The butterfly effect

I don’t have the answer to the violence in the world, nor do I know what we could have done to prevent it. I, like many people, have ideas. And when tragedy strikes, your mind can’t help trying to make the pieces fit together.

And so, as I was driving cross country yesterday, my mind put this bizarre chain of events together…

  1. 1986. Reacting to the death of Len Bias from cocaine, Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill demands “some goddamn legislation” and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 is passed with lots of tough on drug provisions including severe mandatory minimums.
  2. Due in part to the massive powder/crack sentencing disparities, the legislation ends up creating a situation where African-American males in particular are heavily targeted by enforcement and given vastly longer sentences. (See Len Bias – the death that ushered in two decades of destruction)
  3. Drug sentences in many states resulted in disenfranchisement. In Florida, for example, in 2000, one in four black men were not allowed to vote. If they had been allowed to vote, it’s likely, in that time, that they would have voted for Gore over Bush, and George W. Bush would not have won the Presidential election.
  4. It’s certainly arguable that a Gore presidency would not have included the war in Iraq (a war to which the French objected). The war was clearly a desire of George W. Bush.
  5. It’s fairly certain that ISIL/Daesh was made possible by the destabilization caused by the Iraq War.
  6. Therefore Tip O’Neill is responsible for the recent attacks in Paris.

Of course, that’s ridiculous. And you could probably construct many other linkages in much the same way.

But it does remind us that public policy is subject to a form of butterfly effect. Decisions made can have broad, unintended consequences.

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