Actions often come in chains. Every action produces effects, which in turn produce other effects. The theory of the so-called “butterfly effect” reflects the truth that one seemingly simple act can start a chain reaction of events capable of quite possibly changing the world.
Every act humans perform is potentially world-altering.
But many people act as if their actions have no effect on others, living as those they are solitary actors. Governments also act as though their laws and decisions have no subsequent effects other than the ones they intend. Both humans and governments are ultimately guilty of one-step thinking - considering actions without respect for their consequences.
This is true, in part, because humans live in the present and focus on their immediate future. The more distant consequences of human actions are often hidden and not immediately apparent – and thus they are ignored by individuals unconcerned with the future.
But although the consequences of human activity may be hidden from human eyes, they still exist. And the consequences of hidden actions can be devastating.
Governments often adopt policies that reflect one-step thinking. A common government policy, price controls, illustrates this trend perfectly. Government tries to restrict the sale of a certain good by lowering the price of the good. This skews the laws of supply and demand – people want more of the lower-priced good, creating shortages. To remedy the problem, government either has to eliminate the intervention altogether or further intervene in the economy, creating an infinite web of new regulations.
But government is hardly the only entity that engages in one-step thinking. Individuals also engage in activity that reflects one-step thinking, as well.
Many act as though “solitary” vices such as drunkenness, pornography, and masturbation affect only those who engage in them. But “solitary” sins isolate the sinner from his fellow man, leading the sinner to self-centered and concerned solely with his own desires. This in turn affects others, who are turned off by the sinner’s negative behavior. In the end, even “solitary” sin can create an interlocking web of suspicion and sorrow detrimental to humanity.
One-step thinking is incredibly detrimental to governments and individuals who engage in it.
But the fact that actions have chains of consequences is not entirely negative. It has an upside, as well.
Every good action people do affects humanity for the better. The virtues we uphold allow us to inspire others to follow us in virtue. The helping hand we lend others leads to others being willing to lend a helping hand for others. Good breeds good.
As humans, we must be aware that our every action for good and for ill has incredible influence on the rest of the world. We must live our lives as if every action mattered – because our actions can and do have effects far beyond what we humans, with our limited knowledge, can predict or foresee.
This post also appeared on the New Agora. Check it out!