On October 12, staff writer Hannah Krieg said something that needed to be said and, from then on, repeated in the strongest language possible: "PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WAIT FOR PEOPLE TO EXIT THE LIGHT RAIL BEFORE YOU ENTER IT."
Anyone who uses Link regularly experiences this bizarre behavior. It's bizarre because who does this sort of thing when the door of an elevator packed with people opens? In that situation, it's obvious that one who doesn't wait for people to exit first has a screw or two loose. But go to Westlake Station, the West Coast's capital of bad transit habits, and you see this sort of thing all of the time. It's less frequent at two other very busy stations, Capitol Hill Station and the U District, but it should not be a thing at any point of the A Line. And we have had a good part of this line since 2009.
That said, I also want to bring up this bad business of confusing bags with people.
How do we solve this puzzle? A good number of Link riders see people in their bags in the way that the boy in The Sixth Sense saw ghosts. And it's all manner of bags. Small ones, large ones, luggage. These strange "people" are not only found occupying seats, but even space on the escalator—it's hard enough to get real people to stand on the right side of this people-moving machine. But that's the state of our social instincts. If you do not face a human on the left side, then you face their luggage. You just can't win.
How is this confusion even possible? Why do so many riders see their bags as living and breathing human beings? The answer to this question, I believe, throws light on why, in Seattle, transit consciousness is still very much at a primitive stage. To begin with, we live in an economic society that has captured and inverted what a number of thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment described as, to use my own words, natural morality. Francis Hutcheson launched this direction in Scottish thought, which found its highest achievement in Adam Smith Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). The basic idea is this: Is human morality imposed by an external force or is it inherent (or, to use the language of today, genetic)? Is it something that is, in the case of humans, as natural as language?
The former position had its defining figure in Thomas Hobbes, who believed that humans were, by nature, nasty, brutish, and all of that stuff the Victorian world described as "red in tooth and claw." The Scottish Enlightenment rejected this view on both religious (Francis Hutcheson) and secular (Adam Smith and, to an extent, David Hume) grounds. The human being is divinely or naturally moral (both are basically the same without Darwinism; after that, they part). No Hobbesian force from above is needed for good behavior. Humans are immanently moral. We are social animals; we can naturally cooperate and sympathize with others of our kind. Contemporary anthropology, such as that plied by Sarah Hrdy, sees Hutcheson and Smith in the right, and Hobbes way off the mark. But if such is the case, why do we live in an economic system that promotes Hobbesian anarchy and individualism?
The answer is simple: Under capitalism, natural cooperative behavior is objectified, and deviant individualism is personalized. Meaning the former is privatized and the latter is socialized. This inversion has serious social consequences. For one, it means the best of who we are, the best of our species-specific abilities, what makes us the most social mammal by far, is alien to us. It is not, however, alien to the masters of the universe—Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, the Walton family, and so on—but it is alien to those who need wages to make ends meet.
The inversion also means that our sociality takes the form of things rather than human-to-human relations.
In her superb book Marx's Social Ontology: Individuality and Community in Marx's Theory of Social Reality, Carol C. Gould writes:
[Market exchanges] are not immediate personal relations. Rather, each recognizes the other in exchange only in terms of their objectifications, that is, the products or commodities that they exchange. Thus the relations between persons appear as relations between things. Furthermore, insofar as each person represents to the other only the means by which his or her own needs are satisfied, the reciprocal relation within exchange is an instrumental one... The individuals thus are represented to each other through their products and as means only and relate to each other only in the externality of exchange between commodities or things.
If all this I have said is put together, we can see what's what with bags on Link chairs or next to humans on escalators. Our sociality, meaning what makes us humans, is not seen in us, but in things.