Sunday, November 20, 2005

Hayekian Quizzing

Quizzers familiar with my "imaginative" connects can breathe easy. I am not about to ask a connect related to Salma Hayek. Instead I want to speak a bit about the ideas of Friedrich von Hayek and the concept of Spontaneous Order.

I, like all strong believers in the virtue of the free market system, swear by the concept of spontaneous order. Spontaneous order means emergence of an order out of what are seemingly chaotic or disorderly circumstances, and oput of a natural process. It is believed that things that benefit society the most are the product of spontaneous forces that are beyond the direct control of a single man. It is this principle that is used to argue in favour of a laisse-faire capitalist system sans any top-down "regulation" as against a state-led/state-controlled/state-regulated economy.

Though Hayek's ideas are used mainly in the field of economics (he got the Economics Nobel in 1974), they can apply to any situation or scenario which involves a number of human beings interacting with each other, and having some kind of activity in common. In economics, it is transaction. For us, it can even be quizzing.

The Boat Club Quiz Club is an excellent example of spontaneous order in a non-economic domain. It illustrates the "invisible hand" principle at work. The BCQC started off as a spontaneous "organisation" when a few COEPians interested in quizzing decided to meet every saturday. Since then, for over a decade, the BCQC has evolved only "spontaneously" rather than through any constitution/order/authority. What's more, there hasn't been a serious effort to "take charge" or impose some sort of a hierarchy. Yet, at any given time there are 2-3 members of the BCQC whom the others look up to for leadership/guidance/inspiration. That's leadership which has evolved naturally rather than being straitjacketed "constitutionally".

COEP has over a dozen student clubs for various purposes. Almost each and every one has a set "process" and a set "hierarchy" in place. There are elections or selections and then a leader is foisted on the club. Quizzing, thanks to a happy accident, has been out of these "processes". There is a Debating secretary who is supposed to be in charge of quizzing too. He leaves us alone and we leave him alone.

Over the years BCQC has evolved rapidly. First there was a norm of two people getting a large number of questions, it moved to one person. Earlier it used to be an exclusively COEP affair. Over the years though, "membership" of the BCQC has been very diverse, with people from other colleges and even other cities becoming part of it. There are no set rules at the BC.

Now people with a rudimentary understanding of socio-economic ideals might feel I am praising and advocating a communist-like ideal.


Actually I am advocating the diagonally opposite idea of maximum freedom and minimum authority. That precisely is the beauty of this club. Rules and norms evolve naturally. There is no malice towards anyone, neither is there any "bleeding heart" compassion. Like some clubs, we don't go out of our way to attract members and retain them. At the same time, we are not exclusive and reclusive. We like to quiz, we come to quiz, and we go back happy.

In addition to the immense fun I have at every BCQC session, there are two things that make it such a successful example of spontaneous order.

One, the diversity in its membership, as I said earlier. People from different colleges, companies, cities, backgrounds, come together, quiz, and go back. It's like a free market which has no artificial entry barriers, and no artificial sops. Second, the fact that even after existing for more than a decade, there hasn't been even the slightest whiff of "politicking" or factionalism.

BCQC will keep evolving naturally. Yes, there will be ups and downs. But overall, like the statistical trend line of a growing entity, it will keep going higher and higher.

With due apologies to the MTV liftman, what sort of a club is this? There is no building. No secretary. No bearer. No soft drink even!!! I WANT TO BE MEMBER OF THIS CLUB!!

1 comment:

niranjan said...

Good one, Gaurav. I always though that 'Hayek' was something that one says to
errant bovines ;))
BTW, on similar lines, another current buzzword in the same category is 'swarm intelligence', where 'agents with limited individual capabilities can take simple actions and yet achieve truly great global objectives'. Hope BCQC does not become like that ;)))