Today I feel excited about addressing a really important issue, prompted by @AbundanceTribe in form of their bi-weekly question: If There Were No Laws Or Rules In This World To Influence Our Behaviour, What Do You Think Our Behaviour Would Look Like? Ahhh, the topic of anarchy, ruling ourselves, ruling each other, and letting others rule us... or not! I remember writing about this extensively as a teenager, with a pen into a notebook that who knows where it is by now. But since this topic has been so present in my life, I enjoy revisiting it again and again. So let's see:
What If We Had No Rules...
Okay, let's start out with a simple example:
I am a pedestrian and I want to cross the street. I can either go to the proper crossing at the corner, wait for the green signal, and cross... Or, I can just look around, make sure no-one is coming, and jaywalk.
Clearly the first option is following "the rules", while in the second one I make up my own. Here I should probably add, that here in Mexico pedestrians don't enjoy the same fool's liberty as in other countries. Getting hit may not guarantee that the law will be on your side, or on anyone's side, for that matter. Motorists may just as well get away with hit-and-run accidents, even the ones they caused. As a result, I have to be extremely vigilant when jaywalking. In fact, even when I obey all the rules, there is a chance that they may run me over, so I must be vigilant at all times.
So Is There An Actual Rule?
After this example of Mexican traffic laws, the question regarding the existence of rules is a bit like the tree falling in the forest, while no one's around to hear. Did it actually fall? Likewise, Is there a rule against jaywalking outside of my head? One could argue that it depends on how the rule is enforced. But just the other day I read a post by @anomadsoul that shows the arbitrary and unpredictable way Mexican police
work do their thing.
So assuming that the law enforcement can get you for no reason at all, while at the same time they may let you get off the hook for any reason, I think it's safe to say that the rules only exist in our minds. This is an excellent situation to illustrate the question what our (or at least my) behavior would look like:
- If I want to cross the street, and there is clearly no one coming, I would be a fool to press a button and wait for a signal.
- If there is traffic headed my way, I prefer not to step in front of it, even if I have a green light.
Wait a second!!! These two points look a lot like rules, don't they? They sure do, I just made them up. (Not true, I've been living by them for quite a while now.) They are by no means arbitrary, either. They are based on reason. I try not to get in anyone's way, and when I know I'm not, I take the liberties that are obviously there for me to take. So part of my answer is: If there were no rules, we would have to reason our own, as long as they are needed.
Cultural Norms - The Rules of All Others Around You
Sometimes, however, we encounter rules that just don't make sense - for us. Still, we adopt them, we submit to them, and follow them, simply because not doing so would make things unnecessary difficult. The example that comes to mind is saying "Thank you".
If you think that saying thanks is never out of place, you may never have been to Japan. It struck me as weird when I ended up holding up the checkout line at a grocery store by saying thank you to the cashier. She acknowledged me by taking the time to say thank you back to me a second time, and bowing even deeper than the first time. Meanwhile I harvested some annoyed looks from the shoppers in line behind me.
As you may have guessed, I never said thank you to a salesperson or customer service personnel again, at least in Japan. In western countries, particularly here in Mexico, this would have made me seem rude and aloof, so I had to re-adapt, and say thanks every chance I got.
So what does this mean regarding following rules? If everyone around you is following one certain rule, it's a lot easier to do so too. So I would say, we would adjust to the cultural norm, in making our own rules.
After discussing how I make my own rules, and adjusting to the rules of others, I think I may have arrived at the crux of this question: What if what seems reasonable to us is not (that) reasonable to others? To illustrate this most interesting aspect of ruling ourselves, I want to use an example from our current situation:
Recently there has been an avalanche of new rules unleashed upon us, individually, and society as a whole: Social distancing (of anywhere between 1 and 2.5 meters), wearing masks (of various types, sizes, materials, etc.), entering through one door while exiting through another, and lots and lots of others that defy our best reason.
I'm sure all of us have seen the results over the last months: some people are more than eager to follow everything to the letter (and more!), and even seem to get some satisfaction out of reminding the rest of us do the same. Others try to circumvent them, or flat out ignore them entirely. Still others may feel overwhelmed with so many pointless expectations, and sway from one extreme to the other.
But what would our behavior look like if there were no rules? Imagine there was Covid, but no one would make any rules about it? How would people react?
From my own reasoning, I would think that most of us confronted with such a situation would be forced to reason it out (as many of us actually do). We would deliberate on the issues of contagion at first on our own, then discuss it with others, and most likely realize that we need to educate ourselves on the topic further. After more reading and reasoning, we would gradually come up certain practices that each individual may adopt, according to their reasoning. (Once again, this is not too far from actual reality.)
Still, since it is up to each individual to modify their behavior or not, nobody could be bullied into behavior they don't agree with. Or else, they could bully back... or simply leave, seek out people with a similar mindset, and abide by their own best reason. (I believe this still exemplifies our current reality.)
To bring it down to a point, I would say in the absence of rules, it would be up to us to make our own rules, which we would do by reason, communication, and experimenting. However, I think this is what we do anyway, with rules being present out there. Seeing it this way, anarchy is more a mind set, a natural and reasonable one, rather than a form of (absence of) rulership. In a way, it is the basis of living together with others, no matter what external or internal rules there may be around.