Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 18, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From mild-mannered sociology professor Kieran Healy, commenting on whether or not it's worth it to confront someone who's jumped to the front of a queue:

"How does it hurt you?" That, my friends, is the coolly rational voice of homo economicus. While H.E. has his virtues, and can often help you think straight, sometimes you just have to tell him to fuck off.

This is dedicated to the "Different Tones and Wider Nets" session at Netroots Nation, on which I am currently participating.

Kevin Drum 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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Comments

Am I missing something? If someone jumps in front of you from a position previously behind you in line, they have forced you to wait for one extra person and have wasted precisely that amount of time of your life. Time is money, and the linejumper is thus a thief.

Whether or not this represents a big deal or not, I'll leave to each individual to decide.

Posted by: Piper on July 18, 2008 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

It's not even true. I've missed buses, been late for appointments, and had to give up on whatever product or service I was waiting in line for because of queue jumpers. It's not usually such a big deal as that, but obviously it does "hurt you" by costing you time.

Posted by: shortstop on July 18, 2008 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Piper, in Healey's example (at the link) the guy jumped other people, to a position directly behind Healey. Healey called him out on it.

This kind of norm-reinforcement has a perfectly good economic explanation, however, sort of along the lines of "what goes around, comes around." You invest effort in maintaining the rules because you think the rules protect your interests in other situations.

Posted by: The Fabulous Mr. Toad on July 18, 2008 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

Also, enjoy the session. If Jerry pops up in the back and starts screaming repetitive 10,000-word insults at Amanda, just call security. You DFHs do have security down there, don't you?

Posted by: shortstop on July 18, 2008 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

...the front of a queue:

A queue?! A QUEUE?!!?! IT'S A FUCKING LINE. No cutting in line. God damn it all!

Fight creeping ridiculous sounding British-isms!

Posted by: MNPundit on July 18, 2008 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

Even if there is no economic impact, there is still an inner outrage at the flagrant disregard to "fairness." (I deal frequently with large lines and queue jumpers, it gets ugly and I've seen fist fights break out.) When someone queue jumps, not only does it activate our fairness outrage is also activates something deeper, an anger that this other person believes themselves to be more important than you and they shouldn't have to wait their turn.

Every single one of us has had someone ride a turn lane up to a light or a freeway exit only to slide back in to the forward lane and jump ahead of the other cars waiting. We still move forward or through the light, but every single person who was jumped in front of will be angry that this other driver failed to follow the basic rules of civility that keep us from killing each other and believed themselves too important to wait their turn.

On many levels it doesn't matter, but at the deepest level of rules that a civilized society lives by - it matters.

Posted by: Art Eclectic on July 18, 2008 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

A queue?! A QUEUE?!!?! IT'S A FUCKING LINE

Apparently, it's more of a stack.

Posted by: apm on July 18, 2008 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

apm, I have no idea what you meant.

Why do people call it a queue? What in God's name is wrong with calling it what it is: A Line?

Posted by: MNPundit on July 18, 2008 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

A queue?! A QUEUE?!!?! IT'S A FUCKING LINE. No cutting in line. God damn it all! Fight creeping ridiculous sounding British-isms! Posted by: MNPundit

The Healy is Irish, you corn-fed Midwestern git!

Posted by: Jeff II on July 18, 2008 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

queue and stack are terms for data structures in computer programming. A queue works like a line (or a queue) - each new person goes to the end. A stack works like a stack of dishes - each new person goes to the front.

Posted by: apm on July 18, 2008 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

The release of stress hormones and the damage they do to the body is a good reason to avoid unnecessary conflict.

(Is not the shortest distance between two points a straight line?)

Posted by: Brojo on July 18, 2008 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

It's also a case of mass theft. Just as stealing a penny from everybody in the country is a large total theft, so cutting in line is a theft from everybody who was there first. Essentially, all the time that person would have spent in line has been transfered to the people he cut ahead of. The longer the line, the more the cutter steals.

This is one of the examples of the social function of irrational rage. The person who becomes enraged at this "small slight" punishes the cutter for everybody. It's better than a mob response.

Posted by: Misplaced Patriot on July 18, 2008 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

Why do people call it a queue? What in God's name is wrong with calling it what it is: A Line?

Because a line is a one-dimensional object, while a queue is an ordering methodology. :)

Posted by: DH Walker on July 18, 2008 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

It's also a case of mass theft.

Exactly.

It's better than a mob response.

Says you. ;)

Posted by: DH Walker on July 18, 2008 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

I get mad just thinking about it!

Posted by: shortstop is very un-zen about line/queue jumpers on July 18, 2008 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

There's no question the jumper was a dick and Healy's response was admirable. However, if we are to get outraged at mass theft of productivity, shouldn't we yell at the whole (ordered group of people) for using such an inefficient method to purchase a damned phone.

Posted by: apm on July 18, 2008 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Line jumpers are like those who get special purpose laws passed for them. The cost to everyone else is very small, but the benefit to the selfish one is tremendous. Moral suasion is the best course.

Posted by: freelunch on July 18, 2008 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

While the bit quoted by Kevin is from me, the story itself is about someone else's experience. And yeah, I'm from Ireland so I say "queue" and not "line".

This kind of norm-reinforcement has a perfectly good economic explanation, however, sort of along the lines of "what goes around, comes around." You invest effort in maintaining the rules because you think the rules protect your interests in other situations.

Nothing wrong with this kind of explanation, but it requires a more forward-looking and flexible actor than homo economicus in his classical form. H.E. would decide that it wasn't worth facing up to someone who cut in behind him, given that it'd be a one-off interaction, there's no immediate benefit to him, and any long-term benefits could be gained by free-riding on someone else's willingness to do the enforcement.

Posted by: Kieran Healy on July 18, 2008 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

If you need to tell someone who jumps the queue to go "F--k themselves," don't go to Shanghai, China (or anywhere in China). I love China, but they don't understand the concept of queueing (or, standing in line).

Posted by: adlsad on July 18, 2008 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

If you need to tell someone who jumps the queue to go "F--k themselves," don't go to Shanghai, China (or anywhere in China). I love China, but they don't understand the concept of queueing (or, standing in line).

And it hurts you if you are the one who misses your train and has to wait another hour, you miss the last seat in the cinema, or you miss the last goodie - which have all happened to me.

Posted by: adlsad on July 18, 2008 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

"How does it hurt you?"
"If you could understand the answer, you wouldn't have asked the question."

Posted by: Forrest on July 18, 2008 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

Queue jumping/line cutting, whatever you want to call it is selfish behavior that undermines the norms that reinforce civil society. Republican bastards!

Posted by: AK Liberal on July 18, 2008 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

I think everyone is forgetting that they could have run out of iPhones mid-queue.

Posted by: asdf on July 18, 2008 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

line cutting, whatever you want to call it is selfish behavior that undermines the norms that reinforce civil society...

Which is why learning to stand in single file lines is one of the first thing elementary school children are taught. Those who cut in line failed 1st grade.

Posted by: Brojo on July 18, 2008 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

@Kieran:

You may be right that the cost-benefit analysis generally doesn't favor enforcement by someone who wasn't directly harmed when there is someone directly harmed who can and will do the enforcement. However, if I recall correctly, in the story the person most directly harmed wasn't effectively enforcing the norm. Also, the analysis may change if other benefits are included, such as the chance of impressing the Asian girl or the pleasure of imagining oneself the Wyatt Earp of the Apple Store.

None of this is to dispute your broader point that a classical reductive version of economic rationality fails to explain much human behavior.

Posted by: The Fabulous Mr. Toad on July 18, 2008 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

Line jumpers are like those who get special purpose laws passed for them. The cost to everyone else is very small, but the benefit to the selfish one is tremendous. Moral suasion is the best course.
Posted by: freelunch

Yes. "Moral suasion," with a swift kick in the nuts to reinforce it.

Posted by: Jeff I on July 18, 2008 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Also, the analysis may change if other benefits are included, such as the chance of impressing the Asian girl or the pleasure of imagining oneself the Wyatt Earp of the Apple Store.

Yes, it's possible to produce a whole bunch of other external benefits or internal preferences that tip the balance in favor of intervening. The plausibility of doing this is a different question, of course.

Posted by: Kieran on July 18, 2008 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

Dear Jeff II and KH:

You'll note the portion I quoted was what Kevin himself said. Please also note that in the portion Kevin quoted, no where does the word "queue" appear. Hence I'm pissed off that California-Kevin appeared to use the word "queue" absent a prompt. It doesn't make it any better that he used it after you (KH) described it as a queue, you can call it a queue, he should call it a line because that's what Americans call it. If you care, I first became aware of this because of a New York Times article about creeping British-isms in about 2003 or so and I've battled (heroically!) to stem the tide but it's quite difficult.

Also, yeah I generally come off as a (non-genealogical) bastard. Not only did it attract lots of girls in college far more than being my real nice-guy self, it's far easier to get a laugh even after I've settled down with a single person.

See, I just did it again?

Posted by: MNPundit on July 18, 2008 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

A queue?! A QUEUE?!!?! IT'S A FUCKING LINE. No cutting in line. God damn it all!Fight creeping ridiculous sounding British-isms!Posted by: MNPundit on July 18, 2008 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

I bloody well agree.

And those that cut ought to be queued up and summarily shot. Prats, the lot of them.

Posted by: e henry thripshaw on July 18, 2008 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Enforcing norms can be a risky business. In our city there have been several stories during the past year about young kids beating up older passengers on the transit system and physical confrontations between car drivers and bike riders.

In each case, the confrontations started when the victims decided to scold the perpetrators for observed negative behavior that didn’t directly affect them.

All of the news stories emphasize the resulting, and sometimes bloody, conflicts. But, no one is discussing the point of whether or not it is good idea to stick our noses into other people’s behavior.

Posted by: emmarose on July 18, 2008 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Queue has been used in America at least since the early Nineties, where it was used to describe the amount of backorders for IT equipment. All the distributors I used to work with used the word queue to explain why laptops and 8mb modules of RAM were not being shipped. (The good old days.) I did have to correct a lot of big shots speling of cue, though.

Posted by: Brojo on July 18, 2008 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

Stay calm, MN. I say "queue" because I used to live in London. For all we know, Kevin did, too. Don't assume there's mass pretense going on; there are legitimate reasons, including increased mobility and multinational work (much in countries in which British English is the rule) for some of this stuff.

And for the rest of it, well, it's not as annoying as some wanker cutting in front of you in the shops or on the motorway, is it?

Posted by: shortstop on July 18, 2008 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

Which is why learning to stand in single file lines is one of the first thing elementary school children are taught. Those who cut in line failed 1st grade.

But it also taught the social norm: cutting in line could also result in punishment from your peers, like a punch in the arm. There were very elaborate rules about who could cut in line and when and if you were allowed to let people cut in line behind you or only in front of you.

It's not just that The Man is enforcing social norms -- a lot of those norms make it easier for all of us to live in a crowded, pluralistic society. That's why people get so pissed off at line-cutters -- the scofflaws make life more unpleasant for everyone.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on July 18, 2008 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

Queue, queue, queue, queue!

Ignorant tit. Toffee-nose, malodorous pervert!

How's this one for ya? People on the East Coast general say "Waiting on line."

Posted by: Jeff II on July 18, 2008 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff II: How's this one for ya? People on the East Coast general say "Waiting on line."

That's especially true in NY. Apparently MNPundit comes from some place called "Minnesota". I looked it up - apparently it's one of those riff-raff "states" that we of the True and Original Thirteen foolishly admitted to the Union.

Posted by: alex on July 18, 2008 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

If a programmer treats a data structure as a queue at one end, and a stack at the other, his or her colleagues will gladly line up for the privilege of kicking his or her ass.

Don't ask how I happen to know this. It's embarrassing.

Posted by: thersites on July 18, 2008 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe it's more of a case of "homo civilus"; there's a certain overhead charged to society for the purpose of maintaining order; the deck captain is often looking the other way.

Posted by: coldhotel on July 18, 2008 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

I thought a "queue" was a long braid. Comes from the French word for "tail."

Posted by: The Fabulous Mr. Toad on July 18, 2008 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

In fact, apropos of another thread on the site, I once heard an etymology of "barbecue" that's as plausible as any: apparently, French pirates who landed in the Caribbean used to kill a goat or pig and spit-roast it "from the beard to the tail," or in French, de barbe au queue.

Posted by: The Fabulous Mr. Toad on July 18, 2008 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Queue nation.

Posted by: on July 18, 2008 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

And for the rest of it, well, it's not as annoying as some wanker cutting in front of you in the shops or on the motorway, is it?

I say, spot on. It's bloody awful. Leads to the most appalling rows.

Posted by: Stefan on July 18, 2008 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

You know what really sucks? That curse filters filter out words like fuck, but words like "bugger" just sail on through.

Is that fair?

Actually I personally find queue much more annoying (and since one of my language is Spanish and I always read it Keh-oo or Keh-eh for a split second) than to cut (or as we said in Minnesota Elementary (Primary?) School, budge) in front of me. But then I just assume other drivers are assholes. As for Minnesota, what can I say? We have the honor of being the only state to Vote against St. Ronny in '84. And you certainly needed us at Gettysburg on Culp's Hill...

Btw, I don't have the MN accent despite spending oh, 24 of my 26 years in MN.

And yes, waiting on line is quite silly, but then I wait on line all the time for the Comments Section of this site to load, it seems very slow.

Posted by: MNPundit on July 18, 2008 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

True story, different school every year for first five grades, 4 fights on first day at new schools while waiting in line at the water fountain. Of course, was raised by redneck parents. Now days will put up with most anything, but don't BIF of me at the water fountain.

Posted by: little ole jim on July 18, 2008 at 11:45 PM | PERMALINK

To cut in line is a privilege reserved for those who drive a Lexis, oppose universal health care (because they want to privately hog the best doctors) and hold views of racial and religious superiority.

When we are all walking they will be the ones being carried. Sigh, the rich will always be with us. They want what they want and will start wars to get it.

To be happy, it is much easier to identify with them and join the rush to the front of the line.

Posted by: deejaayss on July 19, 2008 at 3:08 AM | PERMALINK

British sailors wore a queue. American Army Colonel Thomas Butler was ordered to cut his queue and was court-martialed for his refusal. Before he could be stripped of his rank he died of the yellow fever and was buried in a coffin with a hole to allow his queue to dangle in defiance. Washington Irving tells this story.

During the Japanese occupation of Taiwan (1895 to 1945) Taiwanese men were commanded to cut their queues.

Posted by: deejaayss on July 19, 2008 at 3:33 AM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: Quiana on March 2, 2010 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK
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