The New Gestapo

The New Gestapo

I see a pattern here.

The latest incidents are from United and include the kids refused flight boarding because of their leggings and the Asian doctor bloodied and forcibly removed from the plane because he was “randomly” selected to make room for a United “operations” employee.  But there are many other recent examples that include the TSA perv who spent more than 10 minutes patting down a kid in shorts, the man speaking in a foreign language removed from a plane for further questioning and my personal experience with a flight attendant.  Also, the security guard who body slammed the teenage girl and the school cops who led the grade-schooler out of class in handcuffs and others.

My personal interactions with this include:

On a flight from Charlotte to Columbus, my wife and I had aisle and window seats on a 2-3 configured plane.  The door closed and I invited my daughter, seated in an aisle a few rows back to sit between us to chat.  A flight attendant, seeing the shift, came back to our row and in an imperious tone stated that we were not allowed to do this because the middle seat was a premium seat (I did not know we had purchased “premium seats”) and that other people had paid for seats like this and it would not be fair to them.  I pointed out that no one had paid for this empty middle seat, that my daughter was giving up an aisle seat to move to a middle seat and that the flight attendant should relax a bit. She then stated that if my daughter did not return to her original seat, she would call the captain and have me removed from the flight.  With my wife squeezing all the blood out of my arm, I capitulated.  As Frau Blucher returned to the front of the plane, another flight attendant came by and I said to her, “you have a real problem here”, to which she responded, “Oh, yes, we know”.  So, I can chalk this up to an individual rules Nazi and not institutional policy.  But she was enforcing “policy”.

The doctor calls with the results of the blood work and suggests we get admitted to the hospital that evening.  It’s 10 pm and we are driving to the hospital when Fidelity Investments calls (I had reported a business check that had been fraudulently deposited in a personal account, knew who did it, and knew it was the only check) and tells us that our account is going to be closed.  I know we have checks outstanding to the IRS, our auto insurance, and a couple of others and explain the situation.  The Fidelity representative is unmoved, quotes policy and it is at that point that we tell them that we are in route to the hospital and can’t they please hold this until tomorrow.  No, is the response, policy says…blah, blah, blah.  I get upset and say that that is unacceptable (I might have used strong language and a loud voice).  The response is that I must send them a fax indicating that we take total personal responsibility for any fraudulent checks or activity on the account and Fidelity will have no responsibility and that they must have that fax in the next hour.  Standing at the nurses’ station, I hand write a statement to that effect and fax it at 10:45 pm from the nurses’ station fax machine.  Four days later, no fraud has occurred and I move every last penny we ever had at Fidelity to another management firm.  P.S., I never heard one word from Fidelity.  My conclusion is they have too much business to care.  So, now, I do not care about them.

The pattern is the Gestapo-izing of minor authority figures.  TSA agents, flight attendants, security guards, pseudo-police in the form that now roam the hallways in schools.  They have been given the authority to tell us what to do, to say no, and they are now empowered to do so a) as often as they can and b) with the maximum amount of force and violence that they can muster.

The Stanford Experiment http://www.prisonexp.org/ taught us that it takes very little time to turn ordinary people into cruel, vicious, and inhumane overlords once they have been given control and power over others.  In this case, it took only 36 hours before those selected as guards began to brutalize and dehumanize those selected as prisoners.  Imagine what happens when a TSA agent, or flight attendant or security guard is on their 25th or 50th or 100th shift.  You don’t have to imagine, it is being posted on social media every single day.

Most of this is always explained by the overseers (typically the institution in charge – the government or corporation) as an employee enforcing the rules.  In the United case of the man dragged out of the plane by the Chicago Airport Police, it was filmed on an iPhone.  But no one stood up to say, “this is wrong” or “Stop” because they all (as would I, in most likelihood) assumed that speaking up would have resulted in the same treatment.  That’s the insidious impact of unchecked institutional violence – it makes cowards of us all.

At Nuremburg, after all the discussion regarding following orders, we arrived at a consensus that “following orders” is no defense if the orders are unlawful. That was 70 years ago.  I believe we have progressed far enough in the past 70 years to graduate to the point where “following orders” or “following policy” is wrong if the orders or policy is unlawful or just plain wrong for the situation.

It is relatively easy to enforce policy.  It is much harder to exercise discretion.  And herein lies the problem.  The case of the United passenger bloodied and forcibly removed from the plane is a perfect example. In a discussion with a friend in the airline industry, he had all the right arguments about why the policy was necessary (what if a pilot had to make a flight, what if a critical part needed to be delivered and installed by a specialist).  My point was simple.  Price is a market-clearing mechanism.  At some price, another volunteer would have raised their hand.  Instead some poorly trained gate-agent caused a chain of events that dropped a few percentage points off their market capitalization and taught all of us what the CEO really thought of his passengers.

This must end.  It is time to resist.  I am not sure what form this needs to take, but if the guy suing Trump for inciting violence at one of the Trump rallies needs a few bucks to finance his lawsuit, I am in.  If the United guy needs us to sign petitions and try to avoid using United, I am in (and as of now, if there is any way to avoid United, I am going to do so,).  The next flight attendant who barks idiotic orders at me is likely to be asked to polite to a paying customer.  I will move my business away from those who value policy over people if I can.  I will argue if I can.

So, get ready and keep a little extra cash on hand.  I may need you to bail me out.

2 thoughts on “The New Gestapo

  1. Amen…it is getting a bit out of hand (or maybe we just hear more of these stories in today’s “always connected” world.) Either way, it should be a wake up call for these organizations.

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