WE HAVE known since the days of the Scottish Enlightenment and Adam Smith that fiddling with complex systems can have unintended consequences. It wasn’t until Robert Merton published The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action that the idea was planted in the common mind, but we have known for hundreds of years that we simply cannot predict the exact outcome of some things.
All those poor Australians and their eroded land must curse their ancestors who released wild rabbits into the scrub, resulting in devastated vegetation and erosion. They couldn’t have intended to do harm to the land. I was told the same thing whenever I complained about having to pull blackjacks and Scottish thistles from my parents’ garden.
But some actions carry obvious consequences. Every child learns this the first time he or she tries to play with a bee. Former basketball player and B-film actor Dennis Rodman learnt this, to his delight, when he made himself the centre of global attention by making pals with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Sometimes one does something for a very obvious reason.
Russian President Vladimir Putin knew that the consequence of passing legislation banning "homosexual propaganda" among minors would result in the mistreatment and persecution of homosexual people.
No one really knows why the law was passed. Perhaps it was to stir nationalistic feelings — in a country where most people do not identify as strongly religious, the Russian Orthodox Church (in all its heteronormative and patriarchal glory) is considered a treasure and a source of national pride. Or, perhaps it was the inevitable swing to the far right that every nation embattled by a flailing economy and collapsing public service faces?
The law passed, with no opposition in the Russian parliament, effectively making all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parades, and even just equating homosexual and heterosexual relations, an offence carrying a fine of up to R300,000. Naturally, the European Union erupted in condemnations, and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi have become a magnet for pro-gay protests and petitions.
There have been calls from all over the world for those Olympic Games to be banned for Russia’s anti-gay stance (nothing will happen), and the reaction from the Russian authorities has mostly been bemusement and annoyance.
Putin cut a bemused figure when interviewed by The Associated Press recently. All the negative attention seemed to shock him.
"I assure you that I work with these people, I sometimes award them with state prizes or decorations for their achievements in various fields," he said.
"We have absolutely normal relations, and I don’t see anything out of the ordinary here.
"They say that Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a homosexual. Truth be told, we don’t love him because of that, but he was a great musician, and we all love his music. So what?"
Rest assured, gay people, Vladimir Putin can name a famous one off the top of his head.
I love his use of the word "assure". What exactly is he assuring us of? Make no mistake, his assurance is that his country can pull off a global sporting event without too much trouble from irritating protesters. This is not an assurance that equality is alive and well in Russia. It isn’t.
Homophobic protesters have often disrupted gay pride marches with violence. You are assured that articles on recent Russian homophobia will carry an image of someone at a gay pride march getting punched in the face.
With any kind of pro-gay message now declared illegal and a ban on adoptions for same-sex couples, it is no wonder some gay Russian people are fleeing the country.
What more encouragement do men like Maxim "Tesak" (the Hatchet) Martsinkevich need? He is the leader of a neo-Nazi group that targets gay men by entrapping them with fake dating adverts. When the target arrives, he is abducted and tortured. The videos of the encounters are on YouTube, if you are that way inclined. There are copycats and spin-off groups too.
Putinist Russia will be remembered for its reversal to the old Soviet order of lesser civil liberties and a strong illiberal strain. I doubt anyone will think the anti-gay sentiment that went with that trend happened by mistake.