The Importance of Consequences Part 1

Actions & Consequences (Image links to image source)

The term “Consequence” comes with a whole barrel of negative connotation.  Considering the amount of mistakes we as humans make, most of us would be happy if we could not have consequences to many of our actions.  Commonly recognized though, are the positive effects of consequences though maybe the terms “correction” or “discipline” are used instead of ‘consequences’.  They have similar meanings, just that ‘correction’ and ‘discipline’ are subsets of ‘Consequence’ that require another party to carry out the correction and discipline.  Often enough, these forms of consequences are punishments for our wrong doing, but because humans need consequences to learn and to grow and without consequences we may grow up to become stunted, immature adults; the removal of consequences may also be a form of punishment by God, parents or those in charge.  In the least, it certainly can feel like punishment even if not intended to be so.  On a wider scale, politics often takes the form of removing the consequences actions, and through this the whole economy can become stunted just as individuals become without personal consequences.  So if it’s possible that the removal of consequences can be a punishment or action taken by God, it is also possible that politics will be used as punishment and corrective action.  Let’s dive in and see where our discussion leads today.

Some Foundations

As is often the case, let us first start with some foundations.  Praxeology shows that individuals act to make a current unsatisfactory state into a satisfactory one.  If I am hungry enough, I act to satisfy my hunger.  If I am cognizant of individuals around me and I love my neighbor I will act in a manner that satisfies not only my needs but the needs of others.  All action falls under this: We seek to change unsatisfactory states to more satisfactory ones.  What those states are is completely dependent upon the individual: his mindset, knowledge, worldview and desires.

Consequences are obviously what come after action, if the consequences are as intended then they are the whole reason for acting in the first place.  If I am hungry and I eat food, the consequence of that action is most likely satisfaction.  Which was the goal of acting anyways, to satisfy hunger; when the consequences of our actions result in what was expected they are intended consequences.  If I steal food in order to eat it and am caught, the consequences may be considered “unintended” because while Hunger may have been satisfied a whole host of new, unsatisfactory states have been introduced which was not the intent.

Intended consequences act as an ideological reinforcement.  Most of us don’t need the ideological reinforcement of the above example.  Food satisfies our hunger.  That is pretty generally understood.  But there are more complicated examples:  If Peter wants to make a lot of money, he may think that college = success and thus college is the best route.  If he succeeds and does get a great money-making job, the consequences of going to College will reinforce his beliefs that college = success.  Peter will most likely try to instill this belief into his kids to pass it on.

If Peter goes to college and he can’t get a well-paying job as intended – like so many college graduates today – then his beliefs in college = success are not reinforced and may even be fractured due to the unintended consequences.  Unintended consequences don’t reinforce our worldview, they effect change to our worldview.

Learning and Growing

No Human makes a perfect choice every time, and knows fully the consequences of his actions.  Jesus Christ is included – with some hesitance –  in this category.  While He made some (all?) perfect choices, I am unsure if he knew the full consequences of his actions.  I think He understood the consequences of His actions better than most (all?) humans, and while He had access to the omniscience of God the Father I don’t think Jesus was omniscience prior to his resurrection.  Thus, while He may have made perfect choices, it is debatable that He understood all the consequences of his actions.

Note the differences in the earlier examples with Peter.  Intended Consequences reinforce what we already think.  Unintended Consequences challenge what we think.  Intended consequences increase our faith in what we think we know.  Unintended Consequences decrease our faith.  Intended Consequences are further proof that the action we took was the appropriate one.  Unintended Consequences tell us that their may have been a better action to take.

If Matthew is hungry, and decides to eat a piece of paper, he will soon find that the consequences of his action does not satisfy his hunger, and it actually increases his unsatisfactory state.  Namely, he is still hungry and now his stomach doesn’t feel well.  The Unintended Consequences of eating a piece of paper has hopefully led Matthew to challenge the belief in paper as food and tells him that there is a better way.  Something else, besides paper, surely will satisfy hunger better.  If he were to instead, consume a cooked egg, he would find his hunger satisfied.  If no unintended consequences occurred (egg allergy?) his faith in eggs as something to satisfy hunger will increase.  Never again will he eat paper!  Eggs are the new paper!

Consequences add to our knowledge and shape our future decisions.  In the above example, Matthew learned that paper is not food and does not satisfy his hungry state.  Given the choice between paper and eggs for satisfaction of hunger, Matthew will never choose the paper again.

Another way to refer to this system of consequences is as natural ‘feedback’ system for humans.  Consequences inform us of the appropriateness of our actions.  This feedback helps learn and grow by letting us know when we are making false decisions.

Stunted Growth

Let’s say that Matthew (the paper eater), had a condition that prevented him from knowing that eating paper didn’t satisfy his hunger.  So instead of having to deal with the unintended consequences as mentioned in the original example, there are no unintended consequences.  Without those consequences, Matthew would then increase his faith that paper = food.  It’s fairly easy to see that in his condition, Matthew is unable to discern between real food and harmful not-food.  An unintended consequence of this condition, unless assisted by someone else, would most likely be death if Matthew can not use his natural feedback systems to determine what is food and what isn’t.  Even if no death occurs because he is able to make some reasonable guesses at what is food, his physical growth will be severely stunted.

Matthew’s condition is a simple, somewhat humorous example, but more complicated examples exist and do occur in our lives.  Take George for example.  George, for whatever reason, is able to steal from people and never suffer any unintended consequences.  If only intended consequences occur – free stuff at other’s expense – George will only reinforce the ideas that stealing is a justifiable way of acquiring what he wants.  Much to the detriment of those around George.  While it may be a little subjective about what a mature individual looks like, a safe generalization can be made that a thief is not a mature individual.  Lack of feedback, lack of unintended consequences cause George to be stunted in his growth.

There is a lot more to be said in this train of thought.  Look ahead for Part 2 in this series where the discussion will include the below thoughts.

– Can consequences be removed as a form of punishment?
– If we need consequences so bad, why does God remove the consequences of sin?
– Economic consequences
– Political consequences
– How politics removes consequences and distorts the economy
– Consequences in the Bible


5 thoughts on “The Importance of Consequences Part 1

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