This comment may be a bit passé, but I’ve only just started to blog. I have a backlog bottled-up ideas. So here’s an observation about the law of unintended consequences—a law that prevails wherever deeply human problems are given a purely technical solution. For some years now studies have correlated diet soda with weight gain. Though counter-intuitive, the claim has provoked little opposition.
A January blog entry of the Washington Times, for instance, reported precisely these findings, yet received no comments. It explained the psychological origin of this phenomenon as follows:
Diet soda has 5 calories or fewer per serving, of course, but emerging research seems to suggest that drinking sugary-tasting beverages, even artificially sweetened ones, appears to develop a preference in the human body for a whole range of other sweet things. And when we consume sweeter cereals, snacks, breads and desserts, we tend to consume more calories, and eventually put on pounds.
The article additionally claims diet soda can give a false sense of security:
People who are starting to put on weight think choosing diet soda alone will stop the process. But, the experts say, this is false logic, because it ignores the true cause of weight gain – overeating and poor eating.
As a rule, when the technical solution of “safe” consumption replaces the human solution of disciplined consumption, the human person nonetheless finds his way to harm. Animal desire usually finds its limit in pain, and always presses its case with urgency until it butts up against a disincentive of the same order.
As a thought experiment, let’s apply this rule to an issue of greater moment: AIDS in Africa. A few substitutions suffice to clarify the structural similarity:
sweet taste = sexual pleasure
consuming diet soda = prophylactic sex
weight gain = HIV/AIDS
overeating = sexual excess
poor eating = infidelity
The rewritten statements would look something like this:
Prophylactic sex greatly reduces contagion, of course, but emerging research seems to suggest that pursuing sexual pleasure for its own sake, even artificially protected sex, appears to develop a preference in the human body for a whole range of other sexual pleasures/partners. And when we have sex more often with more partners, we tend to be more exposed to contagion, and eventually contract HIV/AIDS.
People who are starting to worry about HIV/AIDS think choosing prophylactic sex alone will stop the process. But, the experts say, this is false logic, because it ignores the true cause of HIV/AIDS – sexual excess and infidelity.
As it turns out, experts who follow the problem of AIDS in Africa most closely, do claim to see this sort of false logic operative in Western prevention strategies. The false security that condoms provide creates a powerful “disinhibition” to the human libido, thus “disproportionately erasing” any public health benefits of condom use. Note that perspective here is only one of public health–though it does confirm some of the age-old insights of Christian moral psychology.
If the Washington Times blog, applying the same logic, had expressed as much skepticism about the long-term effectiveness of condomitic sex as it had about the long-term effectiveness of diet soda, I wager it would have generated at least a comment or two. Just ask Pope Benedict.