Nobody knows the full story of what happened with that guy forcibly bumped, and then apparently re-seated, on a United flight recently. Everybody thinks they know, but nobody actually knows. The video is everywhere; new videos are appearing seemingly by the moment. I have seen pieces breaking down the standard airline ticket contract – be honest, have you ever read it? There are statements from United Airlines, O’Hare Airport and Chicago police. There are already hundreds, if not thousands, of snarky bits on Facebook. This incident has eaten the Internet practically whole, but nobody knows what happened completely. As best as I can tell there is a jerk on all sides (airline, passenger, other passengers, police…) of this deal making a reasonable outcome virtually impossible – but there are still a lot of open questions.
This is a PR disaster for United Airlines; that is unquestionably true. The same can likely be said for the Chicago police. The country has made up its mind despite the myriad open questions and very incomplete picture of what occurred from ticket purchase to seat. But under the law, and even on the question of what is a just outcome, we do not have enough information to make this call – none of us do. But I am not sure most people make the distinction between the law, justice and appearance. In the internet age it is too easy to post a video that only shows a small portion of a very large situation, decry what is happening and send the nation into outrage. But outrage can, and often does, stand in the way of justice, and certainly outrage is antithetical to simple reason. For example, I’ve heard people suggest that the airline keep upping the ante for ticket buy-backs. But be serious, that’s just not reasonable – once word of that got out people would just keep holding out for more and more outrageous sums in every overbooked situation.
If people set aside the outrage the video generates for just a minute and start to analyze this situation they will quickly figure out it is pretty complicated. There are no ideal outcomes in a situation like this, and as I say, we just don’t know everything about it. So many things in life are like that, especially in this internet age where we have access to so much information – most of it incomplete, out-of-context, and much of it misunderstood. But then complicated takes too long to research and write, let alone read. The harder information is to access, the less traffic it gets and the less fame and/or income is awarded the purveyor, so what’s the motivation? Well, truth and justice seem like pretty good motivations to me but in this age I seem to be pretty far out of the mainstream with that attitude.
Moreover, increasingly, people are using this mis-communication tool to their advantage. Consider two pieces that showed up this morning:
One is a WaPo piece over how political fights are tearing up churches. The other is an Atlantic piece essentially accusing Christians of being hypocritical when it comes to religious freedom. Both pieces suffer from grossly over-simplifying very complex situations. The WaPo piece is a statistical study and establishes a correlation between church participation and sharing political views with the pastor, but it completely ignores the fact that correlation does not indicate causation in any fashion. The Atlantic piece makes an anecdotal case that Christians are all for their own religious freedom, but not so for Muslims. It completely ignores history (the nation long ago decided that some limitations on some religions were reasonable – remember early Mormonism?) and it ignores theological considerations (theologically Islam lacks the seeds of reformation necessary to be compatible with western democracy – reformation that the other two great monotheistic religions experienced centuries ago.) But both pieces are nice breezy, if somewhat academic, reads and fit neatly inside some preconceived notions that guarantee eyeballs. Both pieces will certainly allow the areligious left to point fingers at the religious of the nation and say “See I told you you were like this.”
Things are going to continue this way until such time as we, the information consuming public, stop falling for it. For one we have to stop consuming information as proof-texting. We certainly have to figure out that Facebook is entertainment, not an information source. I remain stunned that with research as easy as Google makes it people still do not look any further than what hits them in the face.
But mostly we have to come to value truth more than confirmation and justice more than outrage.
Value…values…sounds religious to me. In the face of two articles accusing religion of being inherently unreasonable, we find religion as the only source of values that will, in fact, preserve reason. Life is very, very complicated. We need a framework other than the personal to make sense out of it; otherwise, we will be ruled by our passions and our outrage. That sounds like a formula for chaos to me.
It’s Holy Week. Holiness is about a lot more than sexual purity or not stealing. It is high time we claimed some of those other areas of holiness.