July 25, 2013
The Boycott ProblemSo by now, many of you may have heard that the musician/superstar Stevie Wonder has announced that…View Post

The Boycott Problem

So by now, many of you may have heard that the musician/superstar Stevie Wonder has announced that…

View Post

April 2, 2012
"Stand Your Ground" And the Law of Unintended Consequences

So I’ve decided to imagine that the Florida state legislators who passed “Stand Your Ground” (SYG) aren’t all racist, evil SOBs who intended to create a law to let Florida’s citizens randomly shoot African American males they deemed “threatening” for whatever reason. By which I mean I’ve decided to assume they were people motivated by a range of intents, some of which may have been racially motivated, but many of which were likely not.

Think about it: why would someone support “Stand Your Ground”? The answer may lie in some technicalities of self-defense law. In many versions of the law, one has a right to self-defense, but has a “duty to retreat” if such an option seems available. Thus you can’t defend yourself on the street if you can run away, and you can’t defend yourself in your living room if you could have credibly hidden in your bedroom. And if you do defend yourself in your living room and a jury later determines you could have hidden in your bedroom, YOU can get in trouble for choosing to stay in your living room.

It’s not hard to see how many Floridians might be bothered by this—especially its large population of aged persons who may well feel vulnerable in their homes. Might such fear be racially motivated? Of course it might: the racializing of crime is one of this nation’s greatest remaining sins. On the other hand, sometimes people of a wide variety of races and genders break into other peoples’ homes, and it isn’t too hard to imagine the desire to have the right to defend oneself free of the concern that some jury might later second guess your decision months later and free of the adrenaline of the moment.

Such a scenario—the private citizen staring down a bad guy in the home—might be termed the “ideal type” of a SYG scenario. It is the type of essentially positive, generally socially acceptable kind of situation that lawmakers likely had in mind when SYG was debated and passed. Indeed, my guess is that this scenario was shouted so loudly that any challenge to it was deemed sympathy for criminals … and if any lawmakers rejected SYG, it was at their own political peril.

Which brings us to the law of unintended consequences. After all, one can intend good things to come from a decision, but if wishes were horses we’d all need saddles. All decisions have unforeseen consequences, and many of those will inevitably be negative. Think about it: if you have a choice to make with consequences (negative v positive), you probably intend the outcomes to go one way or the other. But they needn’t, necessarily. Any choice you make will have four potential — even inevitable — outcomes:
      —Intended Positive
      —Intended Negative
      —Unintended Positive
      —Unintended Negative

Of course, it’s the last one that grabs us by surprise and shakes our world. One can only hope it has shaken Floridians’ comfortable assumptions that laws like Stand Your Ground are good in and of themselves. And, for that matter, I can only hope that anyone who fantasizes that any law will miraculously fix everything forever and for all time will take a moment to pause and remember that everything human is flawed. Recognizing that fact may both reduce our hubris and admit room for full conversations about what goes right and what goes wrong, seeking to do better. 

At least one can hope.