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You're Not Mad at United Airlines; You're Mad at America

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There’s a saying that is sometimes attributed to Karl Marx or Slavoj Zizek—apocryphally, in both cases—that tidily sums up the existential angst some Americans feel at the start of a traditional work week:

You don’t hate Mondays. You hate capitalism.

The simple thesis here is that there’s nothing intrinsic to “Monday,” which is just a word we’ve invented to delineate every seventh day, that makes your average 9-5 worker miserable. The despair comes from the system, which invests “Monday” with meaning—this is the day you return to the cycle of repetitive, unsatisfying labor that fills you with loathing and anxiety. This system is the thing you should rage against; this is the thing you should change. “Monday” is a metonym, but a deceptively harmful one—a metonym in camouflage—because it has a way of diverting a person’s attention from the boot heel that is grinding her soul into dust. Instead, she takes the oppressive system as a given, and transfers her negative emotions to an inanimate, meaningless symbol—”Monday”—that is both immutable and impervious, since it is, very basically, nothing more than a day of the week. You may as well get mad at a rock. The dual effect of this transference is to deny the person any chance at changing his circumstances—since blaming Mondays instead of capitalism turns potential activism into fatalism—and to shield the system from criticism and reform.

Okay. So you may have seen the situation on United Flight 3411 earlier today, when a passenger was forcefully dragged from his seat by cops after refusing to leave despite being randomly selected as a result of United over-booking the flight. It’s a disturbing scene, but no more so than any number of disturbing scenes you may have witnessed online:

@United overbook #flight3411 and decided to force random passengers off the plane. Here's how they did it: pic.twitter.com/QfefM8X2cW— Jayse D. Anspach (@JayseDavid) April 10, 2017
Paste’s Jacob Weindling summarized it thusly:

So to recap, in a blind pursuit of profit, United overbooked the flight, didn’t offer enough to entice anyone to get off the plane, then in order to get their own employees on the flight, they removed ticketed passengers, and when one wouldn’t comply with their orders, they called the cops to pull a supposed doctor off the plane—bloodying his face in the process.

Weindling also answered the reflexive question: “Well, what were they supposed to do?”

I have an idea: don’t overbook the flight in the first place, and then make other people pay for your incompetence and greed…watching a multi-billion dollar business hire police to forcibly remove a paying customer not doing anything illegal is a jarring reminder of who really controls this country. Corporations clearly aren’t people, because citizens don’t have anywhere near this much power in the United Corporatist States of America.

Already, United is being demonized online, which is both satisfying and warranted. But let’s tell the deeper truth here—United made a dumb decision, but essentially they just got unlucky that the problem landed on their laps, and it was their dirty laundry that got aired. They are a cruel agent, without a doubt, but they are not some lone wolf—they are a product of an indifferent system that increasingly devalues individual life, and that system is called America.

We are the country where:

—The social safety net, once the strongest in the world, has been gradually dismantled by both major parties over three decades, leaving the poor and working classes vulnerable to increased poverty and immiseration.

—Labor unions, the only reliable form of protection for the American worker, have likewise been gutted as power amasses in the hands of corporations.

—There is virulent opposition from our elected representatives to the idea of universal health care; a system that is a reality in every other major western country. Our current tepid foray into universal waters, Obamacare, is compromised to its core by the overbearing influence of the pharmaceutical industry, and even this very small step forward would have been dismantled if only congressional Republicans could have agreed on the same plan to strip insurance from 24 million more Americans.

—Our economy is designed to transfer wealth and income into the pockets of those who need it least, and any opposition to this structural inequality is treated as political radicalism.

—Our current president won, in large part, because he represented a philosophy of fear and hatred toward outsiders. We will start wars in foreign countries that destabilize whole regions for no gain, but we will not accept refugees who have suffered unspeakably—sometimes at our hands—in these same countries. We will, in fact, contravene our stated principals of accepting the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, and actually enact policies designed to remove aspiring citizens from our country, to break up families, and further marginalize those who have nothing.

—Our police are empowered to shoot and kill our own citizens for dubious reasons, and—especially if the victim happens to be a minority—escape all prosecution.

—Harmful free trade agreements have been passed to milk profit from globalism, with no thought given to the loss of jobs, money, and dignity for American workers, or the slave wages and environmental destruction unleashed abroad.

—The agency designed to protect the environment in our country is now controlled by climate change deniers, which mortgages the future for our children and grandchildren and puts us further behind in a race we were already losing.

—What the hell, let’s repeat that one, since it seems important: Our planet is dying, and far from solving the problem, we’re now one of the world leaders in making it worse.

The reality is plain: United Airlines is not the disease. United Airlines is a symptom of an infected country whose institutions of power no longer respect the dignity or the sanctity of the individual life. They don’t care about you. (While you’re here, read this excellent thread by Patrick Blanchfield about power and conformity.)

It is commendable and necessary to direct your outrage at this particular corporation, on this particular day, but keep the larger truth in mind:

You are not mad at United Airlines; you are mad at America.

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