14 Comments

And this is why for the last 40 years when traveling internationally I have chosen most of the time international airlines rather than domestic U.S. Airlines for my flights. While that does not provide me with any additional travelers rights when departing from domestic U.S. departure points I at least receive polite, courteous, and considerate service.

Expand full comment

I think part of the issue is that now, through a perversion of the law, "corporations are people" and those people are psychopaths.

Expand full comment

We don't just *give* away our freedoms and *let* this happen: we *pay* them for the privilege of treating us this way. We are the instruments of our own oppression.

Expand full comment

Prof. Snyder had a bad day - and bad days are always grist for the mill. Fair enough.

It seems, though, that the idea that needs exploration is not whether Americans give up their rights - obey - too easily, but rather one that is implied in a sentence that seems almost a throw-away:

“It was like a parody of the American dream: you claw your way to the top, only to find out that the door is closed, and what is on the other side is actually not worth waiting for.”

It is the American Dream that is the parody - a parody of the 400-year-old American Con, that is designed around a National Fantasy - that individuals who think themselves to be free agree to have only one right: The Right To Claw One’s Way To The Top.

And of course, that can only be a pursuit to desire if the door one finds at the top isn’t closed. And locked.

Whether what’s on the other side - The Right To Treat Others Badly - is worth the wait seems open to debate to many - itself, a hell of a problem.

Those at the top in Europe started from a post-WWII point at which “social fill-in-the-blank” had to play a part in building from scratch and rubble what they envied most in America: a mass of 60% of the population willing and able to consume. Paying (through taxation and regulation) for “social fill-in-the-blank” was the cheapest way to get there, and to keep at bay both authoritarianism and its Communist variant - both quite bad for business (though many seem to believe a cuddly dictator would improve profits).

That Europeans have what, from down in the weeds, appears to be some consumer rights enshrined in EU regulation (along with what I love about Europe, what I’ve seen George Monbiot refer to as “private sufficiency with public luxury” - parks, hospitals, swimming pools, art galleries, tennis courts and transport systems, playgrounds and community centers) should not hide the truth clearly visible at 35,000 feet - that Europe has been pursuing its “social fill-in-the-blank” version of the American Con for at least 50 years.

Those at the top in Europe still possess huge powers to treat others badly; those they treat badly still obey, in hopes of breaking through to lives of private luxury, instead of marginally more equitable “social fill-in-the-blank” sufficiency.

That we are easily drawn to focus on the irritants of our lives - a bad day among millions at airports all across the country - highlights the fact that it’s hard to see the elephant pooping on the carpet:

That the people who are in charge of treating us badly are also in charge of the American Con we call our dream - and what we Americans want most in the world is to be one of Them, and not one of Us.

Prof. Snyder: help us to focus on the American Con. Because we never had the rights you fear we’ve given up. That’s not the way things work in the American Con, where All Men Are Created Only As Equal As They Can Pay To Be.

Michael Zorick

US Dept of State FSO (ret.)

Expand full comment
author

I guess I think the travelers' rights piece is important in itself. We can only get to a different understanding of politics piece by piece. Not every problem is a distraction from a big concept. Sometimes solving the problem helps to see the big concept. As to the American dream: I have more to say in Road to Unfreedom and the freedom book I am writing now.

Expand full comment

We’ve been sold a bill of goods and we’ve taken it hook, line, and sinker. So many people in the US have not traveled outside the country. I think it would open their eyes.

Expand full comment

We are brainwashed from birth. Your description of the spendy “privilege lounge” is spot on. When will we say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not taking it anymore!” But to do that in an airport, we’d be carted off. We indeed need a travelers’ bill of rights.

Expand full comment

I always find your European examples in this and other contexts extremely instructive. When we use generalized (and of course ideological) labels like 'the West' or 'Western' we forget that there are extraordinary distinctions that are always thereby obfuscated. I might only be stating something very obvious here. What I mean however is that there is value in making these juxtapositions a natural reflex and consequently shedding many of our assumptions. Differently still it should not surprise us beyond a point that 'x' happens in the US while 'y' is the case in Europe.

Expand full comment

Thanks Professor Snyder. There ARE travelers' rights. There's much cognitive science research on the USA's empathy deficit, especially from Dr. George Lakoff. Human beings think with their brain, and the brain uses frames to derive meaning that are mostly unconscious. All policy, according to cogsci, has two components: (1) the nuts and bolts of the policy, i.e., how it works, and (2) the moral/cognitive component, i.e., the why for the policy. And if the WHY, the moral reason, for the policy is not in the brains of the policy reader the person to whom the policy is acted upon, the policy will make no sense.

The travel industry treats us like cargo because they do not govern their operations with empathy. Empathy is the soul of our republic, its democratic institutions, and of ethical business. Consequently, most businesses in America are UN-ethical, because they do not govern their business with empathy.

The United Nations launched a business initiative from their Economic and Social Council in 2000 to reframe the definition of an ethical business around the empathy required to respect, protect, and promote human rights. My organization is a member of the UN Global Compact - https://bit.ly/ESNungc. I hope you'll check out both the UNGC and George Lakoff. I think they are right down your alley.

Expand full comment
author

Thanks. I do think it matters that in essential matters the government leaves discretion to the airlines. The contrast in language with Canada and the EU is very striking. I am a big believer in empathy, but I don't think it explains this difference.

Expand full comment

Professor Snyder, Thank you for this reply. I hope you will consider expanding on your definition of empathy a bit. Are you saying that the airline industry policies in place in America, which, as you say, routinely exploits us facelessly, were written WITH empathy for and responsibility to us as travelers or without?

Expand full comment

'Why not rights for travelers?' - an odd title for 'Thinking about... but very much to the point. This piece was difficult to read because it covered Tim's and his son's tortuous and desperately unhealthy time at LaGuardia Airport. It is a story about America. Timothy Snyder does not spare the reader from seeing what this country has become, along with its prisoners, who are us.

Expand full comment

TS has eloquently described the experience he and his son had at LaGuardia airport a few weeks ago, with an historian’s eye for the particulars of setting; of circumstance; of the typical experience of individuals; and of the larger political, legal, and economic contexts.

The commentary by TS and others discusses the scene at LaGuardia in terms of legal rights and consumer rights; the recognition of and demand for such rights; compensation for damages; political freedom; corporate regulations; comparisons with European practices; market dynamics; submission to oppression; American laissez-faire ideology, present and past; and welfare state policy.

This commentary is comprehensive and sophisticated. Yet something is radically missing from it. It is always a good idea to begin with first principles. The first principle here is that every human being is an end in himself (or herself or theirself). As soon as we begin discussing a human being in terms of rights, ideology, and so forth, we have already turned him into an abstraction. We must use such terms in order to pursue various avenues of understanding; but we must also be aware that when we do this, we are already speaking of human beings in terms of abstractions, which by themselves are dehumanizing. The ultimate foundation for discussing human beings in any avenue of understanding is the individual human being. Every human being is infinitely precious; nothing has any significance except in relation to the life of an individual human being. We often read about the “human side” or “human costs” of certain circumstances or policies, as if the human aspect is only one element to be considered, no more important than the inhuman aspect. There is no other aspect than the human aspect; every other aspect is secondary and derivative, and becomes dehumanizing if it is treated as if it were an independent value.

The scene at LaGuardia was not in the first instance one of the failed rights, or ideology, or any such concept. It was a human abomination. What TLS described was, for every individual there, one part of his infinitely precious life in this world. A visitor from Mars or another century would not look at the scene and respectfully inquire about legal rights or market dynamics and so on. He would say that he was looking at a barbaric society. That the society is an advanced technological one does not mean it is not a barbaric one, any more than the advanced technology the Nazis used to murder 11 million people in concentration camps meant that those camps were not barbaric. The scene at LaGuardia was, like the Nazi camps, a scene of human sacrifice, because the conditions there, deliberately created by wealthy and powerful corporate executives who have the power to prevent such scenes from ever happening, were virtually certain to produce Covid deaths. If you don’t see the scene as part of the same larger phenomenon as the Nazi camps, US concentration camps at the southern border, and refugee camps around the world, then you’re hardly seeing it at all. It belongs to the demonic world that is depicted in Dante’s “Inferno”—(“No one in that swarming mass got where they wanted to go”)—a world of torment and death from which everything human in individuals and civilized society puts all its might into escaping.

People do not begin to escape from hell by imagining what their rights might be. They do so by recognizing that they are in hell. Leslie pointed out that corporations in America are people, and those people are psychopaths; TS wrote, “It is completely normal in America to be facelessly exploited.” Thus all Americans are in an abusive relationship with a psychopathic oligarchy, one that is now descending headlong into official national barbarism. A psychopath is someone with no conscience; no concern for other human beings; and therefore no sense of guilt or responsibility to other human beings. Many of our rulers are demonstrably psychopaths, as we can confidently say because no one with a conscience would treat other people as they do; some of our rulers have a large degree of psychopathy in their personalities; and most of the remainder are fellow-travelers in a psychopathic culture. Collectively they share a mass psychosis, which they have been communicating to the rest of us (most recently) under the reign of post WWII American militarism and neoliberalism. One of their methods for spreading their illness is to arrange scenes like the one at LaGuardia,

which needs to be understood, inter alia, longitudinally as a pathogenic device. Our rulers have already successfully infected a third of Americans with their mass psychosis, and are getting close to making America as psychotic as Nazi Germany.

The way one escapes an established abusive relationship is not by asking what one’s rights are. If one is in an established abusive relationship, that means one has long since lost any ability one ever had to understand what one’s rights are. To escape an abusive relationship, one must begin by recognizing that it is an abusive relationship. Then one must learn to understand the psychological dynamics that keep one in that relationship. One must also understand that one has been actively cooperating in maintaining that relationship. One is the lock to which the abuser has the key. One must then undertake the long, painful, and arduous task of dismantling that lock. As Tony Salvador commented, “We are the instruments of our own oppression”—but that must be understood first in mental, and especially psychological, terms, as the necessary foundation for understanding it in legal, political, and economic terms as well.

Expand full comment

A guy I know who works at a big American airport refers to it as “the coronavirus factory.”

Expand full comment