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Actions and Reactions

A couple of years ago, there was a vote in my home county on whether to allow alcohol sales.  I’ve lived here all my life, and I know the area pretty well, so I didn’t think there was much of a chance this would pass.  Sure enough, I started seeing signs in people’s yards saying things like “Vote No”, “No to Alcohol Sales”, “Not in my Town”, and the like.  People’s behavior is lamentably predictable on issues like this.

I always find it curious how people can be so indignant about something so petty.  It isn’t as if people from Marshall County are all non-drinkers.  Anyone who has delivered pizza here can attest to that.  Instead of buying beer at the local Wal-Mart or liquor store or bar, they drive to Paducah and buy their booze at Paducah’s Wal-Mart and Paducah’s liquor stores and Paducah’s bars.  Now, don’t misunderstand, I don’t see anything wrong with this at all.  We live in a (supposedly) democratic society, and voting is a fine way to solve such issues.  The ban doesn’t seem entirely rational to me, but people do many irrational things and this one is, in my view, relatively harmless.  In any event, I don’t mean to make this a post about alcohol sales or the politics thereof.

No, what I found interesting about this situation is the particular voracity of the aforementioned ‘vote no’ signs.  Some of them were simple, but some were somewhat charged, and some were rather large to the point of being overbearing, rather like the bad habit some people have of WRITING IN ALL CAPS ON THE INTERNET SO NO ONE COULD POSSIBLY IGNORE WHAT THEY SAY.  It seemed odd because at first, I didn’t really see a whole lot of support for the alcohol vote, and I gather most people thought as I did, that this was a lost cause and waste of time.  Still, a couple of weeks after the ‘vote no’ signs popped up, another kind of sign started to appear, I started to see all sorts of ‘vote yes’ signs.  These were all green signs, where as the majority of the ‘no’ signs were red.

Where had all these opinions been earlier?  After all, those advocating change should and presumably would be more likely to actively campaign for their policies. It was almost as if the zealousness of all those prominent ‘no’ signs precipitated a response.  Had the ‘no’ voters kept quiet and just gone about their business voting at the proper time, I wonder if any of those ‘yes’ signs would have been put up at all.  The vote ended up being 58% to 42% opposed to changing the current law, so no alcohol sales.  Not surprising, but a somewhat narrower margin than I would have guessed at the outset.  It’s not exactly a close margin, but it’s not quite a landslide either.  I wonder if the vote would have been more tilted toward the ‘no’ folks if they had simply kept their opinions to themselves, or at least displayed them more tactfully.

Of course I have no idea.  It’s all speculation on my part, but the whole situation is an illustration of a larger principle I have noticed. Newton’s third law states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  When you push something, the whatever it is you pushed pushes you back.  When two billiard balls crash into each other, the first one doesn’t just stop on contact, it bounces back or off in some other direction depending on the angle and spin of the balls.  Since the balls are the same size, the forces act upon both, and both are moved in some direction because of the dual nature of the force and it’s opposite.  We’re all familiar with such elementary physics, but what’s that got to do with politics and alcohol votes?  Well, maybe nothing, maybe everything.  The principles we observe in things like physics are the basic principles upon which our universe operates.  Why should their application end with billiard balls?  Newton’s laws of motion are largely about change and how the universe itself seems to resist it.

There are, however, other kinds of forces that are not physical, and other ways the universe resists change and balances itself. It often seems to me that people’s behavior seems to follow some of the same patterns as do the more conventional and less interesting things in the universe.  When a force is applied to something, there is usually a resistance to that force.  In other words, when one loudly and publicly champions a political cause, it is likely that whatever opposition exists to that ‘force’ will use similar means to oppose the first force.  To put it simply, we create our own opposite reactions.  I see it all the time.  The more an overprotective or controlling parent disciplines and pushes their child, the more rebellious the child’s personality becomes.  No matter how much a dictator may repress their people and censor their speech, there is certain to be opposition, and the more brutal the repression, the more brutal the backlash.  It could be argued that are society’s current lax and open sexual climate is a long-term reaction to an overly puritan past.  When a new management team tries to change the culture or direction of an organization, they always encounter resistance to that change, resistance which probably wasn’t even apparent until the new management team began to implement changes.  When a bunch of well-meaning political advocates put large red signs in their front yards advocating one thing, the opposition puts large green signs in their yards advocating the opposite thing.

Things eventually balance out. Push the universe, it pushes back.  That seems to go for stars, planets, and even people. It’s not easy to change anything.  When we try, we often end up creating our own resistance.  Sometimes, like the billiard balls, we bounce in new and unpredictable directions rather than the ones we intended.  If one applies a force, one should consider not just one’s own action but the corresponding reaction.  I take this as a rule of life, and not just a law of physics.

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