Monday, April 10, 2017

Compelling Voluntary Compliance

I haven’t commented on the Pepsi ad stupidity because it just seemed so laughably obvious and lots of other people made the case. But this thing with United Airlines violently hauling a man off a flight because he wouldn’t “volunteer” to give up his seat is another thing entirely.

Now the airline's CEO has made it even worse by releasing a statement that apologizes for “re-accommodating” the customer. The Orwellian language piles deeper and deeper. So deep we may need to call it shallow.

Anyway, that’s the context for this series of tweets from Patrick Blanchfield, a writer and post-doctoral fellow at the NYU Center for Religion and Media. (He’s not fond of capitalization or much punctuation, and I have maintained that in the quote, but expanded the spelling of his abbreviations.)

RE: United, but also much more: our nation's airports, transit systems = a petri dish for cultivating compliance, indifference to state violence.

it's visible in the actions of Customs and Border Patrol, in the absurdity of security theater protocols, the power-tripping of many TSA personnel, and more

we queue up, willingly, to have our bodies scanned, touched and searched, we're crammed into ever more contorted spaces - and we accept it all

moreover, these spaces = a murky ecology of both public institutions and private enterprises, with huge subsidies yet relying on low wage workers

unsurprisingly (and terrifyingly) they're also where we see ever-increasing limit-testing of respect for legality and basic rights claims

which take advantage of both dubious public/private structures and, even more importantly, a cultivated ethos of exhaustion and alienation

I know we like to imagine we're all going to resist "Fascism" when it shows up but when TSA or CBP pull someone out of line in front of you to take away for questioning, pretty much all of us have been disciplined instead to be busy being pissed about taking off our shoes

and even so many responses to the video of this man being brutalized are about accepting the frame, the terms of system, seeing it as an outlier, an excess

"They went too far" "Why do they overbook" "Why didn't they offer more money" "I will boycott United.” sure, these make some sense

but the blunt reality is that, legally speaking, they can do pretty much ALL of this

and, normatively speaking, our years of acceptance of runaway security culture (and other trends) means that we've cosigned their doing it

namely: what many decry as exceptional behavior (by the state, corporations, and bystanders) in these specific spaces (airports, transit) are in fact de rigueur parts of life in countless other spaces in the U.S., signally with regards to policing and control in marginalized communities

violent disciplining of people simply moving from point A to B isn't just for planes and in terminals: it's for buses, schools, and sidewalks too
Jessie Daniels, a sociology professor at Hunter College, pointed out these adjacent issues:
Deregulation of airlines (+ airports). Union busting of airline-related jobs. Police used to buttress capitalism. For the youngsters, the deregulation of airlines began with Ronald Reagan. This is what Reagan-Thatcher "market economy" neoliberalism looks like, and it's awful. So next time you hear one of those dude-bros on the right talk about how "the market" is going to fix everything, play that United video.
On a slightly different tack, finance writer Helaine Olen tweeted:
Make no mistake: the decline of customer service is part of the political anger out there.
Which I think is true. She retweeted one reply, from Atrios:
i think it's more that "standard customer service" has been redefined as "luxury service." not asking for a footrub in coach
And to wrap it up, here's a tweet from @Reflog:
United Airlines is pleased to announce new seating on all domestic flights – in addition to United First and Economy Plus we introduce....

You know how I love etymology. According to etymonline, the Latin word compellere means "to drive together, drive to one place (of cattle)." The roots of volunteer and voluntary, of course, mean "of one's free will." No cattle included.

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