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> Driving in Boston

Driving in Boston

I'm not sure if this is a story, a joke, or what, so I'll file it under driving, since that's the most specific category.

The first time I drove into Boston—as a driver rather than a passenger—I'd been led to expect the worst, that the traffic would be crazy and that it would be very stressful. In fact, however, I found it quite liberating. All those restrictive laws and rules about staying in lanes and so forth … I soon came to understand that they were mere conventions, to be disregarded whenever necessary or convenient!

Is that funny? I think so. What makes it really funny is that it's 100% true.

Just recently I noticed a similar thought in one of Hofstadter's old Scientific American columns.

Driving a car has a certain primitive quality to it that brings out the animal in us all, and probably that's why it confronts us with Prisoner's-Dilemma-like situations so often—more often than any other activity I can think of. How about those annoying drivers who, when there's a long line at a freeway exit, zoom by all the politely lined-up cars and then butt in at the very last moment, getting off 50 cars ahead of you? Are you angry at such people, or do you do it too? Or, worse—do you do it and yet resent others who have such gall?

I have been struck by the relative savagery of the driving environment in the Boston area. I know of no other city in which people are so willing to take the law into their own hands, and to create complete anarchy. There seems to be less respect for such things as red lights, stop signs, lines in the street, speed limits, other people's cars, and so forth, than in any other city, state, or country that I have ever driven in. This incessant “me-first” attitude seems to be a vicious, self-reinforcing circle. Since there are so many people who do whatever they want, nobody can afford to be polite and let other people in ahead of them (say), for then they will be taken advantage of repeatedly and will wind up losing totally. You simply must assert yourself in many situations, and that means you must defect. Of course, just one defection does not an ALL-D player make. In fact, a retaliatory defection is just good old TIT-FOR-TAT playing. However, very often in Boston driving, there is no way you can get back at a nasty driver who cuts in front of you and then takes off screeching around the corner. That person is gone forever. You can take out your frustrations only on the rest of the people near you, who are not to blame for that driver. You can cut in ahead of them. Does this do any good? That is, does it teach anybody a lesson? Obviously it will teach them only that it pays to defect. And thus the spiral starts.

For more about the prisoner's dilemma and the “tit for tat” strategy, see The Prisoner's Dilemma and Evolutionarily Stable Strategies


  See Also

  Foolish Consistency
  How to Merge

@ May (2001)