Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Anarchy and Rules

The NY Times has an article, When Scholarship and Politics Collided at Yale ,on an anarchist professor at Yale, who's involved in a controversy over tenure. One sentence struck a nerve:
"He was by many accounts a prolific writer and popular teacher. Although he sometimes came late, his classes were crowded."
Lateness for meetings drives me nuts. It's disrespectful to others; particularly for the leader of a meeting it's saying that your time is more important than those to whom you're talking. If your audience feels that way, it gets you off on the wrong foot. All in all, it's no way to make railroads run on time. Perhaps in this case the professor justified his lateness to himself by saying he was asserting the power of the individual over that of the institution (that's the way it might have been said in the 60's). And so it would be a symbol of his anarchism, the belief that people can come together without having coordinating authority.

The other thing that drove me nuts was setting a meeting for 8 and having people trickle in late or holding conversations in the back (in the case of large meetings). So I set a "Harshaw rule"--the meeting would start on time and I would start talking at 8. The rule worked. First it put me on record so I made sure to start on time. Second, it made the attendees settle in more promptly.

The lesson for anarchists is that some rules are necessary. Historically, standard timekeeping rode into town on the cowcatcher of the locomotives of the railroads--you can't run a railroad without having a standard time. You can't run a large university without scheduled classes--the professor can't start late and run over without making students late for other classes. Even if you believe in "mobbing", you can't coordinate a demonstration without giving a location and and a time.

The recurring mystery is how you reconcile the need for rules and the need for freedom.

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