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Making a point, but not the one they expected

Updated: July 2, 2012 9:17AM

As with any connoisseur of human folly, there’s a special place in my heart for the Law of Unintended Consequences, which basically states that vanity alone leads people to believe the outcome of their actions will line up their intentions.

Or as my late mother-in-law used to say, “We plan and God laughs.”

My favorite real-world example is the effect of anti-fur campaigns on parts of pristine Canadian wildness. Deprived of their traditional livelihood of trapping wolf, lynx and seal, Native Canadians were forced to sell their mineral rights and go work on oil rigs, leaving wildlife to the mercy of miners and oil companies, a result Greenpeace hadn’t anticipated.

There is a perverse pleasure in this, echoed this week as “Star Wars” producer George Lucas, thwarted in expanding his film production facilities by his tony Marin County neighbors, announced, OK, he’ll sell the land for “low-cost housing” instead.

An outcome those opposing the studio expansion had not anticipated, one whose prospect will draw out the very worst, maximize-our-advantage hypocrisy of these pampered Californians. A beautiful bit of revenge.

Beautiful, that is, so long as you ignore the cynical exploitation of the plight of the poor by filthy rich Lucas, done solely to flip off his neighbors, as well as the fact that odds are great the low-income housing won’t get built either, since one of the few things that can thwart a rich person are other rich people.

As delightful as unintended consequences are, those skewered have a tendency to overlook them. I wonder how many NATO protesters, tired and grungy and riding the bus back to Toledo or Des Moines or wherever else they came from, grasp the unintended consequence of their big NATO protest — all that effort, the signs, the costumes, and what did they really accomplish?

They didn’t remind Chicago of the military-industrial complex, or our bloody war in Afghanistan (a country which, truth be told, always seems to be in some bloody war, whether we’re there or not) nor the oppressiveness of The Man. No, the lone take-away from the weekend, for me and I assume lots of Chicagoans, maybe even most of them, is a nod of pride and satisfaction over just how brisk, efficient and laudable the police department can be when properly trained and led. I’ll be honest, I didn’t think they had it in them, and all kudos and glory to the department for pulling it off. Tuesday’s Chicago Sun-Times was a protracted, well-deserved Valentine to the cops, and I’m tempted to set some copies aside to hand officers when they bitterly complain that their good work goes unnoticed, as they invariably will at the next scandal.

Not that the record is perfect. The under­cover cops who infiltrated supposed terrorists making firebombs. Given that no firebombs were thrown during the protests, you have to sit back and marvel that the police happened to infiltrate the one group that was planning to use them, and thwarted their murderous designs. Talk about luck!

Or gee, maybe the police . . . well, a court of law will decide, and I had best stop there. But if the Law of Unintended Consequences is one sign of human folly, the Strange Coincidence Rule is another. That rule says to look very hard at incredible coincidences and see if something else is perhaps afoot.

Not to take too much away: The cops had a plan and stuck to it. Which is more than you can say about the protesters, who seemed to be participating in some kind of private theater, as opposed to trying to project a message. They came off as having no idea what the First Amendment actually guarantees. It reads, in its entirety:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

That does not give you the right to dance in the street all day — how could society function? We would be hostage to whatever group wanted to shut down Michigan Avenue today.

Does that make us “a police state”? I guess if you’re 22 and never visited anywhere else. But given the existence of actual repression, it was sad — to the degree anyone noticed — to see how easily the basic, let’s-keep-it-peaceful law enforcement was tarred as “brutality.” It degrades the language, or would, if anybody paid attention.

Protest has an important role in our society, and many good things — votes for women, labor laws, civil rights — came from protest. The self-indulgent, costumed Mardi Gras might have some long-term effect that isn’t plain at the moment. But with the election looming, it seems wasted effort by sincere people obviously concerned about the direction this country is going. Well, not wasted: It sure buffed the image of the police.

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