In New York, an unwritten code states that standers on an escalator stand to the right while walkers walk on the left. A New York Times article this April presented evidence that if everyone stood together and no one walked, the beneficiaries would not be the walkers (they would have time added to their journey) but the people waiting to get on the escalator. Congestion would be reduced because walkers take up more space than standers.
What’s the chance that data and evidence will overcome individual urgency? Not likely. Sam Schwartz, New York City’s former traffic
commissioner, said people’s competitive nature tends to trump logic and science whenever they are confronted with a capacity problem. “I don’t believe Americans,
any longer (if they ever did), have a rational button.”
Given the current state of our state, it would be easy to jump on his last statement, but that’s not where I want to go. I’m
interested in the unwritten code on the escalator because it’s part of a network of etiquettes that nudge people along their daily paths. Many things comprise these
protocols, most of which we aren’t aware of until something comes along to bring them up to the light.
Take, for instance, the recent failure of the Republicans’ health care effort. Once people had the chance to see the overt and hidden
benefits of the system, they decided that, even if not perfect, they liked what they had and didn’t want it taken away.
Another instance is the “skinny budget” presented by President 45 in March, which unmasked the multiple ways the government is
threaded through our lives. It is one thing to wield an ideological cleaver and another to see that what is cleaved affect things like meals to seniors, clean air and water,
maintenance of the GPS satellites, and basic and advanced medical research – stuff that keeps people alive and social institutions solid.
Back in 2014, the BBC had an article about mycelia, the fungal network that links plants in an underground system by which they can share
nutrients and information, what one researcher called the “wood wide web.”
We humans have our mycelia as well, like escalator codes and the “intrusions” of “gummint,” and while it may give
ideological pleasure to rip out the web and leave everything to the tender mercies of the marketplace, it would be so much better for everyone if we could push the “rational
button” and get a “fat budget” that would make sure that everyone on the escalator is safe on their journey even if that means the walkers don’t get what
they think they deserve.