Saturday, April 10, 2010

Arbitrary Numbers  

We could have been in Russia, queues everywhere, including on the main road where my car had been stopped; one in a long line of cars at a roadblock.  A woman in grey uniform spoke with each driver, one after the other, before waving us on.  Some handed her money before driving off, others not. 

I knew that this woman was collecting special taxes and that whether or not I would have to pay was arbitrary.  It had something to do with the way she would interpret certain numbers on my driver’s licence.  To the observer these numbers represented a code that each licence holder in the queue of licence holders owned.  These numbers had most likely been allocated in order of receipt of licence, but this uniformed woman at the roadblock had her own idiosyncratic interpretation of those numbers and she did not share this secret knowledge with anyone.  It seemed she used it as the basis for her decision as to who should pay and how much.   

I figured I could afford an additional $200.00 but was hopeful that she would wave me on because I had already paid several hundreds into a special tax fund from which the government could draw if necessary.   

I looked down at the numbers on my licence and tried to decipher some meaning from them but I could not fathom what that meaning might be.  To me they stayed the same – a seemingly random bunch of numbers.
My turn in the queue moved closer. 

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