Tuesday, October 6, 2015

One Way to Find a Seat on the Subway

Recently, a man – a senior citizen – was arrested after he was accused of assaulting a pregnant woman because she had been sitting on one of those seats at the ends of the subway cars that are usually occupied by older people. This wasn't the first time that a pregnant woman was not shown basic human decency.

In order to make seating a bit more equitable, the Seoul City government decided to do something nice for pregnant women a few months ago. It designated certain seats as reserved for pregnant women and made its intentions unmistakable by making those seats bright pink. So far, however, it has failed to work.

When I first saw those pink seats, I knew that it was not going to be terribly effective. Although people pay to ride the subway, people don't have to pay for seats. The seats are, therefore, a type of commons; and I am sure that everyone is aware of the Tragedy of the Commons.

Everyone is looking for a seat. And the seats are in short supply compared to the number of people looking for seats. When one assumes (probably correctly) that everyone else is going to look for a seat without much regard for who is left standing, there isn't much room for consideration for others.

Bellum omnium contra omnes
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If it is difficult for pregnant women to find seats on the subway, then one can only assume that the only way to find a seat in the subway is to go full speed ahead – elbowing and maiming anyone who dares to stand in your way – damn the torpedoes!

But is that the only way to find a seat? I think there has to be a better way for people to persuade others to give up their seats for the more vulnerable members of society.

One method that often comes up is to shame those people who refuse to give up their seats for pregnant women or the elderly. In fact, public shaming has been proven to be useful in many instances. In a study that was conducted by the European Commission, it was revealed that shaming was one of the more effective methods of ensuring that people paid their taxes on time because, according to the study, “the psychological costs connected with tax evasion or financial costs other than the fine can be influential factor that deter people from cheating. For example, psychological costs might arise because people fear to be detected or publically shamed.”

So, perhaps shaming those people who refuse to give up seats for pregnant women on social media might be effective.

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However, shaming might not be as effective as people think. Of course, the most obvious reason why shaming might not work, especially in Korea, is because of Korea's bizarre defamation laws. However, even if Korea's defamation laws didn't make such a fetish out of preserving people's honor, naming and shaming would still not work too well. That is because according to a study that was published by the University of Chicago, shaming someone excessively could cause the person to continue engaging in the kind of behavior that brought about the shaming in the first place.

To explain, the study focused on whether or not sex offender registries were effective. The study revealed that as sex offenders found in the registries were stigmatized and shunned by society, it reduced their job opportunities and destroyed their social lives. As a result, the registries effectively “lowered the opportunity cost of choosing crime over legal activities.” In other words, this so-called “disintegrative shaming” that resulted from the registries drove them to continue their criminal behavior and made them more likely to recidivate.

So, if people who sat on those reserved seats were named and shamed, and if the naming and shaming were “excessive,” instead of learning not to sit there in the future, they just might continue to sit there because they might think that they have nothing left to lose.

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One method that I think is rather simple and underrated is simply asking people for a seat.

In many instances, people often assume the worst about each other. So, many people might think that if we ask someone for a seat, that could lead to a verbal assault, if not an actual assault. However, that may be a false assumption. According to several studies conducted by psychologists, it has been revealed that humans are, for the most part, cooperative and selfless – almost always willing to help one's fellow Man.

Seeing how that the majority of people are good and decent, I think that simply asking whether one can sit down would be more effective (and would lead to less conflict) than simply to engage in passive aggressive behavior.

So what do you think? Do you think politely asking someone to give up his or her seat is a good idea? Or do you think it's the worst idea since techno music? Leave a comment behind and who knows? It could lead to another blog post with you as a guest blogger.
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  1. What I think? You are overusing the concept of the "Tragedy of the Commons"..... http://climateandcapitalism.com/2008/08/25/debunking-the-tragedy-of-the-commons/

    1. The Tragedy of the Commons is, of course, by no means a perfect theory. But I did not think I was overusing the premise at all. I only mentioned it to explain why people might decide to rush to grab seats on the subway, but then I also pointed out the flaws of the theory by talking about how human nature is good - something that the theory usually never mentions.

  2. I think it's really sad that pregnant women are getting assaulted. The birth rate is declining, but of course, common courtesy shouldn't be given to the women who are making the next generation of Koreans. I wish more could be done to help these women.