We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

The traffic in the blackout areas of Manhattan is lawless in the most literal sense: the traffic lights aren’t working, so the law cannot be applied as usual. But “lawless” doesn’t seem to be a fitting description; the driving seems better-behaved than usual. We’re so used to seeing people act under a system of government rules that it’s easy to assume that without the rules, everything would descend into chaos. But perhaps free people are generally capable of acting decently on their own. Of course, that’s never going to be universal; but then, people break the law too. In fact, a dense set of rules tempts people to see how close to (or how far across) the borderline of legality they can go without being penalized. In the absence of governmental laws, people might focus more on other kinds of laws: social norms and ethics.

– This quote was, at the time I reposted it here, prominently featured near the top of Instapundit. But Instapundit moves fast, especially now, when there are about half a dozen of them and they’ve a presidential election to be blogging about. So the above wisdom will soon have been and gone. It deserves to linger longer, I think, and here, it will. A little longer anyway.

Instapundit found it here, and also links, again, to a piece saying that too many traffic rules can make us less safe.

For traffic rules read rules of every sort.

15 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Julie near Chicago

    That’s exactly the way it was in the Blackout of 1965. There was very little looting, for instance.

    New Yorkers were pleasant and cooperative with each other. (Can attest to that personally.)

    The fact was made much of for quite awhile after that.

    In August the following year the maternity hospitals were quite a bit busier than usual.

  • Several years ago I rented a car on an Asian resort island with minimal traffic signage, and found that this was indeed the case: I was more alert and drove more safely.

  • Had the experience a few years ago when driving a pal to Brisbane airport ay 7:30 in the morning. There’s a traffic light controlled intersection not far from the airport and we were running a little late due to the traffic anyway. Then we found the lights were out(one set was about 15 meters down the road from its proper location, horizontal, with trailing wires). Much to my surprise we went through that intersection in morning peak hour much quicker and easier than when the lights were working. Everyone was polite and gave other drivers a fair go and took their go in turn.

  • Every town, I think, has a junction notorious for queues, and people speak of that day the traffic lights failed and the traffic flowed efficiently.

  • Richard Thomas

    I can’t speak to New York specifically but it seems the general law is that when a light is out, it should be treated as a four way stop. No lawless-anarchy-spontaneously-generating-order required

    (Though I know of one particular junction where you take your life in your hands if you try and apply this literally).

  • veryretired

    There’s another very nice post nearby on Instapundit that discusses one of the major failings of the nanny state—that a multitude of small, intrusive areas of state activity often make it easy to neglect the major elements of social business that governments are supposed to work on.

    There are 2 interlocking fallacies that propel state intrusion—first is the belief that nothing will be done about a problem if the state doesn’t take action, and the second is that a new rule will be the needed solution.

    The first is the progressive imperative, a mindset which cannot fathom the concept of any situation in which state action is not only the best solution, but the only possible solution.

    The second has become an axiom of of political thought in our political structure because, in my opinion, there are so many lawyers in power everywhere in our society that the idea of a new law or regulation to fix whatever is seen as a problem has become the default position for everything.

    Why has this happened?

    The fundamental fallacy of statism is the confusion between intentions and results.

    The claimed good purpose of any rule is assumed to have occurred as soon as it is enacted. When the situation doesn’t improve, or gets worse, as is all too often the case, the basic premise is never questioned, and the new, improved solution is always more and more rules.

  • Regional

    The American west was settled in a peaceful manner considering there was an absence of officaldom.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    A Dutch or German city had a similar experience, a few years ago. So I have to ask- who really needs traffic lights? I suppose they might be useful in rare cases where cars wouldn’t be able join a major highway, for instance. Perhaps that should be the only place they are allowed, and traffic-light makers would be forced to get honest jobs!

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    The American Presidential Elections had an unwritten law- that the tallest candidate would be the winner! Does that law still apply? Maybe that is Obama’s secret weapon, because he seems to be a tall person!

  • Laird

    “the general law is that when a light is out, it should be treated as a four way stop. No lawless-anarchy-spontaneously-generating-order required.”

    Richard, your second sentence is a complete non-sequitur, and the first merely reinforces Brian’s point: it’s not a “general law” but rather an evolved societal norm arising organically to deal in a rational and functional way with common human interactions. An instance of spontaneous order arising in the absence of formal authority. And that’s a beautiful thing.

  • Laird

    Nuke, Romney is one inch taller than Obama (6′ 2″ vs. 6′ 1″). FWIW.

  • Richard Thomas

    Laird, it’s the law in at least one state http://southriversource.com/2012/09/15/if-power-is-out-non-working-traffic-signals-become-4-way-stop/ and I’m reasonably sure it is in my own (TN) too. Unfortunately my google-fu is running up against a nice bottle of wine so I won’t be researching further tonight.

  • Laird

    Richard, it may indeed be the law in some states, but I guarantee that very few people know that. In NY the driving public simply acted spontaneously in a rational manner. If that is indeed the law in NY it is entirely superfluous.

  • Alisa

    There are two kinds of laws: ones that politicians just make up, and ones based on existing social norms and customs “elevated” to a status of a law (the MD law in Richard’s link above is clearly a new one, and so it falls under the second category). The mere existence of either kind of law does not in and of itself attest to its utility to anyone other than the lawmakers themselves or the special interests behind them.

  • Paul Marks

    A Dutch study indicated that traffic lights (and so on) are worse than useless – making that situation worse (not better). But local governments (such as Northamptionshire County Council) still persist in the delusion that they can “manage” traffic better than the human beings actually driving the cars.

    This is part of a grand delusion that goes all the way back to Plato’s Republic (indeed it is far older), and can be seen in Francis Bacon’s “New Atlantis” and in such works as “Freakomics”, “Nudge” and “Thinking: Fast and Slow”.

    This position is that ordinary people are scum – not humans are not really “beings” at all. That we can not think and reason and make real CHOICES.

    “We are all Homer Simpsons some times” really means “YOU are Homer Simpson – which is why you need ME to rule you”.

    The elite (Plato’s Guardians – or the people who write such books as “Nudge” with their oxymorons such as “libertarian paternalism”) believe that freedom (real freedom) is not an option – is not even possible.

    Remember people are not human BEINGS – we are not really agents, we just have the “illusion” of free will.

    Left to ourselves we will just be manipulated by “big business”, “the corporations”, “the rich” ……. and we smoke and eat ourselves to death.

    Only with the wise rule of an enlighented elite (who like the characters behind “So You Think That You Think” that Rand mocks in her Atlas Shrugged – 1957, showing that this determinist “brain science” is hardly new) can we be healthy and “happy”.

    “Paul this is a long way from traffic”.

    Is it?

    Last night I was at the Wicky Park fireworks event.

    Cars were very slow getting out of two of the carparks.

    The (well meaning) marshals were letting out four cars out of one then STOPPING the cars, and letting out four cars out the other way, then STOPPING the cars and…..

    When I allowed both carparks to empty together (with the DRIVERS of the cars fitting the flow themselves) things much faster.

    “But at this point they might smash together Paul”.

    So I stood there in my high viz jacket, covering this blind spot, till the carparks emptied. I did sometimes have to direct people – but not very often.

    Just as well – as I am not a Platonic Guardian or a noble “Nudger”.

    Indeed I do not believe such special good people (who can “plan” things for us so much better than we can ourselves) exist.