Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Parable

Imagine you are on the Titanic. The most powerful vessel of your time. You're a rich guy and have lots of wealth with you. You intend to become even richer once you reach the end of the journey. Until then, however, you have a problem.

You are well connected with the captain and his crew. And so you know that this journey isn't as safe as most people think. In fact, the ship is actually flawed and the decision to take the more dangerous route might be a grave mistake.

The captain and his crew implore you to stay silent. They argue that if you told other people about the weaknesses of the design, a panic might break out. That very panic, they argue, would make it even more probable that something bad happens. For example, some passengers might want to leave the ship and jump on life boats. Since there are not enough life boats, the ship might list heavily.

So you stay silent, but curious. You ask other wealthy passengers. It turns out that everybody admits in private that there is a problem. But then everybody adds that any attempt to get off the boat would be a disaster as well. You are, literally, all in the same boat.

Now, things would be different if you knew that the ship is going to sink. In that case, you would save what little wealth you can and try to get into a life boat before anybody else can. Unfortunately, this is exactly what everybody else is thinking as well. In fact, everybody else is watching you. And you are watching everybody else. And everybody else is watching everybody else. Sometimes somebody makes a suspicious move towards the life boats, but the reasonable guy that you are, you always convince them to stay cool.

As a result, life on the Titanic is nice. Most people successfully repress the notion of any problem at all and enjoy themselves. Actually, it feels as if the subtle knowledge that this journey might be their last, makes life on the Titanic even more relaxed and fun.

Sometimes you wish that you weren't alone on the ocean. Being on a smaller ship, that stays in shallow waters, would allow you to jump the boat and cry for help. While this would make the ship sink much faster, a lot of passengers would start to cry at the sight of even modest problems. Perhaps that would allow the crew to take care of the problems in time? Perhaps all the passengers could work together?

One morning you hear the captain talk about another big ship that you might meet on the journey. The Olympic is a bit older, but otherwise very similar. Unfortunately, it has problems on its own. All the passengers on the Olympic are hopelessly divided, you hear. Even though as a whole the Olympic is much better off than the Titanic, the passengers talk about sinking all the time.
In fact, the Olympic behaves like a flotilla of smaller ships with only a weak common leadership. Passengers are jumping from ship to ship frequently and this already caused some of the smaller ships to be afloat only, because they receive help at pumping out water.

At the evening of the same day you confront the captain with what you heard. Privately, he tells you that you must never speak favorably about the Olympic. For, should the Olympic ever agree to one leader, most people on the Titanic would instantly try to get there. Which would make the Titanic sink for certain. Actually, this might also cause the Olympic to sink!

And then he tells you something you didn't know: There's the Gigantic. A powerful ship which is still under development. You might meet it eventually. However, the Gigantic doesn't allow any other passengers on board. And even if you are on board, they are said to imprison anybody who disagrees with the captain.

Considering your options you agree that the Titanic is your best bet; for now.


  1. Welcome to the world of cooperative societies :) Where things work because people believe that they will work. If enough of them stop, it's back to the jungle in a very short time.
    And jungles, while being nice and "natural", have the minor problem of being only able to support a MUCH smaller population :) Which, whatever you may dream, usually means "not you"....

  2. What I like about this parable is that it could apply to either the current political situation or the state of play in the MMO industry.

    Nice vinculum post.