Luis Cuende


Extreme individualism and the erosion of values

How I almost got into a fight trying to help a grandpa reunite with his grandchildren.

Today I had quite a shocking experience. I was disembarking a plane. There was a grandpa who got a seat a few rows behind his grandson and granddaugther. As everyone stood ready to disembark and a chaotic queue formed — as it always happens in planes — he politely asked the man in front of him to let him pass, to reunite with his grandchildren. The kids probably hadn’t traveled much before, maybe they were even a bit scared. To me, moving half a meter to let a grandpa pass so he can reunite with his grandchildren is a no-brainer.

Meet the dude. The dude is a chubby white male in his 30s. He was not happy about the grandpa politely trying to reunite with his grandchildren. The dude insisted the grandpa shall not pass, because the dude paid for his seat, for his right to be an asshole. For the dude, those 10 EUR he paid for his seat are more important than letting a grandpa reunite with his grandchildren. For the dude, those 10 EUR give him the right to bypass morality.

After a couple minutes seeing that scene, I decided to stand up. I asked the dude to let the grandpa pass. If I was the dude, that would have been a wake up call, I would have felt ashamed, I would have realized that I’m being an asshole, I would have apologized and let the grandpa pass.

But the dude doesn’t know about shame. So I tried to move him to make space for the grandpa to pass. Obviously planes are quite tight, and the dude had eaten way too many donuts, so that didn’t work.

Then the dude got aggressive to me. “Don’t you touch me, bla bla”. At some point, seeing that the strategy wasn’t working out, I switched to another one: being painfully nice.

Sometimes the best strategy to disarm an asshole is to be so nice that they literally don’t have anything to throw you back. So I apologized for touching him, and I asked as nicely as possible for him to let the grandpa reunite with his kids. One thing that makes us humane is empathy — so I alluded to that. How would you like to be treated when you are elderly? Would you like to be treated like this?

I was shocked to find that the dude just didn’t have empathy nor compassion. It was like the 10 EUR he paid for his seat excluded him from such morale compass.

It’s funny because when the dude came into the plane, he accidentally dropped something and I drew his attention to it, as a nice gesture.

In the end, as the disembarking went on, the dude didn’t let the grandpa pass, of couse.

But things didn’t end there. Right after disembarking he assaulted me from the back, breaking my t-shirt. He had to be quite the coward to attack someone from the back, but that’s another whole topic.

The dude isn’t just a dude. The dude is the embodiment of an idea: that we are alone in this world, that we need to forge our path by screwing others, and that money is our only friend.

The dude is everything that has gone wrong with extreme capitalism, coupled with a total loss of a moral compass that religion and the family unit used to supply.

This is not the first time that I see how younger generations mistreat the elderly. I have been ashtonished by young people not freeing up seats in public transport for elderly to sit. We are all so focused on our phones, on our parallel reality, that we have forgotten what’s like to be nice.

And while I have my issues with boomers, they have built the world we live in today, and deserve the utmost respect. Not only because of that reason, but also because they are a weaker group that deserve compassion. I bet that the dude wouldn’t have let a pregnant woman pass, or even a disabled person.

My parents could have been the grandpa in the plane. In fact, it would not be the first time they get harrassed by younger generations.

Is this the world we want to live in? Where we trade our values so easily?

When I think about The Sovereign Individual and about capitalism, I imagine a thriving society in which individual freedoms lead to fairness. But what we are going towards looks more like extreme individualism and caring for no one.

Now, I got two reflections out of this situation:

  • First, I should have stood up without hesitation. You must stand up in these kind of situations, otherwise the Overton window keeps shifting into the wrong direction, and one day these attitudes might become completely acceptable. I don’t know why I took a couple minutes to react — probably I just don’t like confrontation — but it’s unacceptable that I even hesitated to act seeing such an unfair situation.
  • Second, why the hell did no one back me up? I have seen and heard about this behaviour before. I get that some people might be afraid to start a confrontation, but backing the right side is always easier. If it wasn’t one person calling the dude out, but he was being called out by half the plane, he would have gave in and let the grandpa pass. Backing up in these kinds of situations also creates a positive stimuli of what’s right. If I got backed up, I would be more likely to stand up in future unfair situations. I will still do it, but this doesn’t help.
  • In a summary, I almost got into a fight and I got my t-shirt ripped off for trying to help a grandpa reunite with his grandchildren. We have lost our moral compass so much that these things happen, and no one cares. No one stands up. No one backs you up. But it’s our duty as citizens of the world to not let these situations happen unnoticed, to stand up, to fight for what’s right. To be exemplary of a new moral compass. If we don’t, the future looks dark.