Line-ups are the result of trust

Did I not say yesterday that lining up was a culturally specific behaviour? Today’s column in the Post by Tristin Hopper (Line Up, Eh!) shows that the more disorderly the society, the less they line up, and the more orderly the society, which is to say those that show the highest degree of social trust, all people have to do is mark their place with tape – that place being Japan, which makes us look third world by comparison.

Lining up is an aspect of social trust. Societies of lowest trust – China – do not line up at all. In  India, they  line up only to vote (another British idea) but stand  touching each other so as to prevent queue jumpers.In  Italy they line up but have to be on guard against the many who think queues are for idiots.

Lining up is a rational response to the trust that the allocative mechanisms and procedures at the head of the line are fair.There will be a seat on the bus, or not, depending on the space available, and not on the tribal whim of the bus conductor.

All thinking people should read Francis Fukuyama’s “Trust”.  Though Fukuyama set out to explain the scale of business enterprizes, and whether they were under public ownership (e.g. Airbus) or private ownership (e.g. Boeing), by reference to each society’s history of trustable political institutions, or lack thereof, his analysis works just as well on the issue of line-ups.

It is also worth noting that cutting into a line up engenders wild feelings of rage, which it should, because being a behaviour neither sanctioned nor defended by law, only primitive vigilante violence will uphold it. (Queue jumping produces the same vigilantism as cattle rustling in an honour-based but otherwise lawless  pastoral society, for that matter, and for the same reason, viz Scotland in the time of Rob Roy, Afghanistan today).

In the a Post article, a refugee from Iran describes lining up as “an absolute luxury” that we would abandon if we or our children were imperilled.

I think the contrary. It may be the social discipline that lining up involves provides the wherewithall to defeat the want, misery and unfairness of what makes the Third World what it is. The social discipline that lining up requires is generated out of trust that the allocative mechanisms at the head of the line are fair, and that means that we trust the allocators.

That we trust the allocators is a significant political and cultural accomplishment of constitutional evolution and the wars we fought to get to liberal democracy. But I would trust the allocators less if I knew they were from the Quebec government, say,  rather than from my own political culture. And in China, there is no reason to trust the allocators at all, unless you are kin to them.

A high-trust society is a precious political artifact, Let’s not screw it up with multiculturalism.


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while the psychology behind it is interesting, I do not consider myself an untrusting person, but I will not line up for anything except customs when I am stuck in it.

First of all I would like to congratulate you on this deep topic you have chosen to bring to our notice! The act of Lining Up is not as simple as we consider it to be. It is definitely a sign of trust. The question of course is “Trust in what?” A society that trusts that there is ‘plenty’ has the liberty to line up, but on the other hand a society that knows that if they are not quick enough or strong enough they will have to do without whatever they are lining up for, will be reluctant to trust or line up. There are places in the world where the buses are full and the next one does not appear for hours, the bank might suddenly be forced to close down, the store may suddenly be robbed,the food they are lining up for will be finished by the time their turn comes and they themselves might be blown up while waiting in a line!
Although lining up shows discipline, social advancement and trust, its mostly trust in the knowing that there ‘IS’.

Burkian nutbar

Respect for the queue is respect for each other and for the order required to keep societies stable. Societies require a balance of order and liberty which is exactly what the queue represents. Once joining the queue one trusts that fellow citizens will respect the necessary submission of personal liberty for the order it requires to serve the common good. Trust, however, is a component of social capital. And as Fukuyama has illustrated in earlier work, it is highly questionable whether social capital/trust, once diminished, can be reconstituted. (We all understand that in terms of personal relationships but somehow many struggle to see how it applies more broadly). So, when individual rights trump collective rights instead of being in balance with them as has been the case ever since Canadian justices licked their jobs over the Charter, the individual claims sovereignty over the collective/society, order is diminished and trust declines. The issue in Canada is in the long run less likely to be the current absurdities, but the viciousness of the Movement towards a restoration of order.

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