One photo a day until I meet Jonathan Harris

22nd March

"Mais arrĂȘte de me pousser!"

Today there was trouble at the station. Unexpected delays at peak hour resulted in huge crowds of anxious commuters on the platform. As we packed ourselves onto the trains like fervent sardines, the occasional push or shove was hard to avoid. For one lady, the tension of being thrust up against so many complete strangers proved a little too much for her.

"Arrete de me pousser j'ai deja dit!!"

Unfortunately this cry of protest fell on another woman who must have had a very bad day.

"Ferme ta gueule!"

This was too much and caused the first woman to erupt in an aggressive tirade against her fellow passenger. Between two long stations we listened to them hurl abuse at each other, despite numerous attempts to calm them.

It was a real shame. Often on this same journey I had been surprised by the spontaneous occurrence of the exact opposite situation. There is a part of the track where we slow almost to a stop. The normally loud rumbling of the train is reduced to a faint whisper as we glide along slowly and silently, almost as if weightless. Suddenly you have the impression that you are in a church. There are at least 50 people crammed side by side into the neat rows of the carriage, but no one is talking. We are a haphazard, potentially dangerous mix of races, religions and social classes, but we are all peacefully absorbed by our books, sudoku's or newspapers. In another context you might imagine we were sitting there together observing a quiet time of prayer.

"Ta gueule! LA FERME!! Je vais te defoncer des qu'on arrette!!"

It certainly wasn't the case today though. The exchange between the two ladies was growing more heated by the minute, despite the prayers (and pleadings) of the surrounding passengers. When religion doesn't work and there is no room for sudoku, is there anything that can diffuse the tension between two angry commuters?

One thought came to mind: Facebook.

As my view of the shouting match was obscured by the crowd, I couldn't see if the two women had different colours of skin or if one was wearing a cross and the other a headscarf. But I wondered, if they knew that they had some friends in common on Facebook would they be as likely to engage in such a violent exchange?

Jared Diamond* argues that religion evolved to enable groups larger than a family or tribe to live and work together without killing each other. The system of a shared spiritual belief functions well up until the people wearing head-scarfs face off against the people wearing crosses. Laws and governments have gone a long way to rectify these short-fallings, but now as our groups and societies grow ever larger and more mixed we may need something else to ensure a continued peace. My bet is on Facebook**. Maybe you already count people of different religions amongst your group of Facebook friends. I am sure they are willing to overlook their spiritual differences and be lumped together like this only because they trust you. You are their common link, their own personal mini-jesus if you will. Is Facebook really different from religion, or just its modern evolution? Can we imagine a day when Benedict XVI sends a friend request to Imran Khan?

At the next station one of the women got off the train and the fight ended. Everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief, exchanging knowing glances and raised eyebrows. Those who had room went back to their Sudoku's.

*Despite my fears that admitting this may result in grave character judgements, yes, I could also have called this project "Meeting Jared Diamond".
** Or something like it. Maybe Facebook, but run by monks