Most are familiar with the process of action and reaction, of challenge and response.  An operational dynamic of society, it is often in play.  I was reminded of that recently when speaking to an automobile alarm expert.  He mentioned what had happened when motorists took action to avoid being “pulled over” for speeding by police patrols.  Knowing that it was police radar that had determined that they were driving over the speed limit, they acquired their own radar detectors.  Placed in their cars, drivers were now warned about a police presence and could thus avoid “trouble”.  This “adaptation” did not, however, sit well with local enforcement people who, in turn, installed their own devices to detect the presence of civilian radar.  Meanwhile, laws were passed making it illegal for drivers to employ this warning system.  No doubt this cat and mouse game still continues along our roads and highways, a revealing demonstration of thrust and parry.

Examples of power blunted, restrictions neutralized, initiatives thwarted abound.  Government policies that shift toward the integration of blacks trigger massive resistance and white backlash, thereby limiting the advance of desegregation.  A revolutionary regime proclaims liberation and freedom but then gives way to dictatorial rule.  An insurgency threatens the stability of a regime which then responds with its own counterinsurgency tactics.  New government regulations are introduced, but those affected move quickly to limit or negate their impact while agency bureaucrats choose to limit enforcement.  Taxes are raised on corporations, which prompts many to respond by leaving the United States and establishing operations overseas.  Powerful drugs are introduced, but in time lose their potency as offending microorganisms mutate and succeed in warding off the antibiotic challenge.  Pressure on drug groups in South America leads cartel heads to react by shifting operations to other parts of the region. Strict surveillance along sections of the border between the U.S. and Mexico results in the opening of new migrant routes in areas where security is less effective.  One or the other major political parties in America wins the Presidency and controls Congress, but then inevitably loses badly in off-year elections two years afterward.

To take action, to grab the initiative often results in initial advantage, but these in turn produce countervailing forces and oppositional responses which then make the final outcome uncertain and often inconclusive.  But that shouldn’t surprise us since it was Newton who long ago declared that for every action we should expect an equal and opposite reaction.

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