Capitalist Commuting

20 Sep

Or, everyone else is going to be an asshole, so you should be one, too.

Purposefully taken out of context, I think this quote from the father of capitalism himself just about sums up life on American highways from 5:30-10 am and 3:30-7 pm. Or, hell, any time of day.

“It’s not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their own self-interest.”

(But really, this quote needs context because Adam Smith’s economic philosophy is much more rooted in a sympathetic morality than modern capitalists would like to admit. For context, see Gavin Kennedy’s awesome blog: Adam Smith’s Lost Legacy.)

Continuing with my willful misinterpretation, then. (I feel completely justified in this, by the way, because just this misinterpretation informs much of our modern economic theory and, as I will argue in just a moment, much of the modern consciousness.)

Dinner whatever. This misinterpretation is all about one word: self-interest. In the great tradition of modern economics, we’re going to take self-interest as synonymous with selfishness.

This selfishness manifests itself in many forms on the road, but it is most obvious after midnight when roadwork meant to inconvenience as few people as possible takes a four lane highway down to one, the signs are ignored, and a brilliant few determine the shoulder was built as their own personal express lane.

I think it bears noting here that if everyone paid attention to the signs and got over in the right lane as quickly as possible, traffic would move through the construction zone at a slow but steady pace. (This is socialist commuting – working together towards a common goal and in which it takes about the same amount of time for everyone to get home.)

In our capitalist reality, however, less community-minded drivers see that the left lanes are “moving” and get over to pass the line of traffic in the right lane. These drivers are our Captains of Commuting, whose blatant selfishness allows them to ignore what little conscience they may have in favor of exploiting a perceived advantage. There are a wildly successful few (usually in BMWs; there is a special place in hell for drivers of BMWs) who make it through with much aggression and astonishingly little time spent tapping the brakes. Seeing this, vast multitudes follow their example with middling achievements, resulting in much congestion at the point where these aspirants to commuting glory rejoin the plebeian rank and file, plodding slowly towards a communal destination.

Reading comprehension question: How do I feel about universal healthcare?


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