[Sigh] I guess I’ll give my take on #Bump-A-Lago…

First of all – let’s make “-A-Lago” the new default scandal suffix, instead of “-gate.” I mean, it’s only a matter of time before a generation-defining scandal takes place there, right? With that out of the way, let’s get to it. All day, the thing that has bummed me out the most isn’t anything to do with United, but rather the fact that violence like what happened on the plane is tolerated in the first place.

Okay, “tolerated” might be overstating it, given the shitstorm that has ensued. People are angry, but what’s pissing me off is how people love to jump on these airline-hating bandwagons, no matter what the context around it. Guy gets the shit beat out of him – #Boycott! Girl can’t wear leggings – #Boycott! Frequent flyer program devalues – #Boycott! There’s no trendier thing to hate than an airline, and because these companies are so visible, airlines have become a dry forest one spark away from a conflagration at all times. It’s very clear that United did not handle things well, and their responses today have shown a startling lack of humanity toward the fact that a guy got beaten to a pulp on one of their planes. I mean, for fuck’s sake, they had to clear the entire plane to clean up the blood. However, while United may have pulled the trigger, the gun was the overzealous security detail that ripped the guy out of his seat and curb-stomped him into submission. I can’t believe anyone from United imagined that happening when they called security, and while United could have defused the situation in myriad ways before resorting to bringing in the cops, the almost immediate reaction of violence on the part of the police is fucking scary.

I also don’t think this is unique to United. If any airline had needed a passenger removed at O’Hare last night, a variation on this theme would have transpired. Other carriers are lucky that they weren’t in the wrong place at the wrong time, since they all overbook, and they have all needed to remove passengers at times. I’ve read some articles today trying to tie this into a corporate problem at United, using leggings-a-lago and even Smisek’s corruption as supporting evidence that United is rotten to the core. I disagree, although maybe that’s me being naive or overly deferential to United. When you only pay attention to an airline when they do something wrong, it’s easy to get the sense that that airline is terrible. Delta was in the same situation a few months ago when a flight crew refused to acknowledge that a black woman was a doctor able to assist, and once again people grabbed their pitchforks and called for a boycott. Social media feeds bloomed with other peoples’ horror stories, and Delta was pilloried as the heart of all evil. Yesterday I even wrote that it was American’s turn to fuck up next, although United went ahead and proved me wrong on that one.

Still, people’s hunger for hating on airlines – and doing it performatively – is obscuring the much more worrisome aspect of this shitshow, which is that police legally brutalized a passenger in the name of security. Ostensibly, you have at least cursory protections against a law enforcement officer beating you senseless, although more and more that’s no longer true, especially if you aren’t white. In broad strokes, people think “security” is important, but when they see the violent, bloody result of a security theater that treats every person as a potential plane-blower-upper, they get uncomfortable. It has led us to a place where almost all rights are suspended when you get on a plane, and you just have to deal with it. Trudging through a normal flight, that resignation isn’t all that bad, but when the consequences of disobedience are made this clear, it’s only natural to become angry. It’s a waste of energy to be angry at United, though.

A few years ago, Oakland was the site of a prolonged Occupy protest, and eventually the police decided they were going to clear it out no matter what they had to do. They proceeded to treat the protestors in ways that would be considered war crimes if they had happened during a war. Things like shooting a rubber bullet at the face of a protestor and then throwing flash bang grenades at others who went to tend to that person’s medical needs. Or, perhaps, shooting an unarmed person in the face with projectiles in the first place.

Of course, the discussion wasn’t about whether what the police did was right or wrong, it was about whether the Occupy protestors were right or wrong. DID YOU KNOW THAT OCCUPY PROTESTORS DEPOSITED DONATIONS TO THEIR CAUSE IN BANKS LIKE A BUNCH OF HYPOCRITES!?!?! Police brutality is always framed in terms of how people feel about the brutalized; if you disagree with Black Lives Matter protestors, then you support police brutality. If you aren’t a fucking idiot and understand that Black Lives Matter protestors have very legitimate concerns, you’re probably outraged by the police brutality.

Today, the battle lines have been drawn based on whether you think the passenger was wrong for disobeying crewmember instructions, or whether United was wrong for being horrible and terrible. Some people have come at this with a “what did he expect” attitude, which strikes me as being disconcertingly okay with brutal policing tactics. Others have jumped on the boycott bandwagon, trading stories of how terrible United is and predicting that they’ll go out of business soon enough. I kind of see both of those points here, since, like I said, United could have done more in the moment, and they could definitely have done more today to address the situation. And on the flipside, I’ve been involuntarily bumped before, and I was pissed, but I took my voucher and shut up, because I didn’t want to get arrested. However, the fact that I acted differently in this situation certainly doesn’t excuse police brutality or suggest that the victim here had it coming.

I’m not going to boycott United over this, because it wouldn’t do anything to address the root cause of violence here. I’d need to boycott air travel in general, but unfortunately the security state in which we live is much larger than that. Back in France, soldiers with automatic weapons patrol the streets and do random bag inspections – as if that will prevent a guy from renting a truck and ramming a crowd of people. It’s no secret that none of this shit makes us safer. I just wish we could use these reminders of the actual human consequences of the security state as a springboard to rethink our reliance on security theater to feel safe, rather than an opportunity for some hashtag activism.

13 thoughts on “[Sigh] I guess I’ll give my take on #Bump-A-Lago…”

  1. A rare considered response to the situation.

    Anyone defending the perpetration of violence by the state as an acceptable outcome is morally and reprehensibly wrong.

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  2. Well stated. Once again, you nailed it on the “politics of travel.” I’m going to steal the “a Lago” suffix; I’ll credit you for at least a couple weeks.

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  3. Right on. The fact that the passenger didn’t display good judgment doesn’t mean that the airline wasn’t incompetent in bumping after boarding and the cops weren’t unnecessarily brutal. I think you’re correct that any other airline would have probably done the same thing. All of them suck to one degree or another. As Leff pointed out, this shitstorm on UA obscured Delta’s leaving a dead body onboard for two days.

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  4. I have a question then. We as humans even in civilized society all seem to agree that violence is very necessary when people don’t go along with the program. For instance try not paying your taxes and then refusing to ever talk to the police and see if they just decide to leave you alone versus arrest you and throw you in jail.

    Now here we have a situation where a passenger would not listen to law enforcement. What should they have done? If physical force is necessary in certain situations in human society are we just questioning the level of violence used? Should they have sedated this passenger with drugs and then easily removed him with no bloodshed necessary? And just in general on this united flight or in Oakland or just any situation where somebody will not go along with the program and is causing society to not function​ as well (not saying that this necessarily applies to the united flight or oakland) but what would you have law enforcement do in situations where they must physically remove passengers occupiers squatters etc? Should violence never be used? If it should be, how much violence? How do you make these decisions in split seconds or even a few minutes when time is of the essence? Because I’ll tell you what, if violence is no longer going to be used in the USA or anywhere again ever I’m definitely not paying taxes anymore or anything because no one will ever force me with a gun or knife or anything to make me do anything I don’t ever want to do.

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to post this reply. I wanted to give it the attention it deserves, which is why I waited to get home from work to reply. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to come up with a definitive line divides situations where violence is or is not required. A lot of it comes down to common sense, say, like not beating up a child for chewing gum in class. Nowadays, any line of argumentation is held up to a logical extension test, whereby if you can come up with one scenario where the argument fails, than the argument fails period. (For instance, I’m a vegan because I personally have a problem eating animals. A common counterargument to my implied moral problem eating animals is something to the effect of, “Well what if you lived on an island with no vegetation but an unlimited supply of cows? Would you eat meat then????” Right, as if answering that I would proves that it’s okay to eat meat in certain situations, thus invalidating my argument that eating meat is wrong. This happens a lot online, too – like the #NotAllMen thing that tried to make the point that if even one man isn’t a rapist, then general arguments about “men” and rape culture 100% invalid. It’s an impossible burden of proof, but it’s also essentially a conservative rhetorical tactic (not in the political sense). What I mean is, usually these types of arguments are framed in a way that suggests a change in the status quo. I feel that violence was not warranted in the United situation, and certainly not the level of brutal violence that occurred. The pushback to make me defend this argument in the context of whether violence is ever justified only serves to legitimize what happened, since I can’t possibly argue that violence is never justified in any situation. However, even if violence is sometimes justified, I don’t think I need to lay out a rubric defining exactly when it is and isn’t to make the point that the United thing was an overreaction, and that in general, among today’s security forces, the violence card is way too high up in the deck. I’m also frustrated that the justification for this type of violence – terrorism – is incredibly flimsy, yet we can’t seem to do anything about it, because the next time terrorism happens, people will blame whoever decided the security theater wasn’t necessary. To use a metaphor, I see a rabbit in my neighborhood maybe once every few months. So let’s say I spray rabbit repellent on my lawn, and for the few months I don’t see the rabbit, I decide it’s working. Then I see it one day, so I realize I just need stronger rabbit repellent, which works for a while, until the rabbit comes back, and I switch to even stronger rabbit repellent. Each time, I’m only deepening my dependence on security theater to convince myself that I’m keeping the rabbit at bay. Seeing the rabbit only convinces me that I’m not doing enough, not that what I’m doing isn’t working. Thankfully there hasn’t been a successful terrorist attack on a plane since 9/11, so our rabbit repellent is working. However, the next time there is an attack, in addition to being a national tragedy, it will usher in a wave of much stronger rabbit repellent, and we’ll eventually feel safe again. However, the amount of violence justified by our need for stronger rabbit repellent will be even worse than what’s justified today. I don’t really know how to fix it, which is why I thought the United thing was so depressing, since it does a good job of showing us the type of society we really live in. Okay, I’ve gotten pretty far afield and am not really responding to your comment any longer, but hopefully something in there helped reinforce my original point.

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      1. Thanks! Doctor of Credit has been a big supporter of the site (I’m assuming you found me via their post today).

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      2. tl;dr – “I don’t really know how to fix it…”

        And the feigned hesitance “[Sigh]…” in the title? C’mon, admit it, you love writing posts like this.

        Anyway, at this point in the game (since the security state has been going a LONG time), pontificating about the, er, state of things without offering solutions is pretty damn flaccid. If you’re going to point out that France’s assault rifle-toting, street-roaming security forces can’t stop a truck through a crowd, you may as well point out that fairly flimsy airport security standards didn’t stop planes into buildings. At least be fair with it, you know? One can eschew violence while still acknowledging, and probing the specifics of, possibilities for mitigating that jackedness.

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      3. I thought I *was* pointing out that security theater doesn’t actually keep us safe, whether we’re talking about increased militarization of community policing or airport security. (Also, the title was meant more in self-deprecation, as in “as if you need to read another hot take on this.”) While I don’t know how to fix it (because nobody does and nobody can), I do think it’s worth bringing it up for discussion when there are real human consequences such as in this case. I mean, you can reduce pretty much every take on the United scandal to “this was a bad thing” or “this wasn’t a bad thing” if you want to. The whole point of fleshing out a response is to look at the intersections between single events and larger cultural trends. I do that a lot on this blog (go back a couple months and see my posts about Marc Andreessen, which Gary Leff very deftly dissected in the comments, for an example). As my new BFF “Sam” said on Doctor of Credit, my meandering, excessively personal takes might be why this blog is still a tiny speck in the points/miles blogosphere, but at least I’m writing in way that I find interesting. Anyway, thanks for the comment, and hopefully you find it somewhat more erect than the original post.

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      4. I like your reply and overall mostly agree with you. I’ve personally often thought people shouldn’t be allowed to meat unless they would kill an animal and prepare it themselves instead of just buying a steak at the grocery store. Which means I’d probably not eat as much meat. But anyhow, I like your blog a lot, kingofmath is right, you’re a great writer and keep up the good work.

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  5. Appreciate the reply. Though if you’re going to make an “erect” pun, you can’t also say “flesh out” only sentences previously. My juvenile mind can only handle so much!

    Anyway, I suppose my frustration with your post is that it felt like less discussion, more like polemic, though your goal was apparently for the former. Or, at the very least it felt like discussion sans problem solving, which ultimately left it feeling, well, flaccid (couldn’t resist!). If your sympathies are with the passenger, and decidedly against the security state as you currently view it/experience it, is it not unreasonable to ask: what would be better? I mean, shit, in your original reply, you talked of rabbit repellant, but, at the end of the anecdote, it mostly sounded the rabbit was still a problem. Great, escalatory repellants didn’t work; but what did you do to get rid of the fucking rabbit?

    As I replied in the subsequent post, I appreciated your suggestions there. I would simply suggest that, while it can be worthwhile, not to mention thought-provoking, to consider if/when singular events intersect with cultural trends, we also have to be careful to not ascribe to every event our pent up rage about larger issues that may not be related.

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    1. “Flesh out” – this is just fantastic. You’d think one of the thumbs-up comments would win my comment of the day award, but no… this is the one.

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