Not what we expected…

Posted by on Oct 29, 2007 in Uncategorized | No Comments


Interesting action by the “Pro-lifers” in the UK recently, whatever you think about the issue of abortion and its legality (please, no silliness – my point here is to record the tactics as an attempt to change mass opinion and the legal frame for mass behaviour).

First, they seem to be switching objective from achieving and outright ban to reducing the time-limit (note Polly Toynbee’s comment on the logic Archbish of C’s recent contribution:

“Either abortion is murder – which some think – or it isn’t, which 83% think in a new NOP poll. So are a few murders OK with the archbishop, and if so, how many?”


Second, within this, they seem to be pursuing this strategy by creating uncertainty around the status quo by highlighting how the architects of the pioneering legislation (such as the decent man pictured) underestimated the number of procedures which would arise.

Now – again – whatever the rights and wrongs of this legislation – what strikes me here is how surprised we are that a 40 year old estimate of the impact of the legislation proves to be inaccurate with the passage of time (and if we didn’t find it surprising they wouldn’t be using the tactic).

Like so many of our attempts to predict the future impact of our actions on our behaviour and that of our peers, it’s unlikely ever to be that precise: human behaviour is complex and thus hard to predict (particularly over decades) even without changing the rules by which we allow each other to live. Certainly the straight line causal links loved by reactionary journos and politicos alike are unlikely to be true: this does not lead to that and changing this by no means ensures that other thing.

And yet, when we legislate – against hoodies and their dark broodiness hanging about our shopping streets, against “the flood” of immigrants apparently heading this way, to protect us from terrorists or to reorganise healthcare provision – we always act and talk with excessive and inappropriate confidence as to the likely outcomes.

What say, we give it a break for a bit? What say we acknowledge that things are harder than they seem?