Ended With The Unintended

Consequences are the results of our actions or words, usually with negative or tragic connotations. But, sometimes, we may receive a pleasant surprise instead. Life is full of consequences and we will usually shrug our shoulders and say, well, we deserved it. The stock market has burned me twice, and there is no denying I deserved it. Everything is clearer with hindsight; it is always unfair to those who lived through the moment without it. I promised The Mrs there will not be a third time – otherwise I have to sign the divorce papers – and so I have missed out on the longest bull run in the history of the stock market. I will knowingly not invest in cryptocurrencies even though the rewards are incredibly high. That is only because the said documents are pushed in front of my nose whenever I quietly weigh up the risks and returns of Bitcoin and gold. The Mrs somehow has a knack of knowing what is on my mind. Yet, there it is. The unintended consequence of helping me to avoid another major haemorrhage in the stock market is I have been sidelined, and can only watch others celebrate their massive profits from the longest ever bull run – ten years of amazing double-digit annual returns instead of the pittance the bank has been paying into my savings account. An unintended consequence is that I now hold the title of The Lousiest Investor.

There is also the example of my neighbour’s experience of readying her newly built pond for her koi fish. Admittedly, hers are to die-for, koi fish are extremely difficult to find here. Her specimens are indeed stunning, when you see their metallic colours darting through the crystal clear water. What did she do with such a precious collection? To test the water quality before introducing her koi to their new home, she sacrificed some cheap comets into the pond first. “If they die, they die.” She was almost callous about it. Their sole purpose was to test the safety of the water. Well, they did not die and the koi clan rightly assumed permanent residential status. So clever, right? Except that now, the comets are thriving in the pond and the koi cannot reproduce even though the conditions of their habitat are ideal for breeding. Why? Ask the growing school of hungry comets. They are the unintended consequence.

My parents were upset when I announced I was getting married to the girl I met in uni. I was twenty two at the time, and eighteen months later I became a father. My mother cried for me, I recall. “You haven’t lived your life yet!” she protested. It is true, I had not really lived; never ventured out on my own for a holiday; never had a honeymoon with The Mrs. At 26 years of age, I became the sole bread-winner for a family of five plus two elderly parents-in-law. There was the occasional dispute about what comprised the family of five. My version was The Mrs, me and our three kids. Her version? She and the four kids. Women mature faster and The Mrs was quick to recognise the child in me. She still sometimes says I am childish. Why did I marry so young? Perhaps it was my stuffy upbringing. Growing up in a Christian Brothers school environment, we were caned for keeping “long” hair that touched our shirt collar no matter how much we extended our necks. We were caned for being late, yanked down from the top of the high metal gates we were scaling. We were caned for talking on our way back to class after recess. Sometimes, Br Michael aka Lau Hor (the tiger) caned the wrong students. He caned any boy he thought was ill-disciplined. A fat boy was caned because he was standing at the entrance to the canteen, deliberating on what to buy for lunch. Jerry was unaware that he was blocking the passageway and caused a long queue to form. The only ones spared were Lau Hor’s school orchestral students. The oh-so-strict Victorian morality was the overarching principle in school, I thought, until I grew up and read about the sexual misconduct perpetrated by many priests and Christian Brothers world-wide. The home environment was also very strict, more a temple than a prison though. It is true that my wings were clipped when I was a young boy, but compared to kids today, I enjoyed a lot more freedom outdoors even though it felt like there was a resident sentinel in my mind that forbade me to join in the fun with school mates after school. Swimming was a definite no-no, as was fishing or anything to do with the sea. I lived like an island, on an island. I think my mother was afraid the hungry ghosts would devour me in the sea. A stuffy upbringing meant no sex, no drugs and no rock ‘n’ roll during my teens. In university, I met a gorgeous girl whose eyes perpetually smiled at me. An unintended consequence of my strict upbringing meant the resident sentinel forbade me to have sex outside of marriage. The only way to enjoy the newfound sensation of boy meets girl and falls in love?

Marry her. An unintended consequence for my parents, they frowned at my early marriage.

There is also the case of the retired hobby farmer who lives alone. If one lives alone, why would one keep seven chooks? She was given four by a local school which bred them for a students’ project. Once the school experiment was over, the chooks became irrelevant and needed a foster home urgently. So, the kind hobby farmer took them in. Free eggs, why not? The unintended consequence of a kind heart was that her fridge is now jam-packed with eggs! The idea of rearing chooks is to enjoy freshly laid eggs. They taste supreme, especially those free range organic ones. But now, this kind farmer cannot keep up with her chooks and is desperately donating her eggs to family and friends. I got a dozen from her yesterday but hers are not fresh and therefore do not taste so good. She will be better off donating her excess hens instead.

Smart phones have been a wonderful invention together with the internet. Vast improvements in productivity, connectivity and easy infinite access to knowledge banks in every field we can think of have advanced our lives in unimaginable ways with entertainment, information, news and social media at our fingertips. With built-in cameras, the gadget even allows any of us to record newsworthy events including major historical events e.g. the Arab Spring revolution, and the ongoing, escalating street violence in Hong Kong. The unintended consequence however is the high incidence of automotive injuries and loss of lives due to the distractions that smartphones cause whilst we are on the road. Taking selfies with our smartphones was never meant to cause self-inflicted harm.

Unintended consequences can be horrific. Those who caused extreme havoc and misery to the world were Mao Zedong and Adolf Hitler. These two dictators were responsible for the deaths of many many millions. Mao was a lowly paid assistant to a librarian in Peking University. Had Mao been offered a post as the chief librarian, would the young man have turned into a dictator who some reports say was responsible for 45 million deaths due to his failed Great Leap Forward programs? Mao’s Four Pests Campaign was launched to ensure success in his agricultural reforms. Rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows were targeted for extinction. Especially sparrows, which ate the seeds of grain crops. What Mao didn’t understand was sparrows had a much bigger appetite for locusts. The sudden absence of their predators created the unintended consequence. The ecological imbalance resulted in a locust epidemic that wiped out the crops that Mao so wanted to protect.

The other dictator was also responsible for millions of lives lost during WW2. He was an aspiring artist who was twice rejected by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Once in 1907, and again in 1908 when he was 18. The arts school said his paintings were “utterly devoid of rhythm, colour, feeling, or spiritual imagination.” His dreams crushed, the young Hitler hit the streets of Vienna and lived in abject poverty. The streets were at the time rife with anti-Semitic rumours which festered the growing hatred of the Jews on the impressionable young man. Had the Academy not rejected the aspiring artist and had instead accepted him and encouraged him to continue to learn, the world may not have seen the rise of the murderous young dictator. These unintended consequences could have been so easily avoided had the teachers been more caring towards the two young men. The world would have been a kinder place. Like anyone with a little ambition, all they needed was to be given a chance to pursue their dreams. They had not sought to become mankind’s worst mass murderers. Their unintended tyranny were simply consequences of seemingly inconsequential decisions by a university library and an arts school.

Comets outcompeting and outnumbering koi, an unintended consequence!