My building has two elevators, each with its own call button, independent of each other. My office is on the top floor, and when I want to take the elevator, I systematically push both buttons, so as to minimize my waiting time. Then I simply go into the first elevator that makes it up to my floor, and my waiting time is the minimum of the two waiting times.
This week I got chided by my visitor for that behavior. He claimed that I was increasing everyone's waiting time, because I was making both elevators come to my floor, but one of them was just coming up for nothing. That slows things down for everyone in the building, he argued. If everyone does the same as me, it is almost as if there were twice as many people in the building as there really are, so my behavior induces dynamics that are very far from the social optimum. In other words, I am violating Kant's universal moral law: "Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law." Instead, I am selfishly choosing my actions so that, if everyone else's actions are fixed, I am minimizing my personal waiting time.
- I have been doing this for close to seven years, but never thought about it, and no one had mentioned it to me before. Are selfish choices so ingrained in the culture here in the US that we don't even think to question them?
- My visitor was from France, where there is a tradition of being socially minded (as in: people on the street tend to support strikers even if it causes them hours of delays). Are social-minded choices so ingrained in that culture that it is natural for them to first look for actions that realize the social optimum (that is, apply Kant's law)?
- It is not possible to modify the current layout and synchronize the elevator buttons because of some security reason, or so the elevator company claims. Could we modify the system to give some kind of reward to not push both buttons? For example, if pushing the button gave us a slight electric jolt, or if the buttons were slightly gooey, or if we had to swipe our card and had a daily quota of button calls...