So, this got me thinking on what is "acceptable", both on planes and in society in general. As usual this meant a few odd nights composing a blog post in my sleep, and finding, rather annoyingly, that I still have to type the damn thing in the morning.
Freedom of faith
We live in a multicultural society, which means we have people with different faiths interacting with each other, and somehow we want society to continue to work. This is tricky.
Obviously, I could simply take a pop at any religion and pull it to pieces, but let's assume for the moment that it is "human nature" for people to believe stuff like this and there is not a lot we can do about that. Can we come up with rules that allow society to work but also allow some freedom or faith. Can we create impartial rules? Can we decide where to draw lines?
Obviously this is just my rambling views on this, but here goes...
Should we allow people to believe what they like?
Well, in general, I would say yes. As I say, there is human nature, and we cannot do much about it. If you try to ban people thinking in a certain way, they'll do it anyway. However, even this has to have some caveats. As a society we recognise that some people are vulnerable. This may be young people, or people that are stressed, perhaps after the death of a lost one, or people who lack normal emotional maturity. As a general rule we, as a society, want to protect such people and would not want people to get sucked in to some extreme cult any more than falling for some scam artist. It is, however, very difficult to draw any lines here - when is a "cult" an unacceptable scam, rather than a religion?
Believe what you like, in your own head.
I would say that we should not have any sort of "thought police". People with the mental capacity to make up their own minds should be able to believe what they like where it really has no impact on other people. And there is no reason not to allow such people to meet up and discuss things themselves.
Selling religion to others?
One of the things I dislike, but which is inherent in any established religion, is the way that the religion gets sold to others. That the religion tries to encourage others in to the belief. Some are worse than others, and some even go door to door with leaflets!
Personally, I would like to see religion controlled in the same way as any other business. I would like to see adverts subject to the same scrutiny. Saying "you will live on forever in heaven" is not acceptable as an advert, surely. Otherwise, what is to stop me selling broadband with a "guaranteed place in heaven for all customers". How is that different?
That said, there are organised religions that offer a lot of things, and they could advertise those. They offer a social group, with venues and events to allow people to meet and talk to like minded individuals. They offer "make you feel better that your life seems to have a purpose" even. They might organise social and charitable events and carry out community projects. These are all good things that I would have no trouble being advertised and encouraged.
Of course, saying people can do what they like as long as it does not affect others, has some issues. Silly clothes is one. I have no trouble with someone dressed up as Captain Kirk all day, but if a religion said you had to be naked at all times, we, as a society, would not find that acceptable. What if you had to cover your face such that you cannot be identified - OK mostly, but what of using a bank or passport check in airport? What if your religion says you have to wear your hair such that you cannot wear a motorcycle helmet? How far do you allow things?
Restricted diets in one of those areas that always struck me as odd. Thankfully the issues are almost totally addressed by market forces - if enough people want food a certain way then food vendors cater (literally) for them.
At one end you have people with allergies, where the wrong food can cause serious and even life threatening reactions. We even have laws on food labelling because of this.
But there are also likes and dislikes. I am sure a lot of this comes down to what you are fed as a child - which makes sense - your parents having learned the hard way what is safe to eat, you learn to "like" that food. However I expect some is down to genetics - a group of people that dislike something that happens to be poisenous survive better. However it happens, it is not easy to change. I like marmite but some people do not, and force feeding them will not change their views on the matter.
In some ways restaurants and food providers cater for different tastes, offering a menu. But they are really not so good when asking about details "does this have mushrooms in it, as I don't like mushrooms" often does not work well.
Then we have choices of diet - whether "on a diet", or choosing to be vegetarian. It amazes me how much more catered for vegetarians are than people that like or dislike some foods.
But then you get in to faith based dietary requirements, and it gets complicated. Not just a matter of not eating certain things, perhaps at certain times of year, but rules on how things are prepared or how animals were killed.
As I say, fortunately market forces do handle this - there is a lot of choice of food, usually. Though planes are a slight issue, you can take your own food easily.
Well, this is where it gets messy.
Planes have to be one of the worse cases of trying to make a multi-cultural society fit together - you are literally crammed in to a small space with no choice but to be so close that you cannot avoid contact. They are quite horrid - topped maybe by rush hour on the underground, but without the shortness of trip or option to get out!
I was amazed how much debate a recent discussion started simply on seat backs. If I pay for a place on a seat on a plane I surely have the right to use the features of that seat, including, if it does it, reclining the seat a bit to make it easier to sleep. I have been in the position of someone getting cross with me over this and I pointed out that I paid for extra leg room (exit row) and he chose not too - his choice to be packed in so much and he should live with that choice. It was not a very fair thing for me to say, but it did end the argument. There have been reports of much more serious arguments over such things. Some people have very opposite views that it is inconsiderate in the extreme to recline the seat. My real argument here is that the airlines pack people in too tightly, end of story. The people put on the spot are not to blame.
But then we get to the orthodox jewish men that cannot touch a woman unless married so refuse to be seated next to a woman - delaying the flight until other passengers agree to move around.
One of the interesting outcomes of such a debate was the idea that the airlines should be more accommodating - not just asking about special dietary requirements but also special seating requirements. They could then put people in seats that are compatible.
- Allow people to pay for an exit row seat for more legroom, as some do now
- Allow people to say if they are orthodox jewish men that cannot sit next to a woman
- Allow people to say that they must not be sat next to a fat person
- Allow people to say that they must not be sat next to a black person
How is insisting on not being next to a black man any different to insisting to not being next to a woman? Why would we allow it because it is someone's faith. Apparently it is also not allowed for them to flay over a cemetery, but should that mean they can dictate the flight path?
Can I start a religion that does not allow me to have things touching my knees? That way I could always be sure of an exit row seat and leg room?
We had another interesting report of someone that was allergic to nuts and the plane staff announce nobody is to have any nut based food (closed air circulation, and all that). That actually happened on a flight I was on - where we had not booked a meal and had (you can guess!) peanuts, a snickers bar and peanut M&Ms as snacks to eat on the plane, and me going hypo. Thankfully we found some crisps. There have been reports of such a case where someone ignored the warning, caused a reaction, and he was banned from flying (ever!). Now, if banning someone from flying is actually a valid and acceptable option I could argue that banning the person with the allergy actually reduces the inconvenience to passengers as a whole. I know that is not the PC thing to say but it is the maximum passenger benefit equation. Of course, the argument is that the person with the allergy cannot help it - a valid argument. I do wonder if "stressed at being packing in a tin can for 8 hours" would ever count as a disability and mean the guy with the nuts "could not help it" either.
I do wonder if there are conditions which really are incompatible for people packed on the same plane. The nut allergy is not quite one, as people could simply avoid nuts, but what if there are cases where you simply cannot put two people on the same plane for 8 hours without some issue which neither of then can help? Who wins? Who gets kicked off the flight and who stays, and how do you decide.
At the end of the day religion is a choice, as it getting on a plane and subjecting yourself you a set of rules that are unpleasant. My overall view here is that, unless you are prepared for the indignity and inconvenience of a flight, then don't take one. Or pay for better seats. Don't force others to accommodate you. This is not denying your faith - you have a choice to fly or not - make that choice in accordance with your faith. Am I wrong?