“Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

–      J. Robert Oppenheimer, paraphrasing the Bhagavad Gita


Who would have ever imagined that Oppenheimer’s clever invention, history’s most destructive weapon, might proliferate in the hands of bureaucrats and warmongers?

Reading the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” the inspiration for the movie, it’s hard to ignore the echoes of the carnage wrought by Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and other power-mad creators of addictive technology that’s well on its way to destroying politics, journalism, democracy and vast swaths of the social fabric. The geniuses behind AI will soon earn their spot in this hall of shame.

Call them the Lords of Unintended Consequences, although this is too kind to Zuckerberg, who was warned every step of the way about his platform’s potential toxicity but heard only the sound of cash registers. (He can LARP a philanthropist all he wants, but the record shows beneath that silly T-shirt where his heart should be is another T-shirt.) They mostly mean well, or pretend to. Oppenheimer thought he was serving his country and helping save the free world; instead, he and his fellow scientists imperiled us all.

Every time you take the MBTA’s name in vain as you wait in vain for decent service, remember that its wretched condition is in part an unintended consequence of the Big Dig, which sucked up money and attention that should have gone to proper system maintenance and development. The Big Debacle was a by-product of the arrogance of the one-party state government of the 1980s. Now that we’re back to single-party rule, it’s more important than ever that the people in charge consider the unintended consequences of what they’re doing.

For instance, Rep. Jim O’Day (D-West Boylston) and Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) quickly signed on to the demand of liberal lobbyists that married couples who file a joint federal tax return be forced to file their state form jointly as well, so they can’t dodge the new Millionaire’s Tax. But as a Department of Revenue analysis points out, “the consistent filing requirement would apply to all taxpayers, not just those who are subject to the surtax, and could have unintended consequences for those filers.” It’s an uncertainty apparently lost on Lewis, who told Commonwealth Magazine his goal is “to ensure that the intent of the will of the voters is respected.” Lewis is available to perform his mass mind-reading tricks at your pool party or bat mitzvah.

Let’s hope the members of the Committee on Housing listened to the Chief Justice of the Housing Court in June when she warned them of the “unintended consequences” of a policy that halts eviction proceedings if a tenant has applied for a rental subsidy, a move that could paralyze the landlord-tenant mediation process.

And here’s betting we haven’t seen the last of the unintended consequences of the overmatched state Gaming Commission’s fumbling management of sports betting. Who can ever forget the timeless words of hapless Commission Chair Cathy Judd-Stein back in March, when the sports books cried foul over rules governing third-party affiliate marketing: “We learned that our regulation might be raising issues that we weren’t aware of, and whenever we learn that there might be either unexpected consequences or at least questions, we want to hear from the stakeholders who can best explain it to us.”

Just so – in the land of the blind regulators, the one-eyed regulatee is king!

As Oppenheimer might say: oops.

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Jon Keller has been reporting and commenting on local politics since 1978. A graduate of Brandeis University, he worked in radio as a producer and talk-show host before moving into print journalism at The Tab newspapers and the Boston Phoenix. Freelance credits include the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Boston Magazine, the New Republic and the Washington Post. Since 1991 his "Keller At Large" commentaries and interviews have been a fixture on Boston TV, first on WLVI-TV and, since 2005, on WBZ-TV. He is a 12-time Emmy Award winner for political reporting and commentary. He began his Massterlist column in March 2020.