British author Dame Rebecca West has suggested, "If the whole human race lay in one grave, the epitaph on its headstone might well be: ‘It seemed a good idea at the time.’"
It’s easy to come up with examples, both personal and global, that support her statement. You can even do it without mentioning wars, laws, or politics. There’s a simple formula: problem + creative solution = unforeseen consequences.
Problem? No familiar small animals to hunt in Australia. Creative solution? Let’s turn loose some rabbits. Unforeseen consequences? A bunny population explosion with resulting destruction of habitat, extinction of native animals, and huge long-term costs even 150 years later.
Problem? Erosion in the southeastern United States during the dry years of the 1930’s. Creative solution? Kudzu imported from the Far East. Unforeseen consequences? The nickname says it all: “the vine that ate the South.”
There are plenty of smaller examples, as well. Such as this one from my years as a legal secretary: Problem? You’re on your way home from a long night at the bar, and your car won’t start. Creative solution? Just shoot the danged thing and put it out of its misery. Unforeseen consequences? What’s the big deal? There was already a crack in the windshield. But I guess I can get my mail here at the jail for a while.
Or even closer to home: Problem? Losing control of one’s skateboard while going down a long, steep hill. Creative solution? Bolt a pair of old shoes to said skateboard and tie shoes firmly to feet. (Did I mention this problem-solver was a 10-year-old boy?) Unforeseen consequences? Not really that bad—in a few years the scars will hardly show.
All in all, Dame Rebecca certainly has a point. Unfortunately, I operate at a literary level somewhat lower than hers. I must confess her quote reminds me irresistibly of another one. The vocabulary might be different, but the essential point is the same.
It’s the joke about the redneck’s last words: “Here, hold my beer and watch this!”