Archives for posts with tag: unexpected consequences

Any way you look at it, a human individual is a decision making machine.

When living in the bush, the decision making process was rather straightforward.
Information was available on a ‘what you see is what you get’ basis and bad decisions had the rather nasty habit of becoming obvious after a very short time.

Now, when living in a social context, things are a little more complicated.
Other people want from us.
Other people actually depend on convincing us to do various things and not to do other things.

‘Convincing us’ means influencing our decision making processes.
Which can be done using one, two or a combination of the following methods.

By ‘managing’ the information we have at our disposal when making a certain decision.
By altering the way in which we feel about the outcome of that decision being put in practice.

The A&B of the matter, for those familiar with the domain…

But there are two other things which are rarely discussed about these matters.

How ethical is it to manipulate other people?
Specially when the manipulated are not fully aware of what’s going on, which puts the manipulator in almost full control of the whole process.

What are the longer term consequences of the whole thing?
Is there any difference between manipulating people to ‘consume’ things which are more or less detrimental to their health and manipulating people into making far reaching political decisions?

As in ‘is there any difference between convincing people that smoking isn’t that bad for them (or at least pleasurable enough to balance the risk) and convincing them to vote for/against … (feel free to pick your own candidate/issue)?

“The researcher whose work is at the center of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data analysis and political advertising uproar has revealed that his method worked much like the one Netflix uses to recommend movies.”

Matthew Hindman,


Sir Anthony Giddens, a left leaning sociologist turned philosopher and the man behind Tony Blair’s ‘Third Way’, is ‘responsible’, among other things, for re-stoking the ‘who came first, structure or agency’ debate.
And he issued a very powerful warning (my words): ‘No agent, no matter how wise or well intended, is able to foresee and control all the consequences of his actions and decisions’. He refers to this phenomenon as the ‘unintended consequences of modernity’.

About the same time as Giddens issued his warning in Britain across the ocean, in Chicago, Milton Friedman refocused the economic thinking: “companies should “make as much money as possible while conforming to the basic rules of the society, both those embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom.” “

It seems that nowadays nobody heeds any attention to any of them.
On the left the progressives try to bring about ‘their’ progress through ever more byzantine rules and regulations imposed by the governments they control while on the right some people act as if money is the sole legitimate goal which may be pursued at all costs. Long forgotten are both Giddens’s warning against the arrogance of the decision makers and Friedman’s counsel: “while conforming to the basic rules of the society, both those embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom”!
Is there anything to be done about this?
Forty years ago some Romanians were sent by a state owned company to Germany to do some lengthy repairs. Their car needed an oil change so they did exactly what they were accustomed to: puled over to a quiet spot near the apartment building were they lived  and performed the operation on the curb, collecting diligently all the used oil. In five minutes the police was there. The Romanians were flabbergasted: “OK, we understand that this is against the law in Germany. We didn’t know this but we are not going to contest it. But how did you find out? No living soul came near us since we started.” “Look over there!” the policeman pointed to a window. “Somebody called us!”
Maybe this is the explanation for Germany’s success. Everybody is free to do whatever he wants but simultaneously everybody else is watching AND not accepting any bullshit from anybody.
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