Sunday, April 16, 2017

Civil disobedience and Godwin's law

Towards the end of a spirited discussion on my last post, occasional guest-blogger and long-time reader Don wrote:

[T]he pilot of an airline telling you to get off his plane, is nothing like allowing the state to take you from your home and gas you to death simply because of the circumstances of your birth. You can resist one, and not the other, without much moral confusion. I'm ashamed at you for suggesting an equivalence.
I've thought long and hard about this, and I've decided to stand by what I originally wrote.  But Don's point is well taken, and some clarification is in order.

First, let me point out that it was actually not me who Godwinized the discussion.  It was Sean Spicer, who wrongly claimed that Bashar al Assad was worse than Hitler because "even Hitler didn't use chemical weapons on his own people," though, of course, he did.  And that was one of the two events of the day that I was writing about.

Second, I was not actually comparing anything to Hitler or the Holocaust.  I was citing my personal experience to put my position on this issue into perspective.  In a perverse accident of history, I would not be alive but for Adolf Hitler.  My grandparents all fled Germany for what was then still Palestine in the early 1930s.  They came from different parts of the country and different walks of life.  If the Nazis had not risen to power they would all have stayed in Germany and none of them would have ever met.  So I am more intimately connected to this period of history than most people.  I grew up hearing first-hand accounts of what it was like in the early days, and some aspects of those accounts are chillingly reminiscent, at least to me, of some events happening today.  That is simply a fact.

So that's my defense against Godwinizing the conversation.  I would also like to address the substance of my disagreement with Don in some more detail.

To begin with, I have not been able to find any evidence that the pilot actually ordered David Dao off the plane.  I don't know if that would actually have made any difference in the end, but it would have put a different spin on things.  A pilot on an aircraft has authority that other crew members don't.  In particular, a pilot has the authority to throw someone off the plane on his or her own initiative.  Other members of the crew do not.

Second the people who actually removed David Dao from the plane were not Chicago PD officers.  They were airport police, employees of the Chicago Department of Aviation, a civilian agency which oversees airport operations.  They do have limited authority to detain people under certain circumstances, but they were not authorized to arrest David Dao, and all three have been suspended because of their actions that day.

Third, it has been alleged that United was required by federal law to bump David Dao and the other three passengers to make room for the "must-fly" crew members.
[T]his was a must fly, a positive space situation. In layman terms, it means that a crew must be flown to an airport to man a flight in order to avoid cancellation of said flight due to crew unavailability. This is a federal DOT regulation, not an airline one. The airlines are required to do so to avoid disruption of air traffic. In other words, if there are no willing volunteers and they need seats to get a crew somewhere to avoid disruption of aviation flow, they can, will, must by federal regulation bump people for the better good of the 1000’s. Why? Because one cancelled flight has a serious domino affect in the delicate, complicated world of connections and aviation law.
This is not true (or if it is, I have not been able to identify the alleged DOT regulation that requires it).  It is true that airlines are allowed to bump passengers involuntarily to make room for required crew, but they are not required to (AFAICT).  And in fact such a requirement would make no sense.  In retrospect it is clear that United would have been better off chartering a private jet to get its employees to Louisville.  Surely doing so would not have violated any federal regulations.

Finally, at least two law professors [1][2] have published legal analyses, and both of them agree with me that United was not authorized under the terms of its own Contract of Carriage to remove David Dao from the plane.  Even United Airlines has thrown in the towel on this and is no longer claiming that its actions were defensible in any way.  So I claim vindication on that issue, and that Don owes me a beer.

All this is easy to see with the benefit of hindsight and time to analyze the situation from the comfort of our armchairs on a Monday morning.  But if we look at the situation from the perspective of the participants at the time, can Dao's refusal to deplane still be justified?  Or is, as Don maintains, such defiance of authority the first step on the slippery slope to anarchy?

It is for this answer that I invoke my heritage and answer with an unequivocal: yes, Dao's actions were justified.  There are circumstances where defying authority is the right thing to do.  This was one of them.  It is important to remember that the Holocaust ended with Jews being marched to the gas chambers, but it didn't start that way.  It started with the Nazi party winning a majority plurality of the seats in Germany's parliament in 1932.  It took another two years before the Nuremberg laws were passed, and another six before the Nazis began killing Jews in earnest.   At every step, everything the Nazis did was perfectly legal.  In no small measure because of this, and because respect for authority was (and to some extent still is) woven deeply into German culture, there was barely any resistance, neither from Jews nor gentiles.  The Warsaw Uprising in 1944 was the only notable exception, and by then, of course, it was much, much too late.

Let me be clear: I am absolutely not advocating for civil disobedience as a matter of course.  All else being equal it is better to obey the police.  But all else is not always equal, particularly if you're not a rich white male like Don and I are.  Sometimes is can be easy to forget that not everyone lives such a privileged life.  The sad fact of the matter is that the police do discriminate against people with dark skin.  (Can you seriously imagine this happening to a rich white guy? Or this?  Or this?  Or this?  Or this?)  It is easy to advocate for compliance and sorting out the legalities later when your risk of physical injury is low and you present a credible threat of being able to afford high-powered lawyers.  But for many people, compliance is tantamount to capitulation.  This may even have been true in David Dao's case.  We will never know now, but it is possible that his non-compliance was necessary in order for him to maintain his rights under the terms United's contract of carriage.  If Dao had left the plane voluntarily then United could argue that he had no cause of action for a violation of Rule 21 because he left the plane voluntarily, thereby tacitly admitting that United had the right to remove him.  It was only by resisting -- passively and peacefully, it should be well noted -- that he could maintain his right to sue.

Accepting peaceful civil disobedience is not the first step towards anarchy.  On the contrary, it is the unquestioning acceptance of authority that is the first step towards tyranny.  The decision to employ civil disobedience should never be made lightly.  But sometimes the only way to stand up for your rights is to remain seated.

26 comments:

Don Geddis said...

Ron, I appreciate the careful thought you put into this response. I still maintain the position I advocated in the comment thread on the previous post, but I'm not sure that I wish to continue debating with you this difficult and emotional topic. Nonetheless, I thank you for your efforts and writing.

(I also appreciate you reminding me that your previous post already mentioned Spicer and Hitler. I only responded to the United part, and then had the mistaken impression that you were the one who introduced Hitler during the comment thread. But you're quite right, it was there from the beginning in your writing about Spicer.)

Minor point: I believe that the Nazi party only achieved a plurality, not a majority, in the 1932 election. It appears that the Nazis finished with 37% of the seats in parliament. (And Hitler lost the race for Presidency in that same election.)

Blogger said...

Ron, David Dao's act was not one of civil disobedience because it was not tied to a cause. He was not trying to demonstrate the unfairness of contract of carriage terms. He was not trying to highlight the different treatment minorities get from police.

These stand in stark contrast to many of the examples you link to. The Woolworth's counter or the Rosa Parks bus were examples of people not just trying to get to their destination of have something to eat, but rather people acting in a way that brought attention to a larger issue.

David Dao simply wanted to get home for work. He is not part of a larger civil movement. And the right choice should have been to get off the plane when asked by crew or the Department of Aviation.

I don't think the crew or the department acted correctly either. They are at fault also. But this doesn't mean Dao is not at fault, which he was.

Ron said...

@Don

> Minor point: I believe that the Nazi party only achieved a plurality, not a majority, in the 1932 election.

True. Fixed.

@Blogger

> David Dao's act was not one of civil disobedience because it was not tied to a cause.

I dont want to quibble over terminology. How would you like me to refer to it?

> And the right choice should have been to get off the plane when asked by crew or the Department of Aviation.

Why?

Peter Donis said...

> I am absolutely not advocating for civil disobedience as a matter of course. All else being equal it is better to obey the police.

I think characterizing what Dao did as "civil disobedience" actually weakens your argument. As you correctly point out, the people who ejected Dao from the plane were not "police". They were private security personnel who had no police authority. That means that resisting them when they are violating the terms of a private contract you have with their employer is not "civil disobedience"; it's just asserting the terms of your private contract.

In fact, your describing this as "civil disobedience" seems to me to be a better indicator of an underlying social problem than this incident. You are basically talking as thought United Airlines and the Chicago Department of Aviation's private security were the government. This sort of attitude seems to me to be common in our society, and in fact in developed countries in general: we lump all kinds of private entities in with the government and view them all the same, even though they're not. And that lumping together in itself weakens our ability to maintain our rights.

Jonathan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan said...

(previously Blogger)
> I dont want to quibble over terminology. How would you like me to refer to it?
I'm trying to make more than a semantic point, but perhaps I wasn't clear - or perhaps actually don't disagree with most of what you said.

> There are circumstances where defying authority is the right thing to do. This was one of them.
Here's where I disagree. Why? I (and most) would agree that there are some situations where defying authority is the right thing to do. This was not one of them because the defiance had no larger meaning, no larger contribution to society, advanced no larger cause.

Let's take parading down the street blocking traffic. Is that ok? You'd immediately ask, well why are you parading down the street. If it's because you want to get home faster, we'd all agree not ok. If it's because you're holding a sign advocating women's rights protesting our new president, then yes probably ok.

An act of defiance needs to be attached to some moral stand or social movement to be productive and ok. Do you think this one was? And if not, why does David Dao's defiance deserve a comparison to Rosa Parks?

Ron said...

> An act of defiance needs to be attached to some moral stand or social movement to be productive and ok. Do you think this one was?

Yes. David Dao was standing up for the principle that corporations should honor their contractual obligations, and they should not try to fix their own screwups on the backs of their customers.

United's screwup was allowing Dao (and everyone else) to board the plane. Having screwed up, they needed to bite the bullet and continue to increase their compensation offer until their found four volunteers, or find some other way to get their crew to Lousiville.

Don Geddis said...

Ron: "David Dao was standing up for the principle that corporations should honor their contractual obligations."

Is this a problem in society that requires violent physical resistance? This seems like a simple civil matter, with existing remedies: you file a lawsuit after the fact, and the court awards financial compensation to correct for your loss. (And there is the possibility of punitive damages, or a class-action lawsuit, if you're worried about the inconvenience of buying off the few people who go to the trouble of filing a lawsuit, so that a corporation might otherwise choose not to change illegal behavior.)

As a society, we offer a non-violent resolution to the conflict over this "principle" that you are advocating for. Why is the choice of violence acceptable? Why celebrate Dao's "standing up", where he consciously chose to turn a non-violent civil disagreement into a physical confrontation?

Ron said...

@Don:

> Is this a problem in society that requires violent physical resistance?

That's a straw man. David Dao was not violent. (One of the reasons this has rightfully turned into such a PR disaster for United is that Munoz initially claimed that Dao was "disruptive and belligerent." Thanks to the video evidence we know this was a lie. Dao did nothing but quietly and calmly refuse to get up from his seat. He was the very model of appropriate behavior in such a situation.)

Let me turn the question around in a way that aligns with the facts in this case: is a 69-year-old man refusing to leave a seat which he is legally entitled to occupy a problem that requires physical violence to resolve?

> Why celebrate Dao's "standing up", where he consciously chose to turn a non-violent civil disagreement into a physical confrontation?

Because he didn't. Have you actually watched the videos? David Dao was calm and rational up to the instant that the CDA thugs grabbed him and started pulling him out of his seat.

Don Geddis said...

"a seat which he is legally entitled to occupy"

I submit that the legal status of the seat is unclear, even today, with the benefit of analysis and hindsight. But it isn't fair to evaluate decisions with hindsight. What is important is that, in the moment, it was certainly unclear what the legal status of the seat was.

What we know is that the owner of the airplane ordered him to leave the seat. And he refused. There's certainly a huge intuitive presumption that he doesn't have a constitutional right to demand service from a business that is choosing, in the moment, not to provide him that service.

"David Dao was calm and rational"

Sure. And he explicitly stated: I understand your orders, I'm choosing to refuse to follow them, I understand your next step is to force me, and I dare you to do so. Go ahead and drag me out and arrest me and put me in jail. I would prefer that outcome, to voluntarily leaving this seat.

A business wants you to leave their property. You say "make me!" So they did.

Dao made the choice to turn a civil disagreement into a physical contest. He obviously lost the physical contest immediately, but his occupation of the seat was the start of the physical resistance.

Ron said...

> Go ahead and drag me out and arrest me and put me in jail.

Arrest me and put me in jail, yes. Drag me out, no.

We will never know what would have happened if United had followed the rules of civilized society and summoned actual law enforcement officers with the power and training to actually arrest people. It is quite possible that the situation would have been defused at that point, because the officers might have explained to him that he is under actual lawful arrest, and that his failure to comply at that point would have been an actual crime (resisting arrest) completely independent of the merits of his civil case. At that point, Dao might have complied. We will never know. But the reason we will never know is not because David Dao did anything wrong. The reason we will never know is that United's hired thugs decided to assault him instead.

(Of course, this is the Chicago PD we're talking about, so they might have dragged him off the plane anyway. This, too, is among the many things we will never know.)

What we do know is that David Dao was under no legal obligation to leave. Whether or not it was evident at the time, he did in fact have a contractual right to occupy that seat. The fact that United employees mistakenly believed otherwise does not change that.

> A business wants you to leave their property. You say "make me!" So they did.

It's *how* they made him that matters here. They did not follow the proper procedures and summon actual police officers. Instead, as I have pointed out repeatedly, they summoned a civilian brute squad who assaulted him. That makes all the difference.

Note by the way that dragging Dao off the plane would have been wrong *even if* it turned out that United was right on the contractual question. The fact that United was wrong on that helps make the situation morally unambiguous, but it's really irrelevant. The only thing that really matters is that Dao was peaceful up until the moment he was assaulted by civilians acting on United's behalf, who knocked him senseless. Those men probably committed a felony. David Dao did absolutely nothing wrong.

BTW, your characterization of Dao's response as "make me" is unfair. I would characterize it as, "Sorry, gentlemen, but I believe I am contractually entitled to occupy this seat. If you want to dispute that, you can arrest me, in which case you will be hearing from my lawyers. But I am confident enough in my position that you are going to have to summon actual police officers to formally arrest me. I want the arrest report on the record. Until then, I am going to sit here quietly and peacefully. Your move."

And their next move was to knock his teeth out.

Don Geddis said...

"Arrest me and put me in jail, yes. Drag me out, no."

I don't think that is true. The pre-dragging video shows the officer calming explaining that if he won't leave voluntarily, they'll "have to drag you". And Dao's response is: "Well, you can then drag me. ... I'm not going."

For the rest of it, you're making a huge distinction between the airport security, vs. police. I don't think Dao knew or cared about the difference. (Nor did United, obviously.) You think it's a critical part of the picture; others don't think that difference matters hardly at all.

"What we do know is that David Dao was under no legal obligation to leave."

Again, no we don't "know" that, even today. And moreover, the important point is that Dao certainly didn't "know" it for sure.

"They did not follow the proper procedures and summon actual police officers."

You are now asserting some critical point, that I'm less sure about. You think it's not permissible for private security to enforce private property rights. I don't share your intense concern for this distinction. (More to the point, I again don't think that United or Dao care as much as you do, either.)

"I would characterize it as, "Sorry, gentlemen, but I believe I am contractually entitled to occupy this seat. If you want to dispute that, you can arrest me ... you are going to have to summon actual police officers to formally arrest me. I want the arrest report on the record."

Now you're just making things up, to support the narrative you prefer, that this was some kind of principled civil disobedience. Dao said nothing at all like what you are suggesting. He was just a selfish man who wanted to get home, and acted like a toddler just whining "no no no, I won't, you can't make me." Dao never ever ever requested "actual police officers" to get involved. You're interpreting these events through your own imagination, not through the facts of the case.

Don Geddis said...

...And for what it's worth, I can see in the video that the jackets the security officers are wearing prominently have the word "POLICE" across the back. You may be concerned that this is yet a different kind of fraud, but the important point for this discussion is that it pretty clearly eliminates your hypothesis that Dao would have behaved differently if only "actual law enforcement officers" had been summoned. There was no reason for him to think they weren't already there.

(Obviously, you can continue to try to make the argument that perhaps maybe "trained" police would have acted differently than the polite security officers that you insist on pre-judging by calling them "thugs". But the idea that Dao would have peacefully obeyed actual police, in a way differently than he ignored the security orders he did in fact receive, is not plausible.)

Ron said...

> You think it's not permissible for private security to enforce private property rights.

Not with force, no. (Some states have stand-your-ground laws that makes this permissible. I think such laws are a travesty.)

> I don't share your intense concern for this distinction.

I find that deeply disturbing. You are essentially saying that you don't believe in the rule of law.

Do you draw any distinction between "private security" and vigilantes? If so, how?

> There was no reason for him to think they [the actual police] weren't already there.

You mean besides the fact that they were not there? That sounds to me like you are arguing that Dao is to blame because he failed to see through the CDA ruse, failed to detect that they were impersonating police officers. How do you know that he failed to detect this? Maybe he knew that not everyone who wears a jacket with "Police" emblazoned on it is actually a police officer. Maybe he didn't know. Maybe he really was prepared to be arrested. I don't see what difference that makes. the point at which the situation deviated from the civilized script was when the CDA guys grabbed him. Not before.

Like I said, we will never know what would have happened if the actual police had been summoned. The CDA forever deprived us of the opportunity to conduct that experiment when they dragged Dao off the plane. But if we're going to indulge in hypotheticals, I think Dao could have had the reasonable expectation that if he were actually being arrested that one of the "officers" would say, "David Dao, you are under arrest" and read him his Miranda rights before actually grabbing him. *I* certainly would have had that expectation if I'd been in his position.

Don Geddis said...

"You are essentially saying that you don't believe in the rule of law."

I reject that equivalence as well. The "rule of law" is about what happens in a courtroom, whether everyone will be judged by what is already written down prior to the event, and whether it doesn't matter what your position is, or who your friends are, only what the facts of the case are.

We're talking about a physical confrontation in "the street", prior to the case being brought into a courtroom. The question is who gets to prevail in the moment, who gets to force their way upon others.

"you are arguing that Dao is to blame" I never said he was to blame because of not noticing that they weren't "real" police. I was merely countering your unlikely claim that he was consciously waiting for "real" police, and only resisting because the security officers were not "real police". Your claim is not plausible. Dao's choices and actions had nothing to do with whether the security officers were real police or not.

Ron said...

> The "rule of law" is about what happens in a courtroom

Oh my, we do have a big disconnect here. In fact, it's such a big disconnect that I think you may have just misinterpreted what I meant by that phrase. I'm not talking about the technical machinations of the legal profession, I'm referring to the fundamental tenet that people ought to conduct themselves in accordance with the law. That "rule of law" applies mainly -- in fact almost exclusively -- outside of the courtroom. (The "rule of law" is to be contrasted with e.g. "might makes right", where strength, not the law, is the ultimate arbiter of correct behavior, or "the ends justify the means" where the outcome of an action rather than the action itself is the ultimate arbiter of correct behavior.)

> your unlikely claim that he was consciously waiting for "real" police, and only resisting because the security officers were not "real police"

I don't believe I ever said that. If I did, I retract it. I have no idea what was in David Dao's head, and I don't think it matters. It was not incumbent on Dao to assess who the real police were. It was incumbent on United to not to have its customers assaulted by private citizens, because that is against the law (c.f. the "rule of law").

Dao's mindset *might* matter if he had actually done something wrong, in which case his mindset might be a mitigating factor. But he didn't, so his mindset is irrelevant. If you do all the right things (which he did) it doesn't matter if you did them for the wrong reasons.

Peter Donis said...

> Not with force, no. (Some states have stand-your-ground laws that makes this permissible. I think such laws are a travesty.)

As you write it, I think this has much broader implications that I don't know whether you intended. For example, you seem to be saying that if a burglar comes into my house, I am not allowed to use force to prevent him from taking my stuff. It's not clear to me whether you would also say I'm not allowed to use force to prevent him from harming me or my family--"stand your ground" laws are generally intended to cover that case. It's also not clear to me whether you would say that a burglar coming into my house is significantly different from an airline trying to evict someone from a seat on its airplane.

IMO all of these cases *are* significantly different and should not be conflated.

Ron said...

> For example, you seem to be saying that if a burglar comes into my house, I am not allowed to use force to prevent him from taking my stuff.

We're not talking about that kind of private property right here. No one was stealing anything. We're talking about (alleged) trespassing. And no, unless you are in a stand-your-ground state, if you try to evict a trespasser with force yourself instead of calling the police you can be charged with a crime.

Note BTW that burglars and trespassers are two different animals. Burglars are a red herring in the context of this discussion. Burglars by definition attempt to steal things. That's what distinguishes a burglar from a trespasser. No one is alleging that anyone was attempting to steal anything. In fact, no one is even alleging that anyone entered private property without permission. At worst, Dao refused to leave private property after permission to be there had been withdrawn.

I could stock a sushi bar with all the red herrings that are being thrown around in this discussion.

> It's also not clear to me whether you would say that a burglar coming into my house is significantly different from an airline trying to evict someone from a seat on its airplane.

Apples and oranges. The analogy is not between a burglar entering your house and the airline evicting Dao, the analogy is between a burglar coming in to your house and Dao entering the aircraft and taking his seat. And of course those are completely different. Dao entered the aircraft with the airline's permission under the terms of a contract. Burglars, by definition, don't have permission to enter.

Peter Donis said...

> We're not talking about that kind of private property right here.

> Apples and oranges.

These are the clarifications I was looking for. The term "private property rights" without qualification does not imply these kinds of distinctions; that's why I asked for clarification.

Ron said...

@Peter: Sorry, I thought the context made that clear.

Peter Donis said...

> I thought the context made that clear.

If it had just been you saying it in the post, it might have been (although even then I would recommend clarifying). But you were responding to a comment of Don's, who does not agree with you about a number of significant questions at issue. That's why I wanted to make sure I correctly understood.

Don Geddis said...

I asked: "You think it's not permissible for private security to enforce private property rights."

Ron replied: "Not with force, no." And also "not to have its customers assaulted by private citizens, because that is against the law"

Hypothetical situation for you, Ron: There's a bar, which employs ("private security") bouncers. A customer is sitting at a table in the back of the bar. Perhaps 2am comes, all the other customers leave. The bouncer says, "Bar closed, please vacate the premises". The remaining customer claims "no, I believe I have a Constitutional right to stay here, and I refuse to leave."

Please tell me your thoughts on the legal & physical & moral rights of the bar owner, attempting to close up and lock the bar and go home for the night. If he orders his bouncer to physically pick the guy up and throw him out on the street, do you believe that he is not legally entitled to do so, and the bouncer has then just committed a felony? Is that your legal opinion?

What is your moral opinion? Do you think the owner is morally obligated to say, well I asked nicely, but the guy refused, so I guess my only alternative now at 2:30am, is to call the police, and wait a couple of more hours until the cops decide to wander by. Under no circumstances do I ever have the moral/legal authority to physically compel a (non-violent) customer to leave my own premises. I just have to wait.

I wonder what you think it is legal for private security (the bar's bouncer) to actually do. Can they intervene in a violent fight that has already started? Should they never physically intervene in any encounter, but merely serve as witnesses and be ready to call the police at any moment? Are they ever, under any circumstances, allowed to initiate physical action against an uncooperative person who does not demonstrate an immediate physical threat? What if the customer starts breaking tables and chairs and bottles and glasses -- but is very careful to only cause property damage, never damage to other humans. Can the bouncer intervene then, or again must he wait patiently for the police to arrive, regardless of the amount of property damage that they observe?

"if you try to evict a trespasser with force yourself instead of calling the police you can be charged with a crime."

Well of course anyone "can" be charged with a crime. But the question is whether it is an open and shut conviction, that any time a trespasser is physically compelled to leave, that the responsible property owner is always easily convicted of a crime ("...unless stand your ground"). I don't share your confidence about the legal situation here.

Ron said...

> If he orders his bouncer to physically pick the guy up and throw him out on the street, do you believe that he is not legally entitled to do so, and the bouncer has then just committed a felony?

Yes. That would be assault and battery. That's why one of the qualifications for being a competent bouncer is that you be able to evict patrons while leaving yourself with plausible deniability that you did so without using actual physical force. That usually means getting them out without injuring them.

> Is that your legal opinion?

IANAL. But there's this spiffy thing called the internet that gives me access to secret knowledge, like this:

http://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/what-are-bouncers-legally-allowed-to-do.html

> What is your moral opinion?

A competent bouncer will be able to evict a customer without injuring them, and I think that's perfectly OK. Throwing their head against the bar, knocking them senseless, knocking out teeth is not OK. If the bouncer can't get the guy out without injuring him then the bar owner needs to hire a better bouncer. If the police take two hours to show up then the bar owner needs to pressure his elected representatives to improve the police service.

Think about it: a 67-year-old woman shows up a hospital beaten black and blue with two of her teeth knocked out. There's video of her assailant picking her up, beating her head agains the bar, and dragging her out in to the street. If you were on the jury would you really vote to acquit on the grounds that the assailant was a bouncer and the bar was closing? (Note BTW that I'm actually granting your premise that the patron has no right to be in the bar, which is why I took the liberty of making her a woman. The hypothetical train runs both ways.)

> What if the customer starts breaking tables and chairs and bottles and glasses

That is a completely different situation, and it has nothing to do with what happened with David Dao. And here I really have to stress that IANAL. My guess would be that the bar owner is probably allowed to apply force in this case, but I don't know what the legal limits are. I do know that there are some legal limits because you obviously can't intentionally *kill* someone just because they're breaking your stemware. My guess would be that the law would probably let accidental injuries slide, with quite a bit of the benefit of the doubt accruing to the bar owner. But that's just a guess.

Clearly, if David Dao has started vandalizing the plane the situation would be very different. But he didn't, so it isn't.

> I don't share your confidence about the legal situation here.

I don't know what to tell you. I've provided you with multiple references to support my position, including two essays by people who *are* lawyers -- law professors in fact. (Did you read them?) You've provided one facebook comment and one anonymous essay, both from people without any discernible credentials, and both of whom are demonstrably wrong on the facts. Oh, and a bunch of hypotheticals that have nothing to do with what actually happened.

Are you sure that your account hasn't been hijacked by Publius? You're usually such a reasonable person.

Don Geddis said...

"You're usually such a reasonable person."

I resent the implication, that someone who disagrees with you is the one being unreasonable.

I'm perfectly willing to admit that United made a whole lot of very poor choices, both in the moment, and in their standard procedures. They should have resolved the overbooking situation before seating the passengers on the plane. They possibly could have offered more money. Once they had a resisting passenger, they could have called actual police and had him arrested. They could have emptied the plane, and simply cancelled the flight, because it wasn't safe to take off with a passenger who refuses orders. (They could have told the entire planeful of cooperating passengers, that the whole flight was being cancelled because of this one specific passenger. You think the other passengers would have been so sympathetic in that circumstance? They might have been accused of "inciting a riot"!) The airport security that was called, could have been better trained, to physically remove an uncooperative passenger without damaging them. (Heck, I probably could have done that myself!) And then, after the incident, the initial response by United and their CEO was a comedy of errors in crisis management and public relations. United made so many mistakes, and had many chances to not suffer as great a cost as they are seeing now.

But what galls me, is that you see no blame at all -- zero! -- on the part of David Dao. You wrote another post with the arrogant title "David Dao did nothing wrong". Really? Nothing?!?! Dao was a jerk. He wanted to be a customer of a particular business, the business said "no, we choose not to provide you with this service at this time", and Dao whined like a petulant child, and refused to leave -- because it would be inconvenient and he didn't want to. But in your mind, Dao did "nothing" wrong.

And then you bring up insanely irrelevant analogies with huge emotional content, as though Dao were involved in some kind of thoughtful civil disobedience, and this uncooperative a-hole is a hero at the level of Rosa Parks. Or that obeying security orders to leave a place of business, is at the same moral level as marching Jews off to be gassed in death camps.

I remain astonished that you can find no blame at all in David Dao's actions, of any kind. And that you rate him a hero in some kind of glorious war against evil corporations. He's a screaming child, and one that should be shamed, not celebrated as a role model. And his behavior is certainly not one that we should teach others to emulate.

I'm just looking for you to say a single negative word about Dao's behavior, rather than exhibit the blindness and bias of a brainwashed anti-corporate soldier, where United can do no right, and Dao can do no wrong.

Ron said...

@Don:

> I resent the implication, that someone who disagrees with you is the one being unreasonable.

You're not being unreasonable because you disagree with me. We have disagreed many times. On many -- maybe even most -- occasions that we have disagreed you have ultimately managed to convince me that you were right and I was wrong.

What makes you seem unreasonable in this case is not your position, but the way in which you are trying to defend it.

> But what galls me, is that you see no blame at all -- zero! -- on the part of David Dao.

Why does this gall you? You seem to be emotionally invested in this issue to a greater extent than I have ever seen in the past. Earlier you wrote, "I'm not sure that I wish to continue debating with you this difficult and emotional topic," and yet here we are. You seem to be unwilling to simply agree to disagree. Which is fine, there's nothing wrong with being passionate about an issue. I'm just asking that you consider the possibility that your passion might be clouding your judgement.

Let's be clear about what we're disagreeing about here. (That's the first step in any rational discussion.) You have just conceded a large number of points, so AFAICT there is only one thing in dispute: you believe David Dao was wrong (either legally or morally, maybe both, I'm not sure) in refusing to leave his seat, and the principle on which you base this conclusion is that commands from authority figures should always be obeyed no matter the circumstances. Have I accurately summarized your position? Do you agree that this is a fair framing of the debate?

Here is why I think you're being unreasonable:

> Dao whined like a petulant child

No, he didn't. Did you watch the video? He was calm and rational up to the moment airport security grabbed him. He never raised his voice. He never used profanity. He never made any threats. All he did was sit and say, "I'm not going."

Another example:

> you bring up insanely irrelevant analogies with huge emotional content

Like what? AFAIK I only brought up one analogy, and I don't believe it was "insanely irrelevant." (I concede it had emotional content, but that is unavoidable: this whole issue is fraught with emotion. That is part of the problem.)

Another:

> Once they had a resisting passenger, they could have called actual police and had him arrested. They could have emptied the plane, and simply cancelled the flight, because it wasn't safe to take off with a passenger who refuses orders.

Yes, they could have done all of these things. But what difference does it make what they *could* have done? They didn't do these things, so I don't see how these hypotheticals help to advance the discussion about the appropriateness of David Dao's behavior. (They might help to advance a discussion of how United could prevent situations like this from happening in the future, but that's not the matter at hand.)

[Continued...]

Ron said...


> as though Dao were involved in some kind of thoughtful civil disobedience, and this uncooperative a-hole is a hero at the level of Rosa Parks

Maybe this is really what you're upset about, my comparing Dao to Parks? Because that is a separate issue.

Let me be clear: I do believe there is a valid comparison to be drawn between Dao and Parks, mainly because of the similarity of what they did: both refused an order to vacate a seat on a vehicle. But Dao was fighting for penny-ante stakes compared to Parks. Dao was fighting a corporation, Parks was fighting the government. Dao was fighting to avoid a travel delay, Parks was fighting to end centuries of some of the most barbaric injustice that mankind has ever perpetrated. No one should seriously entertain the notion of erecting a statue to David Dao for what he did. Does that help?

> Or that obeying security orders to leave a place of business, is at the same moral level as marching Jews off to be gassed in death camps.

This is a gross mischaracterization of my position. If I actually said anything that can be reasonably interpreted in this way, I apologize and retract it. (But I don't believe I did, so I think you owe me an apology for mischaracterizing my position in this way.)

What I said (or at least meant to say) was that the principle on which you seem to be basing your conclusion that Dao is blameworthy, namely, that one should always defer to authority no matter what the circumstances, was a significant contributor to the holocaust, and it should be rejected for that reason. I absolutely stand by that.

> I remain astonished that you can find no blame at all in David Dao's actions, of any kind.

What would you have me blame him for? You make it sound like there's a long list of possible things I could potentially fault him for, and that I am blind to all of them, hence your astonishment: "I [Don] can see how someone could miss some of the things Dao did wrong, maybe even most of the things he did wrong. But I don't see how anyone could miss all of the many, many things Dao did wrong." I don't see any other way to account for your astonishment.

And yet AFAICT there is only one thing David Dao did that is even in dispute, and that is to fail to obey an order from an authority figure. I can see how a reasonable person could disagree with me on this. But you aren't doing it. (Which is mystifying to me because you've always been a model of reasonable disagreement in the past.)