The brutal attack on a United Airlines passenger who was sitting quietly in his seat is an attack on the freedom of every person in this country. It horrifies and sickens me on several levels.
First, is the unprovoked attack itself. A man was sitting in a seat he had purchased, that he rightfully expected to occupy until the plane reached its destination.
Yet because of the poor planning and incompetence of airline employees, this passenger was assaulted and removed from his seat.
This should disturb everyone. This man’s rights were violated; his body was violated; the sensibility of every person on that plane was violated.
Second, aside from some shocked words, not one person on that packed plane intervened to help a victim of assault. Not one. Social psychologist Stanley Milgram warned us. Remember his study on obedience to authority?
Third, for every social-media comment I have seen berating United for this horrific event, I have seen two or more condemning the victim or “someone else” for not voluntarily giving up their seat and vacating the plane.
Some people are now rationalizing the brutality by claiming it was within the legal rights of the airline. Still others have now seized upon the victim’s previous legal problems as justification for the assault.
And now there’s the “apology” from United’s CEO who was sorry that the passenger had to be “re-accommodated.” Shouldn’t we all be insulted by this blatant and arrogant reframing of an assault incident?
Being “re-accommodated” is having a hotel reassign a guest a room if the first doesn’t pass muster — not being physically assaulted.
What kind of people have we become that any part of this can be rationalized?
Most Americans, it could be argued, have become hostages to corporatist power and now suffer from an insidious form of Stockholm Syndrome.
I witnessed the power and irrationality of this affliction growing up in Eastern Kentucky where slaves to the coal industry gloried in the wealth and power of the owners of coal companies that held them hostage.
I see it as a mediator, when consumers assume they have no options for redress from a corporation and don’t expect fair treatment. People who are not even employed by big corporations have an idolatrous adoration for them.
And back to the legal rights of the airline: Legal does not equal ethical. Legal does not equal moral; legal does not equal just. Legal equals the lobbying power of corporations. The more people rationalize and accept corporate abuse, the more powerful the abusers become.
For the sake of future generations and your own mental well-being, speak up when you see a wrong. Become an agent of change. Do whatever you have to do to grow a backbone. Or tell your children they were born into corporate slavery and should expect no better from life.
Landra Lewis of Berea works as a mediator.