Flight Suit debate, part II

As you might have noticed, there's a very lively and passionate debate going on in the comments section of the Southwest entry. You can read the details here, but basically the issue at stake is this: Did SouthWest have the right to kick a woman off the plane because her shirt -- described as "The shirt had pictures of members of the Bush Administration, and a phrase based on the movie "Meet the Fockers," but with one crucial vowel changed." -- offended a number of other passengers?

I said not. And a lot of people disagreed, offering a number of compelling reasons why I was wrong on this one.

So I slept on it and still haven't change my mind. Yes the counter-arguments made a lot of sense but then ... How is this more offensive than other forms of protected speech. Examples, KKK marches in overhwlemingly Jewish or Black communities, A guy like Phelps and his followers brandishing far uglier messages and screaming worse things at the mourners at Matthew Shepard's funeral. Think there aren't kids in those situations being exposed to ugly, ugly language? Yet this is speech protected by the constitution. No one here would argue that this is a valuable addition to the political debate. But none of us would argue against the idea that these forms of speech need to be protected either -- or at least I think not.

Then there's the argument that the flight was SouthWest's private space -- like your house or mine. And as a business it has the right to do what it will. I'm not a lawyer and am not sure if this is true (anyone who knows more please chime in). But my instinct is that a flight or a mall is a more public space than a person's backyard. And airlines like malls rely on taxpayer money either through subsidies or the provision of public facilities like an airport. So surely the burden is higher in these cases.

Finally, no one answered my concern about standards. So okay, a number of you think that the mall incident was not cool because the message wasn't offensive, but the SouthWest one was fine. Remember, you're not the one making the decision but some security personnel or airline attendant.

Right now there is no standard that's been proposed beyond what each of you might personally find okay or not okay -- and that isn't sufficient basis for a legal standard. So what we're left with is letting the company make the call. Say SouthWest threw someone out with a peace T-shirt? My fear is that there may be no legal recourse according to such a equation of corporate rights with individual rights. I, for example, can ban any damn thing I want in my living room. So should SouthWest have the same freedom?

Should we really let corporations have this unilateral power at a time when so much of our daily life is conducted in corporate space -- from email to grocery shopping. We get upset about the Patriot Act which might force an ISP or a Yahoo to reveal your personal information to the government, but what about Yahoo that doesn't even need the Patriot Act to squeal you out to the company that hires you? In fact, recently Yahoo turned in dissidents to the Chinese government.

Traditionally, the constitution has protected us from government because that was seen as the great Leviathan at the time by the framers. Today however corporations have as much power to control the lives of people as governments. And therefore it becomes more important than ever that we need to rethink the easy equation of corporations with individuals. Even if we do disagree on this particular incident, I would hope that all of us will take as seriously the effects of corporate power on our personal freedoms.

Okay, this is way too much of a downer for my last post for the weekend. So I insist you get the partying out of the way first -- because there's one good thing about scary societal trends, they rarely disappear overnight.

P.S.: I just realized that I rarely acknowledge the folks who agree with me -- bad liberal habit perchance? For the record, their arguments in support were equally thoughtful and compelling.


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