OxBlog

Friday, December 22, 2006

# Posted 5:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MILITARY DISCIPLINE FOR CIVILIANS: There's some people you just notice. As I got onto the Metro this afternoon, I noticed a military officer, rail thin, six feet tall and a woman. Late thirties, white, short hair, tough look. Either a major or lieutenant colonel. (I couldn't make out the color of the oak leaf.)

About a minute after the Metro pulled out of Pentagon station, the officer walked over to a woman sitting next to me and asked whether she was aware that one is not allowed to eat on the train. The officer's voice was harsh. First she pointed to one sign that said no eating. Then she pointed to another.

The woman with the food was sizable, perhaps 250 lbs., wearing very tight jeans, and African-American. I was caught the between the two. I expected a hostile reaction. Cops can tell you to stop eating on the train. (One of them once threatened to give me a ticket -- I learned my lesson.) But since when do military officers have any authority on public transit?

Somewhat to my surprise, the woman with the food did as she was told and put her food away. I looked at her face briefly. She seemed rather agreeable, almost deferential, despite her size. She decided to make a call on her cell phone instead of escalating the confrontation.

An unusual moment in Washington.
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Comments:
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In humans, the alpha role can be taken by male or female.
 
Not all social control mechanisms require governmental coercive power. Norms can be enforced by the power to shame, and that is all the officer used.

This is actually quite common on the Washington Metro. As an experiment, try standing on the left side of the escalator during rush hour. Usually, someone will remind you to stand on the right - and maybe not very politely. That custom was strenuously enforced by Metro riders years before Metro started posting signs asking people to stand on the right. It is still the case that you wont get a ticket if you break that rule, but you will get tonguelashed.

The same goes if you get on the train and then stand in and block the door (a common practice of tourists, and loathed by locals). Expect a confrontation from one of your fellow citizens if you do it. These are unwritten social rules enforced without the need for formal law enforcement.
 
You're absolutely right about the escalator rules. But there, enforcement relies on the incentive "walkers" have to keep "standers" out of the way.

In contrast, the officer wasn't directly affected by the woman with the food. It may've been good to tell the woman to stop eating, but there was no incentive in play that might turn this one time interaction into a regular system.
 
'The woman with the food was sizable, perhaps 250 lbs., wearing very tight jeans, and African-American.'

Yea, jews kinda do hate black people, don't they.
 
"But since when do military officers have any authority on public transit?"

There was no exercise of authority, just one citizen asking another to comply with the rules.
 
Did the officer threaten the eater with some form of military justice?
Arrest? Article 15?
As some posters have said, there are social norms enforced by citizens. Problem is, moral courage or its lack.
I presume a woman who has made field grade has more than sufficient moral courage.

She was doing ordinary norm-enforcing which civilians, lacking moral courage, would not do and, in fact, find strange.
 
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