crowded-planeIn his latest Boston Globe column, Jeff Jacoby argues that a misplaced emphasis on individual rights as a solution to all problems destroys much of what holds a society together, including simple, common courtesy:

Everyone has an opinion on the passenger in Row 12 who caused an uproar on a United flight from Newark to Denver when he used a plastic bracket called the “Knee Defender” to block the woman in front of him from reclining her seat. . . .

You can’t always get what you want, to coin a phrase. That’s routinely true of public accommodations, where our experiences — travel, dining, lodging, entertainment — must be shared with other human beings, in all their not-always-congenial variety. It makes life worse for all of us when people become so obsessed with their own satisfaction that they convince themselves they have a guaranteed right to it. Common courtesy and self-control used to be esteemed as indispensable to a healthy society. But the more we rely on law and regulation to maintain social order, the less we seem to emphasize good character and values.

Most air travelers, most of the time, don’t descend into rudeness and selfishness. But as the obnoxious “I-have-a-right” mindset grows ever more entrenched, clashes like the one involving the Knee Defender are apt to proliferate…. Compromise? Consideration? Thoughtfulness? Nothing doing. For some people, the right to be a jerk trumps all.

This attitude, in my view, is also a result of the progressive/statist desire to take authority over every aspect of life, thus moving all disputes into the realm of politics and establishing the state as arbiter from which no appeal is possible.

Read the full column here: