It all started one night when I had just gotten off work, as I was starting out home and see what goodies my Tivo had collected for me. It was pissing down rain when I stepped out onto the street, which had completely caught me off guard since it had been sunny that afternoon. The weather in San Francisco is usually pretty consistent (sunny but cool, day in, day out), so I was completely unprepared for a downpour. I guarded my laptop bag as best I could and made a break for the bus terminal, which luckily, was just across the street.
If you have ever taken a MUNI bus from Transbay Terminal then you know they have a little bit of a quirky setup. The front of the terminal is a kind of a short semicircle with the entrance to the station right in the apex. The buses come in from one side and park right at the entrance and let everyone off. Then they usually sit there for a minute or two while the driver stretches his or her legs right next to the entrance and changes the destination signs before traveling a quick 15-20 feet to the end of the semicircle where the official "stop" (passengers get on only here).
The "get on" bus stop, unlike the disembark stop, is completely uncovered, so this evening I was hiding under the eaves at the entrance trying to stay dry. After a minute or so a bus pulled up and everyone disembarked, as usual. I knew there was no way that I could possibly stand out in the open at the "stop" area and stay dry, so after the driver had switched the signs, had a quick five minute break and looked like she was getting ready to move on, I walked up to the still-open doors and asked politely if I could get on there, seeing how I couldn't have lasted in the rain more than 5 seconds before I was soaked to the bone. She didn't even turn to look at me after I asked, however. Instead she just pointed right in front of the bus and said, "The bus stop is there."
I was a little taken aback, as can be expected; after all I already had one foot on the bottom step of the bus. I figured she either didn't understand my question, or somehow was oblivious to the situation, so I tried once more, again trying to be polite, "I know, but it's raining so hard, and I have my laptop with me," I held up the scuffed leather bag that had traveled with me all these many years, "So would it be possible to get on right now and stay dry? It's only a few feet away..."
She seemed to pause for a second. I mean visibly pause, like you see people do in the movies in that brief second when they learn the "truth" about their father. For a brief second, I thought I detected an odd hint of satisfaction flash in her eyes, but when she finally turned to look at me, and I literally had to take a step back. Her ice-cold glare hit me like a hammer. Then, in the most hateful, envenomed tone imaginable, she said again, "The. Bus. Stop. Is. Over. There," this time enunciating the words slowly, literally biting them out. I looked the fifteen-odd steps down the road she thought I should walk, at the single dripping light pole with a painted mark indicating it the "official" bus stop, at the punishing rain gleefully blattering everything in it's path; so close, so incredibly close, but to an unprotected man in this rainstorm, it was miles away.
This must be a joke? The Monty Pythonesque overtones, the Dilbert-style irony, it just couldn't be real. She couldn't possibly expect me to move twenty steps into the rain just to walk in the door that I am already standing in front on, can she? I looked again at her face, at her hollow, now expressionless eyes, and I knew it must me real, no matter how clearly I can see the three panel comic-book borders through the hazy rain.
It wasn't like a like a flash of light, so much, my revelation. It was more like a heavy fat coalescing into a thick gel. It wasn't caused by the hateful expression she wore, nor the mocking tone in her voice. In fact, it wasn't even so much the absurdity of her actions or the situation. What really gave me my revelation; that made me realize Western WorldTM has finally come to an end, was that she was no longer human, alive perhaps, but could not be counted among the living. This once beautiful creature was no more, now just another cog in the machine. We had been doing so well, we humanity, but in the end the devolution of sentience, the nullification of reason and thought, was complete.
Rules, for the most part, are good. If it were not for some arbitrary rules here and there, we would quickly find ourselves in a very unstable society. There is no doubt a rule (probably many rules) that the MUNI drivers are to follow when it comes to pick-ups and drop-offs of their passengers. These rules are not designed to hurt customers, but to ensure that this massive system of transportation runs as smoothly as possible. This is a perfect example of the good stuff, the ingenuity of Man. After all, the entrance to the terminal is probably a busy place at times; picking up riders right where you are dropping off a whole group of them was probably causing crowding. The logistics of moving the stop twenty feet away is perfectly understandable, and is an excellent solution. This kind of rule is actually good.
The evil comes, as is evil's wont, through the corruption of good things. When the rules cease to exist for the sake of some pragmatic purpose, but instead for the sake of themselves, they are no longer good. When bureaucracy begins to solidify, rules are allowed to take precedence over common sense. And when common sense no longer reigns supreme, the end is nigh for humanity.
As I was taking a taxi home that night, had some time too cool off and think about what had happened. What the woman was doing was being sadistic, and strangely, I could forgive her that. She no doubt has an unpleasant job, and lives in an unhappy home. All sentient chimps have bad days now and again. What was unforgivable, however, wasn't so much what she did, but instead the way she did it. She was practicing the art of being Justifiably Wrong, and she isn't the first. Robert Anton Wilson, author of the equally acclaimed and abhorred Illuminatus! Trilogy, has some interesting thoughts on the matter. He called it the "SNAFU principle"; Doing something wrong, but doing it perfectly within the scope of the "rules" so as to be justified. If taken to a hypothetical trial, I have no doubt that this woman would have proven victorious. After all, she was following the rules to the letter. But morally (using the abstract, not the religious, concept of morality), she was Wrong. History is replete with such actions, and I am certain that I have been guilty once or twice myself, but this kind of attitude has never been the norm. We have always had clauses in our laws that attempt to enforce the "spirit" over the "letter". In the last few years, however, I have begun to realize that this concept of the Justifiably Wrong has become gospel to the last remnants of our once grand western civilization.
I can remember reading Dilbert so many years ago when it was still fresh and new. It was a great read, because we could watch the antics of these silly PHBs and laugh at their small-minded actions. Then we started to see people who really did resemble these kinds of people, and again we laughed; this time because absurdity was beautifully ironic; life imitating art. At some point, however, the tables turned. Suddenly, in the space of a few short years, we find ourselves living in a world where the absurd is reality, and that long held standby, common sense, no longer provided a safety net. Through some twist of fate, we had become, as a culture, that which we instinctively despise.
The "bus stop incident" was my own personal last straw, though perhaps may not even seem particularly vile to the more experienced or cynical reader. But the phenomenon that inspired me to write this is in no way limited to the crabby public transportation worker. It surrounds us. It has almost completely infused into our culture. We see the horrible examples of the Justified Wrong on a daily basis, but have ceased to be shocked.
In the news we see companies and individuals in this country right and left that that are incomprehensibly evil by any definition of the word, but that hide behind their lawyers and stay alive and prosper. Disney destroying the very nature and scope of copyright to inflate profits, Microsoft using every dirty trick in the book to crush competition. GE intentionally polluting and destroying rivers and lakes. Wal-Mart decimating markets in small towns. Recording companies trying to pass laws that will annihilate the technology industry and free speech in a pathetic bid to protect their greed. It is impossible today to sign a contract as, say, a programmer without automatically giving all your rights away. Attempting to negotiate even a tiny change in a draconian RIAA contract will be met with mocking laughter and slamming doors. The majority of minimum wage employees you meet every day are as likely to spit in your food as give you an honest smile. We see individuals like John Ashcroft advocating near police state like controls in the name of combating terrorism. I am the last person to laude the merits of communism or socialism (I am quite happy with capitalist philosophy), but at what point do capitalist enterprises cross the line from happy competition and blind slavering greed? At what point are people held responsible not solely for the legality of their actions, but for the morality and common decency of them too?