear of fire and brimstone.

People make mistakes. Sure, society should try to prevent mistakes where we can, but there’s always going to be some asshole. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do, and a lot of people get hurt. But that doesn’t me we shouldn’t be standing by to help pick up the pieces.

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