There have been innumerable articles, blogposts, diatribes, talk show harangues and such on the issue of Pakistan’s failing Government. In great detail and loud voices, (especially given the ominous and ironic country wide power outage last week), we have deconstructed our failed legal institutions (there is no justice), our failed power grids (there is no electricity), our failed taxation system (only idiots pay taxes), and of course, our failed education system (school is for fools). Sitting in this junk heap of failed systems, that reeks of rotting rubbish (the trash system has also failed) it is useful perhaps to consider, (given that there still seem to be people, living, breathing, even reading souls left in Pakistan), whether we need a Government at all?
One helpful aid in such considerations is the thoughts of those for whom anarchy is but a nifty philosophical thought experiment or at best a momentary situation following some natural catastrophe or extraordinary event. Take for instance the words of David Henderson, a libertarian economist and scholar who wrote this in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in New York City: “The traffic in the blackout area 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 (Americans) are so used to seeing people act under a system of government rules that it is easy to assume that without the rules, everything would descend into chaos” Now David Henderson is a libertarian, and libertarian economists and theorists are in adherents of the perspective that a large, meddlesome government is unnecessary and that people in general should be allowed to come up with their own rules.
There is much more to libertarianism of course, and much of its core philosophy derives from the idea that left alone, humans like markets will self-regulate, not behave with complete depravity and avoid a brutal, chaotic and ruthless condition. One favorite example of libertarian theorists making their point about human behavior in such conditions is the championing of roundabouts versus traffic lights. In the libertarian calculus, the traffic light, its imposition of the rule of stopping is an indicator of big government, central planning, the limitation of human action where there may be no need for it. Roundabouts on the other hand, leave the person in the driver’s seat at the helm; have him or her judge based on whether there is approaching oncoming traffic from other sides of the intersection, to choose a course of action based on the determinants of the situation.
It sounds lovely, if I had not seen so many, too many Karachi roundabouts chock full of cars, motorbikes packed in crevices, a donkey cart or two, a crammed bus with a dangling conductor all acting in the most primal, lawless way. Choice is present at the stateless intersections of Pakistan, where every man, woman, car and motorbike must fend for itself, but it is choice turned, twisted and abused, slaughtered, stomped and pillaged. As far as one can see, the assertions of the libertarian theorist, that those confronted with choice will self-regulate, act reasonably in the face of oncoming danger/traffic, understand that the need for the rule was not arbitrary but based on maintaining some minimal order, seem nowhere at all to be found. A rickshaw swerving suddenly to make a U-turn hits a car, they both stop and the driver of the car steps out and picks up a giant rock to hurl at the absconding rickshaw. It is a common sight in the Pakistani experiment with anarchy.
It is a pity, because in a country where having a functioning state, fulfilling the task of providing some bare minimum of security seems like such a tall, even unachievable order; a new aspiration toward a libertarian style, a minimal state may well have been a worthy aspiration. Some solace for renovated hopes based on a small state may still be taken from the writings of anthropologist James C Scott who in his latest book “Two Cheers for Anarchism” writes that “choice and freedom: are good for humans in almost every setting. “A little anarchy,” according to Scott is useful in every place from a school playground to an office boardroom because it encourages ‘cooperation without the demonic, hierarchical shadow of a vast and powerful state bearing down on the individual citizen. In simple terms, the absence of an all-seeing power forces citizens to come up with their own localised, personalised means of creating order and insuring basic well-being.