Deconstructing the Antagonists

Several dozen news outlets have by now reported on the man who, along with his partner, was ejected from a Jetblue flight, after spotting Ivanka Trump in the cabin and very publicly taking her to task over her father’s general atrociousness (here and here, in the hopeful event you’ve had better things to do).

I’m not American, so there may be some outsider’s advantage in this respect; and I’m more than a little shocked that I feel compelled to defend anything bearing or associated with the name “Trump”, yet here I am.

To be sure, said atrociousness will be felt more keenly by the politically left-leaning than the right-leaning, but political affiliation is, I believe, less the point than is a person’s empathy and fundamental decency. What I see from the reports is not a responsible citizen, heroically taking on the daughter of his society’s nemesis, but someone who is agitated (based on an eyewitness report), potentially volatile, and accosting a mother with her children. (The same eyewitness maintains the passenger “didn’t accost her directly”, but it appears he was talking loudly and pointedly enough for there to be no doubt as to what and to whom he was referring.) I’m dousing my keyboard with liberal sprinklings of facetiousness, but the point remains. If I were to dig a little deeper, I’d expect to see above-average levels of neuroticism, but I’m trying to wean myself off the armchair psychoanalysis, as it tends to make you think literally everyone is a nutcase.


Warning: douches come in all shapes and sizes.

The swing towards populism that we’re witnessing, not just in the States, but in Europe too, seems to have emboldened many of those who are essentially jerks – irrespective of political allegiance (all right, that’s not very objective of me: filterless jerks). Neither side has the monopoly on being undiscerning and disagreeable, and I tend to see the “he said, she said” of fruitless bickering between partisan groups as something of a red herring, distracting with dire consequences from more deep-seated societal issues. Great for blowing off steam and catching up on one’s virtue signalling quota, perhaps, but surely less good for taking a time-out and reflecting on the roots of the unpleasantries we see, rising unbidden to the tops of our news feeds like a bad case of acid reflux.

My gut feelings on the matter are several, and purely speculative. It could be that the immediacy of reaction on social media is increasingly translating into an immediacy of inappropriate action in social settings, whereas in the past, people might have been a little more discreet. Perhaps in that respect, circumspection is being sacrificed in the age of the instantaneous, as we have more information than ever before, but are still catching up when it comes to knowing how to process it all.

Crowding, or the perception of crowding, may also play a role. Many antisocial incidents like these occur when people are in artificially close proximity – in malls, for example, or on public transport. People are much less likely to leave the comfort of their sitting-rooms to go next door and antagonise their neighbours, than they are to do so while driving, flying, or shopping (road-, air- and mall-rage, respectively.) Flying, as a particular type of crowding, is often associated with higher stress levels, and it would surely be more constructive to consider some possible root causes than to give in to in/out-group mudslinging, which strikes me as the path of least resistance.

As has been drawn to our attention again, most recently with the US elections, disinformation is a plague of our times. This makes it more important than ever to look for and to speak the truth – or one’s version of it, in the knowledge that there will be competing versions to which we should remain open (“but not so open that our brains fall out”, as the saying goes).

A desire for truth, tempered with empathy, or simply an appreciation of the right time and place in which to broadcast it, could, I believe, stand us in mighty good stead. At the very least, it could help cut down on those pesky flight delays.


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