Dynamic systems are a challenge for anthropology. This is the way contemporary culture invents itself and anthropology hasn’t had very much exposure to this kind of thing. So I have been trying to think about how to think about these systems. As a novice, I suck at it.
Ive been thinking about traffic in Montreal. There are two kinds of drivers: very good and very bad.
The good drivers go like the wind. They are quick, nimble, fearless and very calm.
I have good data here. I walk a lot, and sometimes its tedious. I relieve the tedium by sprinting to get the last of a green light or to cross the street in mid stream. In this second case, I time my passage so that I hit the stream of traffic just as a gap appears. (This is stupid and dangerous, but it is fun. But if the posts suddenly stop, youll know what happened.)
In Toronto, this sort of thing provokes howls of unhappiness and lots of horn work. Toronto drivers scare easily and they like to take umbrage at unruly pedestrian behavior. In Montreal, there is never an objection. They dont object, I think, because I am walking the way they are driving: quick and nimble.
The bad drivers are amazingly bad. They appear to be oblivious to everyone and everything around them. They are inclined to draw the ire of the good drivers who punish them with lots of honking. And in this case, some of them seem to give up and just sit there. Bad drivers have become worse drivers.
So I fell to thinking: why such good drivers and such bad ones. Presumably, the Montreal driving “experiment” began with a normal distribution and a graduated continuum of skill. At some point, the continuum gave way to something bi-modal.
Maybe, I thought, these drivers created one another.
I believe (and this is where culture comes in) Montreal drivers subscribe to a European model of driving. They dont care about right of way and rules of the road so much as they do seizing the opportunity exactly when it presents itself. The good ones create a highly dynamic traffic system. You have to be on your toes to avoid nimble drivers and on your toes to act like one.
But anyone who occupies the “far half of the continuum, the “not so good half, now has a problem. They are surrounded by people driving like the wind. I am guessing that this group now splits in half as well. The medial half “gets with the program and begins to drive with forced enthusiasm. But the far half (last quartile) is now living in an environment that constantly overwhelms them. Tested to their limit, they get worse. And then they get punished. And so they get worse.
The readers of this blog are, I know, smarter at thinking about systems like this and I am curious to see what they have to say. After all, and as I have just demonstrated, I suck at this.