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A utilitarian in traffic

BEEEEP!! Are you kidding me? What the &*^(&*^(*$&*&@!!!

Americans’ overheated, irrational, anti-intellectual approach to politics can drive utilitarians insane. But at least we can escape from such nonsense most of the time. The people who spend their time shouting at each other need no further encouragement from us, and we don’t need to obsess over such things to determine how to vote or how to donate our money.

What we can’t escape, though, is traffic. And that’s where we so often see how we’ve lost sight of the greater good that utilitarians cherish.

The funny thing is that bad drivers aren’t just the selfish speeders who cut you off without thinking. Sometimes, they’re trying to be polite but haven’t really thought it through.

I often drive by a shopping center whose exit is near a busy intersection. The traffic flow works so that cars can often exit the shopping center when the light turns red. But I often see a car stopping to let someone out of the shopping center when the light is green.

“Oh, I’ll do something nice for this guy,” is what the stopped driver is surely thinking. But that driver is holding up 20 cars for the sake of letting one in. And that one will get in as soon as the light changes.

Another complication: Sometimes, cars leaving that shopping center need to cross multiple lanes. While one driver is stopped in one lane, drivers in the other lane are trying to make the light. So no one moves in the right lane.

And another twist: Sometimes, the car that ekes its way out of the shopping center is very slow to accelerate, as if pondering options. “Hmmm … do I really want to go straight? Maybe I’ll veer into this turn lane that just opened. No, maybe not. Hey, why are people honking at me?”

Nothing here is illegal. You have the right to poke your way through traffic, whether approaching an intersection or just moseying down a main road. You can even drive 50 mph in the left lane of the interstate.

But the world will be a happier place if you take into account the needs of the people behind you.

Especially if you’re just trying to show off your bumper sticker calling other people Nazis, socialists, targets for your beloved gun, etc.

(Yes, this post is grumpier than the tone I’m hoping to establish here. The next post will ask a question related to that tone: What is a utilitarian’s responsibility in confronting misguided people?)

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