Monday, 6 May 2013

Anarchy - the flawed ideal

I saw a comment on twitter today that I felt needed a reply, however at the time I was in no position to do so and anyway it's the sort of reply that stretches the ability of 140 characters. The comment was as follows:

... remove the gov and we don't have the problems and remove capitalism and we r free..
(Name and pic removed at composers request)

Bang, there you go, government and capitalism gone, sorted. I assume from that point on we are all free to play tennis or something like all those middle class families that smile just a bit too much in commercials. I feel pretty comfortable to state that the assertion is wrong but in this post I'm not going to spend time on the capitalism issue, which is a full dissertation on its own, and instead look into what may happen if we didn't have a government. Just to make it a light-hearted I'm going to borrow a little from the style of the brilliant what-if over on xkcd.

So one day we wake up and there's no government anymore. No-one is quite sure what has happened or how, but the government has simply ceased to be. Everything else is as before but the entire organisational machine of government  has disappeared, no councils, no parliament, just Nick Robinson looking blankly at the palace of Westminster sure there was a reason he went there, but clueless as to what it was.

For a while things continue as normal, people habitually pay their taxes, even though it's to no one, everyone turns up for work when one day the company that owns the electricity contract for a council gets no payment on a bill. The following week, all the streets in the town go dark every night leading to confusion and a slight increase in opportunistic and sometimes violent crime.

Similar minor administrative things happen up and down the country, people lose their jobs and head down the job-centre only to find that there is no-one to authorize the payment. Railways halfway through building stop because no-one is sorting the funding. potholes on main roads aren't prioritised for repair causing more accidents.

In one little pocket though a group of citizens have spotted the problem and are at great pains to sort it out as fairly as possible. It's only a small town so posters went up for everyone to meet in the town hall one day. There they decide that each evening they would meet, discuss the town's collective business that needed to be done that day and all vote on who should do what, and which issues should take priority. It's tiring, but it works so they keep at it.

Word gets out to the neighbouring town and a few others who adopt a similar system, though in the first town attendance is dwindling, not by much, but noticeably with some who realise that things will be sorted anyway. But still the system spreads and word gets round about issues that effect groups of towns rather than single ones. Of course this will need to be discussed, but no town has a room big enough. After some thought at one evening's meeting it is decided that each town should send a few representatives and the attendees can discuss on behalf of everyone in their town.

The meeting goes swimmingly (this is rather an idealised scenario, but all of the other thought experiments I did with anarchy left quite a lot of people dead) and more towns are picking up on the process and inviting all inhabitants to discuss. In the home-towns of the early adopters though, less than half of people are turning up to make the decisions and everything is still getting done.

One bright spark somewhere decides, why not formalize this? If everything can be sorted with only the input of a few people, why not let them get on with it in our best interests and have another couple of representatives to discuss matters with the other places that have this system.

The idea spreads. Why have everyone busy every night, when we could vote for certain people to represent us and then carry on with our lives?

Well. I guess you can see where I'm going with this convoluted tale. Most of the things that the government and politicians do is just the boring stuff that we can't be bothered to do so we get someone else to talk about it. Every so often we impart an opinion as to what direction we'd like to take and let the government deal with it from there.

We have a representative democracy, because it's simply not convenient for us to all sit in one room and try and flesh out the issues of the time. We couldn't get by without one. Now the debate about what sort of government we should have, what their scope should be, how we should select them. All of that is up for debate. But the concept? It happened because it worked. Anarchy would at the very best settle back into representative democracy. At worst? Have you seen Mad Max?