One man's right is another's wrong

One man's right is another's wrong

SINGAPORE - The Defenders are plastic clips that you put on your airplane seat tray to stop the person in front of you from fully reclining, so giving you more space to stretch out your long, morally impaired legs.

This handy little gadget is something the modern Entitled Twit might have in his travel bag, along with the phone with the shrieky ringtone and the Why Foreigners Who Don't Speak English Are Just Being Difficult book.

A few weeks ago, according to news reports, a Knee Defender user was shocked - shocked! - to discover that the passenger seated in front of him did not fancy sitting upright while everyone else was reclined.

She objected strenuously (i.e. by flinging a drink at him), and the altercation caused the flight to be diverted from Denver to Chicago, where both passengers were given the boot. I picture them in one of those airport golf carts, being driven away from the pier. I wonder who sat behind whom.

In interviews following the incident, both the user and the seller of the device sounded very persuasive, because they played the anti- airline card. Many travellers dislike airlines for how they treat passengers not as human beings, but as lumpy meat packets.

Airlines are the real enemy, said the seat justice warriors, and the Knee Defender is how the little guy fights back. Reading that, I thought, "Right on, consumer avenger!"

Then they lost my support, because they brought up the matter of rights. As in, I have a right to that space; the airlines do not have a right to stack me like a Chinese New Year kumquat, and so on.

When talk of rights enters the room, it sucks out all the oxygen and other rules of behaviour, such as Do Unto Others, shrivel and die.

For example, when drivers think only of rights, other road users get squashed. Governments and armies who fancy a bit of land that other people have settled on call up ancient rights. And navies think they have the right to name ships anything they like, no matter how offensive it is to other nations.

The older I get, the more allergic I have become to rights talk, because too often it is uttered with supreme self-importance by winners, backed up by superior hardware: Cars versus pedestrians and bicyclists, Knee Defenders versus people seated in front who have no idea why their seats can't work properly.

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