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I stand at the top of the steps that lead underground to the platforms at Bristol Temple Meads train station. On one side, red arrows on the steps pointing upwards, and no entry signs.
On the other, blue arrows pointing downwards. The obvious aim to make everything faster and safer. Obediently, I follow blue only to be blocked by a horde of people coming up towards me on the wrong side. It seems an odd time then, to think of a German philosopher called Immanuel Kant.
In the grand scheme of the universe, going the wrong way up the stairs is pretty trivial. No one’s died. But it’s why people do it that intrigues me. Some have legitimate reasons: perhaps it’s purely accidental or they were in a rush (although saving 5 seconds to catch your train, may deprive someone of the 5 seconds they need to catch theirs…) Yet for some, there’s a far more sinister reason: these are the ones who literally think the rules don’t apply to them: who like to bend and break the rules purely to better themselves.
The same ones who park in disabled or women and child spaces, barge into queues, cut into traffic, shout into mobiles in the quiet carriage: cutting corners and seconds at the expense of others. I’ve heard their defence: “What’s the big deal? Life’s boring, rules are meant to be broken, you gotta live a little!” Really, Mr rocknroll rebel wildman? That’s how you “live a little,” by going the wrong way up some stairs? By all means rebel but do it in your own life: choose a different career path, travel, wear odd clothes, take a class or something: but don’t think you’re cool because you won’t stand on the right on the London Underground.
Maybe there’s some deep psychological reason they do it. Perhaps they were the school bully or they’re spoilt or entitled. But one thing is clear: they simply don’t care. They have no regard whatsoever for the community. And they don’t care that they don’t care, and they don’t care what people think of them.
Kant’s philosophy was something called the Categorical Imperative. These are posh words for the following: if it’s OK for me to do it, it has to be OK for everybody to do it. If it’s not OK for everybody to do it, then it’s not OK for me to do it either. What if we all went the wrong way on those stairs? What if we all broke the rules? I reckon we’d eventually have far more serious problems than just missing the train and I only hope there’s more of us than them.