The law of unexpected consequences

Posted by in May's Magazine

Mark Young on ‘giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected’

I never consume news. Except maybe once a year. For ten minutes or so. But I’m all over the tech podcasts, so if there’s a big cultural burst of bad news, I’ll doubtless hear of it. 


Apparently, some guy armed with an automatic rifle shot up a mosque in Wellington, New Zealand, killing some and injuring others. Perhaps they killed themselves, perhaps they were shot dead by local police, maybe they survived and pressed authorities to allow their pre-recorded statement airtime, or realised like Anders Brevik in 2011 (Norway, 77 murders) this wasn’t going to happen before an audience of anyone but a psychiatrist. 

Is that more or less it? I’ve no idea, because I’m not going to seek out the news as it has happened before and it’ll happened again. But I’ll bet that pretty much sums up most of the key points. 

History? Yes. Current affairs? Maybe. News? No thanks mate.

They were doubtless, male, angry, enmeshed in a peer group with similar views, or radicalised by a mistaken assumption their dominant ethnic group in New Zealand were under threat by actual or perceived threats from an immigrant population. 

Did they perceive the traditional political process was turgid, a bit fucking boring (correct) and contemptuous of the citizenry amongst which they counted themselves a member (wrong). They clearly favoured direct action and assumed those on the political left had nothing to offer (wrong) or were hostile to the anxieties they were suffering from (wrong). 

In 2004, when Facebook was founded, it was to ‘give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected’ rather than to enable the live depiction of gun murder of praying Muslims. 

Believers might be wrong about the whole God-thing, but (come on) I’m not butchering kids in Leith because they believe in Santa or the tooth fairy. (This may be the most economic assassination of polytheism ever – may I have a motorbike now?)

Rarely with such un-humorous force has late sci-fi-futurist humourist Douglas Adams’ law of unexpected consequences been slammed before the public consciousness than in the recent events in Wellington. 

The law of unexpected consequences in chocolate,

I’m guessing some detail has been added to the incidents concerning the origin of the shooter, their publically proclaimed political views, perhaps some minor convictions for gun offences in New Zealand, or an association with far-right groups. 

Maybe detectives have subpoenaed the guy’s Internet service provider for a log of visited websites, which would no doubt have revealed an interest in a conspiracy here, a fondness for border control there, or a manual for manufacturing improvised explosives, over there.

 I left Facebook; it’s great and all that, but frankly a bit of a waste of time for me as an aspirant   misanthrope. Don’t blame Facebook Live. They didn’t realise – despite being conspicuously smart – that the user could wield a tool given by the maker so easily.  

Example – I’m not down on the saucy flicks that form much of the modern web but if you are… know that within three months of the still camera being invented (1839-ish) sexy pictures were being sold; within a year of the film camera being invented (1845-ish) sexy films were being sold; within twenty years of the invention of domestic video (1970), WHSmith were regretting their decision to stock Executions, a graphic compilation of state killing, by all methods, against lawbreakers from 1880-1960.

Gatekeepers filter, they block and for good reason. They cut out crap and the more depressing instincts that exist in all of us to untemper the baser instincts in all our nature. 

While the lovely Viz comic (still as sharp as a tack), keeps us up-to-date on frustrated WASPs in The Male Online, or bickering discount-shoppers Whoops Aisle Apocalypse and that marvellous tragedy of semi-functioning alcoholics, Drunken Bakers. The drain valve of satire flows too slowly for those frightened by change.

Which is to say that revolutionary instinct amplified by the shared views of those in an echo chamber called the blogosphere. Be it Twitter, or the dark web, or the pit bull atmosphere of “…too many right wing meetings.”

In the United States, Democrats lose more often than they win, because they appeal to people’s better nature (high tax – good); Republicans win because they appeal to people’s worse instincts (low tax – good). The public political versus the private personal will always come off worse. If only there was someone who could make that change?

It’s neither good or bad it’s a tool, neutral, cold, unthinking and unfeeling. Like Jaws, it’s not personal you’re protein

Many of the Techerati in the last week have been obsessed with stating that live streaming from smart web-connected devices is a force for good (despite the downside). It’s neither good or bad it’s a tool, neutral, cold, unthinking and unfeeling. Like Jaws, it’s not personal you’re protein

Enabling the public to watch live murder (and I hope I’m not going out on a limb here) is very, very bad. I’ve said it.

If that video is out there, and you can wipe it off the face of the web, before another angry person who can’t get equally intoxicated by music or nature and doesn’t have the ability to switch off their toxic news source of choice, thinks it might be a good idea to pick up a gun. 

Thank God for Alan Partridge!

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