Living Without Chaos
Big Issue|Issue 294
South African social philosopher and poet Athol Williams weighs up the cost of unfettered chaos.
Athol Williams

In my 2016 poetry book Bumper Cars, I contemplate freedom of movement in a poem of the same title: “They go to work or school or the grocery store in cars of every possible colour, a kaleidoscope of dots in Brownian Motion like looking into a microscope at the life in a vibrant cell. But there are no roads, no lanes, no traffic lights, no stop streets – they drive wherever they like.”

Would we consider such a society to be free, based on the scant information presented? There certainly seems to be an element of freedom to this society, particularly when it comes to its cars. Every colour of vehicle is available so people have freedom of choice. And there are no constraints to where and how they can drive. But wouldn’t we be concerned about the chaos that might emerge in such a society?

Imagine the road accidents that would result if people drove without lanes or traffic lights. Imagine the uproar if people were allowed to drive their cars through the gardens of others because they could drive wherever they liked. It seems the idea of unfettered freedom would lead to so much disorder that it would eventually become something we’d want to change.

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