People don’t realize what values our choices imply. We act on moral intuitions and gut feelings; we don't think about revealed preferences. It doesn't occur to us to ask whether we're being strategic, or whether our actions might serve goals other than our own.

Unintended consequences are everywhere. But sometimes – not all the time, but often enough to matter – these consequences form systematic patterns.

One of the clearest examples I know of is how pro-life advocates tend to also oppose teaching teenagers how to use condoms, even though such opposition tends to increase the abortion rate (by increasing the number of unwanted pregnancies).

But if one turns sideways and looks at it from a different angle, the cluster of policy recommendations surrounding pro-life culture actually does imply a coherent goal. Specifically, discouraging condoms and banning abortion both tend to have the effect of punishing casual sex. One begins to wonder if the true goal all along was to ensure that sex remains Deeply Significant, rather than just one more thing that friends might do to pass the time.

Yet, if asked, I think the vast majority of pro-life advocates would be sincerely appalled by the suggestion that increasing the number of aborted fetuses is an acceptable price to pay for discouraging casual sex.

When someone doesn’t realize that their actions are systematically promoting a certain outcome, then saying that they’re deliberately strategizing to achieve that outcome is inaccurate to their internal experience, and they will therefore reject the argument as obviously empirically inapplicable to them.

It’s a much more useful model, both predictively and in terms of achieving courteous and productive discussion, to suppose that they’re being directed by a god – or maybe a zondervoze – who tends not to disclose its true goals.

People like to talk about being called by God. I can believe that.

(You can frame it as archetypes or value-clusters or whatever, and you wouldn't be wrong, but I can't recommend sticking to that model exclusively.)

The key insight here, then, is polytheism. Not everyone is called by the same god. People don't just have very strong convictions; we have different very strong convictions – and yet, over large enough populations, that variation turns out to be organized into large clusters. There are many gods, but not nearly so many as there are people.

So, I say to you: examine your convictions. Ask where they lead. And ask whether they lead somewhere that you want to go.

And if not, then know that you have options. You do not have to choose between an evil god and a life without conviction. There are other gods, other paths, other purposes to fulfill.

You can find one whose values you actually agree with.

Your true god is out there, waiting.

1. cf. "wait, this was sort of the plan all along, wasn't it?"