Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Anarchy is Better

Most of the time we don't like to acknowledge the real reason why democracy and law work fairly well. Truthfully, the reason government and law are reasonable systems is because most people intrinsically understand and live by the rules. If we really needed to force people to follow the rules of common decency, and we were depending on government to take care of us, we would be up you know where without a paddle.

I spent a good part of my evening at a City Council meeting here in Hod Hasharon. I mean "good" in the sense that it was a large part of my evening. It certainly could not be considered good in any other sense of the word. As the title of this column implies, it was a notch or two worse than anarchy. It was chaos.

My town is blessed with a charismatic and well-intentioned mayor who has done nothing of note in the 4 years he's been in office. I mean, unless you consider throwing money at expensive and impotent consultants to be "of note", and most of us would agree that for a government official, that is not worth noting.

Hod Hasharon is also blessed with 14 additional council members, none of whom seem to be able to work together for any significant amount of time. The ones who were elected on the same ticket are barely on speaking terms, and they almost never come up with anything they agree on, except for opposing the mayor. Most of the elected officials are there hoping to get some personal benefit in the form of a job for a family member, desirable zoning for family property, or a cash flow to a dubious non-profit organization. You'd think with such a group of people who can be easily paid off, the mayor would have no trouble forming a coalition, but even that is beyond his grasp.

Basically, going to a city council meeting is not terribly different from dinner with your in-laws. A bunch of people sit around a crowded table, complain about who is spending too much money on what, interrupt one another, try to show how smart they are, and when none of that succeeds, stand up and yell at one another. After about 4 hours of this, they and go home having achieved little more than getting on one another's nerves. The other significant difference between this and a holiday dinner with your in-laws is that the newspapers write about it.

People tell me that anarchy isn't better, but the more virtual I become, the harder it is to convince me of that. The Internet is a pretty good reflection of how anarchy would look. Yes, there are perverts, people who rob Second Life banks, and destroy one another's data. But by and large, most people behave fine, most of the time, and those who don't are labeled as such and avoided. And because of the transparency of everything on the Internet, it is easier than in real life to find out about someone's credibility.

I thought about this in the context of buying electronics the other day. A friend tried to prove to me that when I make a large purchase of an electronic item, I need to go and touch it and talk to the guy in the store, etc. After some thought, I realized that the opposite was true.

When I go to the bricks-and-mortar store to buy, for example, a refrigerator, I am fairly sure the guy there is trying to sell me the thing that will give him the highest cut, not the thing that will give me the highest satisfaction. I have a limited selection per store, a limited number of stores I can physically get to, and nobody to ask about that product or seller once I get there.

If I go online, the process is the opposite. First I go to a site that gives me ratings of a bunch of items in my category. I can compare a virtually unlimited number of options, and read what real people have to say about them. I can then look at the retailers offering the item, and the reliability and terms of the retailer. I can't do any of that in real life.

All of this works online because, fundamentally, anarchy is a decent system. The vast majority of people give their true opinions of things, probably because they feel anonymous. The vast majority of people want to warn you about the scammers, and the scammers are labeled and downrated. You even have tools to screen out the people you don't want to see. (Imagine if I could do that in the city council meeting. Just the thought brings my blood pressure down several notches.)

In short, anarchy is a better system than government. If you still doubt me, you simply haven't spent enough time in city council meetings.

No comments: