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Journal Journal: The 2-queue dilemma

An interesting experience at the 'check out' today. I only had 4 items, so I made my way to the express aisles. Lo, there were two cash registers operating in '12 or less' mode. One of them was occupied by a woman who clearly had about 25 items piled up. The other, a short queue waiting. So, I queued between them. A cunning plan I thought to myself... I had finally overcome the 'stuck in the slowest queue' syndrome. Sixty seconds later, a queue of about three people had formed behind me, all patiently waiting their turns. My non-conformist behaviour had started to draw some followers (albeit mostly out of politeness I suspect).

That's when it happened. An off duty staff member joined the queue. She was not going to stand for this situation. She quickly identified me as the trouble-maker and loudly pointed out that 'we don't do it that way here'. Her uniform, and her bold behaviour gave her instant credibility, and with the flood gates opened, people began swarming around me to choose the queue that 'kind of looked to be a bit further away from where I was standing'.

Named and shamed, I took my place in one of the two queues, and quietly waited my turn.

This set me to thinking. Why do I have a problem with this? Am I just feeling a little embarassed that I was called out on my outrageous conduct? Am I annoyed that my cunning plan was foiled by this intrepid staff member? Or perhaps, it is a little more..

This staff member called me out. Why? I had established a single queue for two cash registers. I was forcing a model whereby each customer would be served in turn. People would not benefit from being able to guess the faster queue. I had hijacked the shopping-queue-lottery with my socialist attitude. An age old tradition of capitalist benefit had been usurped. Well... Larraine was not going to stand for it. She re-asserted the norm, and the crowds were pleased.

How does this bode for humanity at large. Our entire concept of liberty and capitalist freedom is based on the concept that one person can gain more than their neighbour by luck, persuasiveness, guile or the strength of their arm - so long as it doesn't break the law. And in the eyes of many folk, its OK to break the law as long as you don't get caught.

Is this what we want? Is this how we would like to be seen? When the aliens arrive and assess our viability to join the larger galactic community, what will they think of us? Humans are an intrinsically selfish and jealous species, and have established large scale economic and governmental structures to reinforce that pattern of behaviour. These behaviours are even programmed and strengthened by everyday behaviours, such as the queues at the check outs.

Perhaps I was the selfish one. I wanted the first available check-out, and I was prepared to make everyone else behind me wait purely because I was the first person to get there. All sarcasm aside, perhaps I was wrong. Capitalism is the best model we have had since humans crawled out of the swamp. Who am I to question and undermine it?

Sadly, I do not know the answers. At least now, I am no longer angry about it.

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