The Law of Unexpected Consequences, Example A from “A Poet’s Progress,” Newtopia Magazine #4

The current king of Morocco—Mohammed VI—has a problem. He has one million nomads (mostly Berbers, down from nine million only a decade ago) who are completely dependent on having enough water and feed to keep their flocks alive year-round. With a drought—like the one Morocco experienced for six years in the early part of this decade—or the floods of two years ago, a nomad family can be wiped out. If they are unable to keep their flocks alive, they will be forced to sell them and move to the city, where perhaps they can get temporary labor jobs. And in winter the mountain passes have become treacherous—last year record low temperatures reached negative sixteen degrees Celsius. Nomads caught out in this weather froze to death. So the king’s problem was, this can’t possibly be allowed to continue, but what can you do with a million people who are—and want to remain—nomads, while nature, instead of being dependable, has become erratic and contrary?

Shortly after he ascended the throne, the king hired agricultural scientists to explore the entire country and find what would grow best in different parts of the country. Then he turned the desert areas where nothing would grow into solar and wind farms (built by Moroccan peasants under guidance by its scientists). The sandy transitional soil, they discovered, was perfect for superior olive trees, a plant not native to Morocco. And in the scrub areas, argan trees flourished (whose berries—the cultivation of which is almost entirely Moroccan—can be used for cooking and massage oil and many other products), and the foothills where the nomads summered, it turned out, were perfect for apple orchards.

So the king planted apple orchards in the foothills and built a town nearby of apartment buildings with running water and electricity and modern appliances. When the town was ready for occupancy and the trees were bearing apples, the government sent sociologists into the mountains to move the nomads into their new homes, and teach them how to use those appliances, and turn the apple orchards into a business that would be easier for them than their nomadic lifestyle in these unsteady times.

The families moved in and the elders continued to tend their sheep on the hillsides and fields outside the town while the kids went to school. But after a week the elders stopped returning from the fields at night. The town was noisy and crowded and they couldn’t sleep indoors (even though there were multiple rooms and bedrooms in the apartments, families tended to live and sleep in one room, inside of which they sometimes raised a tent, leaving the extra rooms empty). They were used to having the stars as their clocks and calendars, as well as their roofs. Living in nature, everything made sense. Indoors, it was impossible to tell the time, every object had several shadows which confused them, voices became shrill, and even the smallest sound bounced and echoed off the walls, giving them headaches. And the electric light fought with the dark and pushed it into the shadows. This was unnatural. There would be consequences if Nature was overturned.

The kids, however, preferred the town and their new friends. They liked going to school every day rather than sitting under a bush in the hot sun while the livestock grazed. In a nomad’s life, there were no books, no computers, no TV sets, and very few personal possessions. Everything they owned had to be carried from place to place. But these artificial communities had enough kids to play full-squad soccer every day after school. And they had fields and not desert to play on. So when the elders made a decision to return to the wild, many of their children chose to stay behind, and there were large communities of children staying with older children.

At the same time, the first apple harvest was rapidly approaching and the social workers were concerned that none of their ideas about how to create a business had been set in motion by the villagers. But the government had been advertising the coming apple harvest in every newspaper for weeks and on the Saturday morning they predicted would be the best for harvesting apples, there was a line of cars on both sides of the mountains, toward Casablanca and toward Tangiers. As each car entered the town, they were greeted by one of the women, and each open hand would be given a bag and pointed toward the orchard. On the way out of town, each car would be stopped and one of the men would weigh the bag and collect the money.

Now the nomads had wads of cash, but what does a nomad need money for? Twice a year they take some of their flock into a city, sell them, take the money and buy what they need for the next six months. The only real change was that soon the nomads who had money were renting trucks instead of walking to and from the city with their livestock, and later some families even bought a truck and rented it out when it was not in use.

In a traditional Berber household, only the eldest man can handle money. The patriarch would often hide it without telling anyone—even his eldest son—where it was hidden. As they aged and grew physically weaker, they would often come to believe that it was only their control over this hidden fortune that gave them any power in their household, and they would often take the location of the hidden money to their graves. This brought into being an entirely new form of psychic—a spirit guide who would help families locate the hidden cash for a percentage of the take.

Please Leave a Comment:

Comment Guidelines: Basic XHTML is allowed (a href, strong, em, code). All line breaks and paragraphs are automatically generated. Off-topic or inappropriate comments will be edited or deleted. Email addresses will never be published. Keep it PG-13 people!

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>

All fields marked with "*" are required.