By Elizabeth Khalil

I will explain chaos theory to you in one simple equation: [(1,000 tickets) / (5,000 students)] – (order) = chaos. After Friday’s infamous attempt at ticket distribution, members of the SFS Dip Ball Committee became the target of ire, contempt and general enmity. It wasn’t their fault, though – blame it on the System, of which they are merely agents.

Or should I say actors? I’m convinced that the whole thing – Dip ball itself – is a big fantasy. It’s all concocted to explain the political system to students who need concrete examples to follow. A very expensive task, certainly, but fun for the 1,000 lucky few who get to dress up. But remember, it’s all pretend, from the tickets to the posters to the band. (And those “diplomats” you see walking around at the ball? Actors!).

This is no joke – in fact, it is very, very serious. During my long wait for tickets, I found many similarities between the events of Friday and various aspects of the political systems I’ve studied. It was like a government class as I observed the struggle between the distributors (henceforth “the regime”) and those clamoring for tickets (“the masses”).

My freshman USPS professor defined politics as “the business of who gets what.” What could better describe what was at work on Friday? It was like a CPS case study of the former Soviet Union – the process was not unlike waiting in line in communist Russia for the one pair of jeans, except the commodity of the day was Dip Ball tickets.

Faced with an ever-surlier mob, the Dip Ball regime found itself forced to implement short-term survival strategies. Its kingpins made more and more panicked announcements like, “We can’t change the policy. That’s the policy. We’re sorry if you’re upset. Okay, now we’re going to change the policy.”

It’s that kind of clear-headed rulemaking that made Zaire a great and stable polity. (Oh, wait).

When the regime’s attempts to regulate resource allocation failed, warlord politics took over. When one version of “the policy” let each ID card procure up to 10 tickets, warlords wielding multiple IDs obtained outrageous numbers of tickets. Clans soon formed around them.

Their tool: the mysterious “sheets,” white letter-sized pieces of paper that had space for 10 names. These sheets made their way, unheralded by a panicked announcement, to the front of the line, and anyone whose name was on one was given preference for tickets. Those on the list were first-world countries; those left off were something like Burkina Faso.

The distribution also gave a lesson in the legitimacy of regimes. Those waiting for tickets had obviously not consented to be governed by the distributors; boos greeted each panicked announcement and the masses surged forward in defiance whenever someone said, “You need to form a single-file line.”

These commands made no impact on the clamoring crowds, who had done the simple math that the kingpins had not. With a ratio of 400 angry mob members to every authority figure, it was obvious who had the advantage of numbers. Instead of gun-toting goons to back them up, the regime had only the DPS officers, who stood around as if watching performance art.

The regime’s one success was convincing the masses to relocate to the Esplanade, telling us that distribution would begin again at two p.m. Again, the regime seemed to have difficulty with numbers, since the sales actually resumed shortly after the announcement – right around noon.

What of those who listened and waited till two to return? I didn’t stick around to find out; I got the heck out of Dodge once I got tickets from my local warlord. I’d guess the scene looked something like this: a lawn littered with inert bodies, remnants of barricades and a few survivors humming, “Do You Hear the People Sing.”

Sure, it’s easy to criticize the Dip Ball Committee for this near-tragic confrontation. I know some of you out there are thinking, “These are the future leaders of the country, and they can’t even figure out how to hand out tickets for a dance?” You’re hoping they never have to negotiate with international terrorists, or if they do, they think up better lines than, “Okay, now you have to move out of the Falklands or no more tickets.”

Remember, though, that this was a pretend distribution. Had this been an actual distribution, the planners would have used much more logic and many fewer panicked announcements.

They would have used methods like an e-mail lottery. Or they would simply have used ropes, since they know that keeping people in a line may be a little challenging, but it’s not the iddle East peace process.

They know that already. They just let the whole fiasco happen for your, and my, benefit – anyone that hopes to understand politics. Whether or not you ended up with tickets after they cleared the bodies away, you’re still a winner. You now know how the system works when its leaders are clueless – it doesn’t.

Elizabeth Khalil is the assistant features editor of The Hoya and a senior in the College.

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