Hand Waving Rules

Quite like Jeep owners, motorcyclists also wave at each other. It’s one of those unenforced etiquette of the road, creating and maintaining that sense of fellowship among riders. Such rules serve a purpose, so they also tend to have consequences, good and bad. For example, creating that sense of fellowship among motorcyclists leads to a relatively benign culture, consequence is on-road and off-road cooperation. This is quite the opposite of how motorcycle gangs operate. Actually you do not typically wave at these “outlaws”, because they have their own code and different purpose/consequences to them.

Like how merely waving at each other can create/reinforce a cooperative framework among unknown riders, other cultural norms/rules can also have its own consequences. Such norms and rules can also be more abstract and elementary. Sort of like building blocks of a social order. For example, preference for obedience over individual responsibility is such an abstract rule. This rule/norm will determine what is considered as just or acceptable within all formal and informal social spheres. It’s sort of like the underlying ethics of an order. Respect for seniority, class, gender etc over merit is another such rule; we can see that these rules do have consequences – in this case they tend to emphasize the collective over the individual. In short, these are the characteristics of static hierarchies. In that sense, they share traits with feudal or aristocratic organizations. The other end of the spectrum would be individual responsibility over obedience and emphasis of merit over everything else – these are the essential characteristics of dynamic hierarchies. So, seems like hierarchy itself is inevitable, only difference is the underlying rules.

Such norms/rules are also like the genetic code of a civilization, we sort of repeatedly apply them in different political, social and economic contexts to create higher level laws, Legislation, institutions etc. For example, paternalistic institutions will be perceived as just when obedience is considered as a higher virtue than responsibility. Reality is anyway more complex, because there are always conflicting norms and ethics. In short, no society is absolutely static or dynamic, it’s just a matter of degree.