Angry People

By Daniel A. Kaufman

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Not too long ago, my wife and daughter headed to our regional airport to catch a flight to NY to visit my elderly mother, who readers may remember is recently widowed. Because our small city is off of the major routes, flights have to transfer at a hub, in this case Atlanta airport. They arrived in Atlanta on time, and all seemed good. Boarded their connection to NY, and it departed on time as well.

Twenty minutes outside of NY, and the pilot came on the intercom to tell everyone that “La Guardia is not allowing anyone to land right now” and that the flight would be returning to Atlanta. The weather was fine, and no reason was given for refusing to allow the plane to land. Neither was any reason given for why the plane needed to return to Atlanta, rather than divert to one of the many airports in the area: JFK; MacArthur; Newark; Philadelphia; or Bradley.

Back in Atlanta, the situation had disintegrated. Nancy and Victoria were booked on another flight, which was delayed considerably. Eventually, they boarded the plane only to then spend hours waiting for a pilot only then for the flight to be canceled and the passengers disgorged back into the terminal. By this point, my wife and daughter had been “traveling” for twelve hours, and the lines for customer service were reminiscent of the first night of ticket sales for a Michael Jackson concert, in the 1980’s. Wisely, they surrendered and booked a hotel in Atlanta, to which they fled. There were no flights to New York available the next day, they didn’t make it back home to Missouri until 11pm the next night – 36 hours to get nowhere – and their luggage wasn’t returned for two more days after that. On top of it all, the ordeal was expensive – the extra hotel costs and all the rest that came with the delay aside, my wife also had paid some $3,000 for the plane tickets – and because my mother is old and bereaved and alone, the non-financial cost was even greater.

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I am hardly the first to observe that people seem very angry today and more so than they used to be, something for which I doubt there is any reliable data, but which rings true, in light of my fifty-four years on this earth. Some will want to say that this is illusory; that people are no angrier now than they were before, but social media and ubiquitous smart phones make it possible for everyone to tell everyone else how mad they are at any and every moment. Undoubtedly there is some truth to this, but I am skeptical that it can explain what’s going on right now [you didn’t see people punching stewardesses on the nightly news in 1974], especially given that the reasons for an increasingly angry populace are somewhat obvious. But first, another anecdote.

A few months ago, I needed to send something to a relative in Tel Aviv. I took the package to FedEx, and spent the next half hour watching the clerk trying to find the address. Now, Tel Aviv is not a small or obscure place – with a population of about a half-million people, it is the largest city and business center of Israel – and FedEx is not a small or obscure company [and there’s Google], so I found the clerk’s difficulties on this front hard to comprehend. Eventually, however, the address was found and the shipping paid for, and I departed the store.

The package never arrived at its destination, so after several weeks, I put together another package and this time sent it via DHL. It arrived a few days later without a hitch. Then, several weeks later, the original package sent via FedEx came back, followed not long after by a bill for returning it, to the tune of $300.

I called Customer Service, which started a week-long ordeal, in which I dealt with some half-dozen phone clerks, in a fruitless attempt to find a helpful one. Every person I got simply repeated that $300 was due for giving the wrong address and for return delivery. It made no difference that the address was correct or that I could demonstrate this, given that DHL had succeeded in delivering the package with the same address and I had photographic proof of it. No matter what I said, they told me the same thing over and over again: I owed $300 and if I didn’t pay, the “case” would be sent to collections.

Nothing improved when I was transferred to a supervisor. I explained that I could prove that the address was correct, as their competitor had successfully delivered the package, and that I would not pay for a package that they had failed to deliver, especially given that I had to pay to ship the damned thing again. The Supervisor just repeated what the customer service clerks had said, albeit less nicely, and I was threatened with collections several more times, as well as legal action. For $300, FedEx decided to threaten and bully a customer who would have spent many, many times that amount in FedEx business over the course of his life and now would not.

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What these examples illustrate is a convergence of forces over the last twenty years or so that have made our daily [and even more frequent] interactions much less pleasant: an unprecedented dependence on and engagement with unresponsive and unaccountable systems and people; ubiquitous outsourcing and automation; and a significant swing from a customer-centered business model to an employee-centered one, especially in service and retail.

The systems with which people used to engage in the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s were relatively few and uncomplicated and almost always operated by real people to whom one had access, if there was cause for complaint. But for a few relatively rudimentary appliances, one’s house was lo-tech, and cars were mechanical devices with little by way of computing technology involved in their operation. [I can recall when all telephones were landlines and would work, even if the power was out.] Television consisted of three networks and some local stations and UHF – if you could get it – and the device itself was a simple affair with an on/off switch, channel dial, and a handful of other functional dials and switches, the uses of which were obvious. You might also have had a remote control – often called a “clicker” back then – which was nothing more than a metal or plastic box with a few push-buttons on it that allowed you to turn the tv on and off and to change channels, without getting up.

But for the odd mail-order catalogue, one bought things in stores, and if there was a problem with them, one brought them back and dealt with customer service in person. If you needed to send or ship something, you used the post office or UPS and again, if something went wrong, you went back to the office or store and engaged with a real person, in person. When your car misbehaved, you’d drive it or have it towed to a local garage where a mechanic would work on it. If the TV or any other of the appliances in the house stopped working, you called an appliance repairman, and if the phone stopped working, you called the phone company and talked to – you guessed it – a person who would very likely send another person to your house to fix whatever it was. Air travel was not yet a mass transit system and was rarer and more genteel. You bought your ticket either from a travel agent or from the airline’s travel office, and if there was any trouble with the flight, you dealt with customer service personnel in the airport. Terminals were often luxurious, as were the flights, when compared with today, and people would actually dress up for air travel.

Today, one engages in virtually all of one’s daily business through layers of mediating technologies. Our “smart” TVs are connected to the cable by way of our computer’s Wi-Fi, with functionalities and remote controls so complicated, they might as well be coordinating satellites. If something goes wrong, it very likely is not mechanical and will not be solved by a repairman coming to your house. Instead, you’ll first have to employ the device’s “troubleshooting” software [which mostly leads nowhere], after which you’ll embark upon a lengthy online or telephone expedition, in which you navigate complex menus and phone trees and speak with “virtual” – i.e., non-human; robotic – assistance. Eventually, your journey may bring you to a real person in “tech support,” who usually is very far away, if not in another country entirely, and as often as not, will not be of any help either. My elderly parents actually ceased watching TV entirely at a certain point in their lives, as the televisions had become too complicated for them to use. My wife and I are not far behind.

Most of one’s shopping today is done online, rather than in stores, and as a result, people experience more problems with their purchases, as one is more likely to mis-purchase something if one hasn’t seen it, tried it on, etc. This means even more engagements with online and telephone robots and unhelpful clerks, as well as with shipping outfits, as one typically cannot obtain customer service or return something ordered online to the relevant store, in person [if there even is a physical store].

Phones now are essentially small personal computers that we carry around with us, which means not just that we are “always available,” whether we want to be or not [try turning your phone off for a few hours or for a day, and see how many people are angry because they couldn’t reach you] but that problems are no longer simple, mechanical affairs that a repairman comes to your house and fixes. One must suffer even more “service” from robots, phone trees, and useless clerks [who might as well be robots or phone trees], and the like. One no longer discovers car trouble when one’s car actually breaks down or runs poorly, but by way of Warnings! and Alerts! that pop up on the dashboard along with an array of colored and flashing lights. Sometimes these are things that require immediate attention, but mostly they are notifications of upcoming routine service needs or indicators that a tire is a single pound of air pressure off or even just that a car is passing you on one side or the other. Designed with the intention of improving safety and the driving experience, what these systems actually do is create a slew of new distractions while driving that on a number of occasions almost got me into accidents, rather than out of them.

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In the 1980’s and 90’s, I waited tables in a number of restaurants, and dealing with angry customers was part of the job. Diners do not have access to the cooks, expediters, dishwashers, and the like, all of whom are in the “back of the house,” so the only people to whom they can complain about bad food or service are the front-of-the-house staff, meaning the waiters and waitresses, hosts and hostesses. If things were really bad – and they could very well be, on any day, in every restaurant I’ve worked in – a really angry customer might ask to speak with management.

As I said, this was expected, and while none of us liked being yelled at or poorly tipped, we were neither surprised nor particularly ruffled by it. People are spending their hard-earned money, after all, and trying to enjoy what might be a rare opportunity to go out. The meal could be for a special occasion or even a once-in-a-lifetime one, like a significant birthday or graduation. Regardless, customers deserve a good experience and are rightfully pissed off if not given one, whatever the reason, and if a waiter had whinged about “mean customers” back then, the manager would have laughed in his face or perhaps even fired him for being too precious to work in the service industry. [Once, in response to a particularly irate customer, on whom I’d accidentally dropped a tray full of plates of saucy ribs, the manager sent me with him into the mall to buy him a new suit, for which the restaurant paid.] And no one was deranged enough to call a policeman over an angry customer, since you would have received a citation yourself for wasting his time.

This understanding and corresponding ethos has been almost entirely turned on its head and especially in the service and retail sectors. In many locales – and in our current social-justice moment – employers are more worried about upsetting their employees than they are about dissatisfied or pissed-off customers, as a few well-placed entries on social media accusing a coffee shop or store of being guilty of some “ism” or “phobia” can bring about torrents of online and in-person abuse. Teenagers and twenty-something no longer accept the idea that low-level, low-skilled, starter jobs are just that and are supposed to suck and pay poorly, so we find ourselves today confronted with bizarre efforts to unionize the kids making your coffee or fries or bagging your groceries. Paper Boys’ and Driveway Shovelers’ Unions can’t be far off.

The idea that customers, who are spending their money and thereby sustaining the livelihoods of those serving them, are owed satisfaction in return for their coin has almost entirely vanished. Instead, young employees commonly behave at work as if they are in their own homes and expect to be kept “safe” from any sort of negative interactions or discomfort, your custom just being an annoying distraction. Indeed, service and retail are seeing an almost anti-customer-service ethos take hold, and while videos like the one below are certainly amusing, they’re barely satirical anymore. [I’ve worked jobs far lower down the proverbial ladder than this young man — who really did used to work at Ikea — and can’t imagine any of us who did making something like this or finding it anything other than pathetic.]

The worst actors in this regard, however, have to be the commercial airlines, who have made traveling anywhere a wretched and expensive experience, due to a combination of incompetence, greed, and – since Covid – understaffing. If I own a candy store and have fifty candy bars in stock, I can’t sell seventy-five, without being guilty of fraud, but the airlines routinely sell seats they don’t have and book flights they know cannot fly. And then, after they’ve stranded their customers in hubs for hours and even days [after taking thousands of dollars from them], to the point that they are exhausted, frustrated, and enraged, they use law enforcement in lieu of customer service, taking advantage of the absurd airline/airport laws and regulations that followed 9/11. Show any anger towards or even just raise your voice to an airport clerk or steward, and you may very well be dragged off by the police. If you think this is hyperbole, I was threatened with this twice – once at a car rental desk, inside an airport, and once on a plane – and in neither case had I done anything more than verbally express my irritation at appalling customer service, after having spent an even more appalling sum of money.

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I considered giving this essay the title, “What do you fucking expect?” and you do really have to wonder. I’ve offered the barest line-drawing of the kinds of aggravations, annoyances, obstacles, and indignities that every person today must endure again and again and again, as a result of having integrated our lives so utterly and completely with advanced technologies and sprawling, complex systems, implemented by robots and useless people. Simple returns and fixes and registrations and confirmations and complaints have metastasized into a Rococo nightmare of spiraling interactions with technologies and systems that are entirely unnecessary and designed to aggravate. The people are the worst of it though, as the new service and retail ethos is one in which employees are incentivized and emboldened not just to bait and mistreat customers, but to do so with a smug obstinacy that is one of the most basic and universal triggers of angry and violent sentiments. And adding “OK, Boomer” or “Karen” to the repertoire will just double them.

So, yes, people are really angry and often, and it will get worse. Clerks will continue to be screamed at, doors slammed, phones violently hung up on, stewards and stewardesses punched, accounts canceled, credit card payments blocked, nasty vulgarian politicians voted for, and all the rest. Barrage people with Warnings! and Messages! and Alerts! and flashing lights and annoying sounds and telephone calls and text messages and advertisements every minute of every day? Keep people online and on phones for hours and hours, navigating one phone tree after another, while forcing them to listen to recorded messages saying how much the company “values your time” over and over again? Make people engage with surly, smug, and unresponsive clerks and “Team Members” who offer miserable service day in and day out, while making them pay through the nose for it all, and then mocking them when they complain?

Where this all leads should be obvious to anyone.

61 thoughts on “Angry People

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  1. I think a lot of people ‘of a certain age’ will identify with this. It also reminded me of that great car-reservation scene from Seinfeld (The Alternate Side):

    1. More angry and violent people. That’s where it leads. It will, of course, break at some point.

      My point really is that if you think about it for even five minutes, we are doing everything we can to make people as angry as possible. A near perfect example of getting exactly what you ask for.

  2. This is precisely how our civilization is going down the drain. The politics of our time may be corrupt, but it is the moral backbone of our civilization that needs revival.

    1. We’ve created unprecedentedly unrealistic expectations for young people and those starting out in the economy, while at the same time telling those buying the products and services to just suck it up and eat shit. This will not last.

  3. “Where this all leads should be obvious to anyone.”

    “Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself.”

    No doubt we can all commiserate and write tombs of horror stories about our frustrations with mindless and inadequate algorithms of both human and machine. FAQs that never seem to cover one’s particular problem, endless wormholes and loops bringing you back to square one and minimum wage twits reading off of answer sheets, without an ounce of initiative or common sense. Greed is certainly an important factor but so is competition and not wanting to raise the price of a resource or service as the cost of operations continue to rise. Who could have ever imagined having to pay for an inch of extra leg room on a flight.? Right out of a dystopian novel of an overcrowded world.

    Though I fully agree with 95% of what you say, it is in my nature to push back a little since it is a rare thing that all fault lies with one side of an issue. Obviously, and I think you will admit that there is the age/generation factor to consider in one’s expectations and ability to handle increasing complexity in technology. I would imagine your daughter has a better handle on many of the gizmos that drive you and your mother bonkers. It has become a common trope. The majority of people want intuitive and simple applications from their electronics but manufacturers feel obliged to add every possible contingent component just in case someone wants to launch a satellite, and charge us for it.

    You rightfully point out the “slew of distractions” and the sensory overload of flashing lights, buzzes, rings and alert tones. Most of them serve little more purpose than to elicit Pavlovian responses for our next fix to keep us redirected from real life. Heaven forbid we should be bored for more than one minute and look at the clouds or kiss someone. But, I tell you Dan, the new electronic safety features on vehicles have saved my bacon a number of times. Passing vehicle alerts, radar distance breaking and rear view cameras must have saved many lives. And, low pressure alerts make you get out of the vehicle and inspect your tires. These features have surely been the most dramatic safety innovations in a generation. I’m sure you appreciate this and was only making a general point to throw on the bonfire.

    Your frustrating experience with FedEx. I don’t think you offered the best rationale in defense of your side of the story. By telling the recalcitrant twits at FedEx that the address you gave for Tel Aviv had to be correct because DHL made a successful delivery only proved that the package managed to be delivered and not that the address was necessarily correct. The DHL delivery person may have had to use initiate and prior knowledge to see it home safely even if there was a minor deficiency in the labeling. The only pertinent fact to be considered was whether the address as written was in fact unambiguously valid. If so, there should have been ways to document and present this to FedEx who would then have the onus of having to prove you wrong. I only mention this, not to be critical, but to say that you have to know that these these receptionists and supervisors think in a vertical and rote manner befitting a robot with vacuum tubes. I have the mental scars of a veteran bureaucracy fighter. You have to corner these unimaginative 9 to 5ers into logical and factual tonic immobility and then maybe you have a chance of winning.

    As to the face where happiness goes to die, the IKEA cashier. I find him extremely funny, talented and satirical. I’m sure he speaks for millions of service workers past, present and future. I can’t believe you and your fellow restaurant employees didn’t have collective and secret gripes about certain diners. It’s only human. Of course if he actually treats and thinks of most of his customers as he acerbically portrays them, well then, he is the monster you portray and a fitting symbol of our current service industry milieu that the customer is occasionally right.

    1. I appreciate your remarks, though obviously, I disagree with quite a bit. My next car is going to be one old enough to have none of this tech in it. Something in the ballpark of a 1970 Barracuda or something like that. As for all the excuses for FedEx, that’s all they are, and they will never receive a penny from me again. When one is in business, one accommodates ones customers, or else loses to the competition. DHL gets my business now.

      Yes, I was in the lowest of the low level jobs, and of course we all complained about jerk customers. I said as much in the essay. But it’s the rest that matters. When you ain’t nothing and got nothing, you start at the bottom, and the bottom stinks. That’s a good part of the reason for getting out of it. The solution is not to try to convince everyone — or force them to act as if — it’s really the top.

      1. Bad ass Barracuda, all muscle. Can an electric vehicle ever be a muscle car, without the smell, noise and rumbling of combustion?

    2. Also, you’d be surprised re: my daughter and her cohort. They actually are even *worse* with the tech. She called *me* to ask me how the hell to get her cable and internet set up. And my students suddenly are no longer able to attach a document to an email.

      Part of the problem is that all they ever do is use applications. They never actually learned how any of the damned stuff works. It’s just magic in a box to them.

      1. That’s true. They can program Bluetooth in the car but can’t change a flat. It’s the damn applications and programming that frustrates me, not so much as setting up the mechanics.

  4. The more difficult question is how to fix the problems. Random thoughts:

    (1) Poll: Americans Say We’re Angrier Than A Generation Ago

    (2) If you can reach your destination within a day by driving, it is probably better to do so than flying. This is all the more so if you are going to rent a car at your destination. It saves money and is less stressful (for me at least). Last vacation we decided on two days of driving out, five days of real vacation, and two days driving back. We’re considering doing the same next time.

    (3) Society at large has decided it prefers online shopping to in-person shopping. If in-person shopping was so great, we have only ourselves to blame for moving away from it.

    (4) Your internet troubles may not be caused by anything in your house so it makes no sense to send a repairman to your house.

    (5) The telecom I work for has a hard time finding humans, let alone Americans, to employ as tech support. Without the automated systems you would have to wait even longer to get any support at all. Troubleshooting is a process of elimination so most of the things they have you try won’t work because there are numerous things that could be wrong but only one thing that is actually wrong. The only possible solution I see here is to make better pieces of technology. I suspect similar problems exist with tech support for other things too.

    (6) Road fatality rates are down from several decades ago. There is the risk of adding too many distractions and making things worse but the numbers don’t seem to bear this out. Even routine maintenance notifications probably keep us safer because they prompt us to get said maintenance rather than forget about it completely. Anecdotally, I’ve heard today’s cars are much more reliable than those of decades past. There is no doubt in my mind the safety features of today’s cars make them far safer than cars from even 15 years ago.

    (7) I can’t blame people today who don’t want to work for low wages and put up with angry diners. Firing complaining workers is more difficult when the restaurant is desperate for workers. I’m interested to see how restaurants do in the future. They may not be sustainable, especially with inflation hitting food prices. Raising prices to attract workers may repel customers.

    (8) I think a law could be passed to ban airlines from overbooking flights. This will probably result in higher airline ticket prices since the airline is trying to maximize profits with an overbooking algorithm.

    (9) The advanced technologies and sprawling, complex systems probably are necessary to do what we do. Your cell phone and internet simply won’t work without them. As society ages we will have fewer workers relative to retirees. We’ll have to rely on technology or certain jobs will cease to exist.

    (10) It’s pretty amazing that I can use the internet to search for a solution to almost any problem. How many calls to repair has this prevented? How much money has this saved?

    (11) We as individuals have to consider how to disconnect from modernity.

    1. I think the problem is caused by people thinking reality plays by certain rules of fairness and entitles them to certain things. I think that entitlement will either be coddled leading to socialism (which works great until the money runs out) or it will result in the generation realizing they have to be competent at something society finds useful if they want to make a living. The latter is the free market path.

      2 and 8) having regulators passing more laws preventing the free market from working will likely make matters worse. I was talking to a lady the other day that said everyone had to get off one of her planes because the pilot had already flown too many hours. I am not saying there is anything wrong with the hourly rules as they exist now, (I don’t know what they are) but sometimes these rules are created based on politics more than science or facts. That said class action lawsuits were designed for situations where large companies rip off a huge number of people a small amount. Class action lawsuits do not get people full recoveries, but they do at least provide some reason for these companies not to rip off huge numbers of people a small amount. Making it easier to file class action law suits I think is a decent way to force these companies to be accountable. Keep in mind that when it comes to government regulation it is usually the larger players that make the rules to keep the smaller businesses out of the market.

      5 and 7) We just seem to have a labor shortage in the US. It is a good time to be an employee. When I got out of law school I was getting so many rejection letters, I swear I was getting rejection letters from firms I didn’t even apply to. How did they get my address? Our economy would likely do better if we increased immigration so we could hire some people that want to work some of these jobs. Or I think we will just have fewer goods and services in our society. All these restaurants that can’t keep staff will just close down and our society will be full of McDonalds and other big chain restaurants.

      6) I would think cars are safer from a airbag, seat belts, and other the design aspects. Therefore the drop in fatalities is not necessarily due to the car giving you distracting messages that force you to squint at your iphone to click through them when you are driving. It would be interesting to see the rate of crashes overall not just fatal ones. Back in the 80s and earlier many of the current crashes that don’t involve fatalities may have involved fatalities. And in any case, from your source, it does look like the fatalities per person has increased quite a bit in 2020 7.1%increase and a 10.5% increase in 2021. And really overall the fatality rate seem to be pretty consistent over the last 20 years.

      10) Yes the internet has changed things quite a bit. I think perhaps you have to go back to the printing press to find a more impactful technology.

      1. Joe:

        Regarding air travel, I suggested a single law against overbooking. How do you think such a law would make matters worse? I mentioned a possible rise in ticket prices. I’m not a lawyer, but how can a class action lawsuit be filed if overbooking is legal?

        Regarding the labor shortage, allowing immigrants into the US might help the US (temporarily) but it might harm other countries.

        1. Generally you can sue for breach of contract. If some law allows airlines to breach their contract with immunity then I think that law is the culprit. If people are not suing because the potential verdict is not worth the transaction costs of the suit then class actions are the best solution.

          If airlines never actually promise to give you a seat when they take your money for a flight then I think it is a free market issue. Yes we can say the free market is not working right now but they adjust. So if this continues it is likely that some airline will start to advertise that they will actually seat you, if you buy a ticket. And the consumer will put some sort of value on that. It seems to me that we are still somewhat coming out of an unusual situation with covid where travel was severely restricted and now airlines need to readjust. I don’t think putting any sort of permanent law on the books would be a good idea for what is likely a transitory issue. But I can’t speak directly to the problems unless I see the law. Would the law require the passenger to prove their damages? If so I am not sure it would be any better. Would the law just impose a flat cost per customer? Is it enough or too much? Would the law preempt contract suits? I would suggest we give the world another 12 months and if this is still a significant problem then lets do something. But I really think this is a matter of businesses having to adjust.

          Covid demonstrated just how tight margins are for companies. If there is a slight increase in demand the stores run out. Airlines were shut down almost entirely and now they need to ramp back up and get a proper balance so they make some profit but also remain competitive.

          I’m not sure immigration would hurt other countries. If they send workers that can’t find work to the US that should lower their own unemployment rates. Several countries in the world have problems due to high unemployment.

          1. You and I are quite far apart on economics. I am in favor of far more substantial regulation than you are. I often describe myself as an Eisenhower Liberal.

          2. Yes I listened to your excellent discussion with Professor Leiter from University of Chicago on Marxism.

            I really enjoyed the interview and learned a bit about Marx and the history of Marx’s ideas. I don’t really recall taking issue with anything that was said there about the history.

            But I also recall thinking I would almost certainly disagree with you and Professor Leiter on what economic policies would be advisable today.

            I am generally against government regulation of the market unless it is to deal with certain externalities like environmental impact. I will offer these reasons for now:

            1) I tend to agree with Hayek and Smith that the knowledge of thousands of business owners and consumers is greater than the knowledge of a few bureaucrats. Therefore regulation from a few government pretend know it all tends makes everyone poorer because they literally don’t know what they are doing as well as all the people involved in the particular business and consumers.

            2) Also It is usually a few large corporations that have the ear of the government and they make the regulations such that their competitors are eliminated in exchange for political favors to the politicians. These federal regulations are ripe for the sort of corporatism that creates alliances with large corporations is dangerous and places too much power in the state. This can be fertile ground for corruption and is avoided by simply keeping government out of free markets as much as possible.

            3) I believe our labor properly and naturally belongs to the individual that is deciding to do the labor. Therefore the individual has a natural right to sell their labor as he or she sees fit.
            Government taking ownership/control of an individuals labor approaches slavery. I am not saying *all* the wrongs of slavery (especially chattel slavery) are inherent in the government taking control/ownership of our labor but some of what makes slavery wrong also applies to the government taking control/ownerships of a persons labor. If you look at extreme cases such as socialist societies in 20th century the workers are moved on the spectrum to be much closer to slaves. They can only sell their labor to the government and when you can only sell something to one entity that entity can name the price or your starve. Labor unions in socialist countries are often not very effective because they had no bargaining leverage.

            Yes regulation does not always mean socialism. But I view this as a spectrum based on what it means to “own” something. And saying for example that I can only sell my labor if these conditions are met is in effect the government taking some “dominion and control” i.e., ownership of my labor.
            https://trueandreasonable.co/2021/02/25/two-types-of-soft-socialism-explained/

            So even regulation is to a varying extent a violation of this right.

          3. This is all very abstract and unpersuasive. And the idea that you can have huge, advanced, complex, heterogenous industrialized societies without substantial regulation and social safety nets strikes me as unserious from the get go.

          4. I am not against all regulations. I gave general reasons why I am generally against government regulation. Hence I am hesitant that the federal government should make additional regulations restricting how airlines and their customers can do business.

            I didn’t expect to convince you. But those reasons are persuasive to many people. if you want to intelligently engage with people that don’t share your economic views, are worth serious consideration.

            FWIW I don’t see how any serious thinker would support self proclaimed socialists like Bernie Sanders. But large numbers of people in fact voted for him so I take the reasons supporting heavy government regulation and socialism seriously.

  5. Good piece! This, and Brian Leiter’s report on virtual dissertations got me back to grappling with complexity. Which I; another Kaufman ; and others have grappled with. People are emerging more into the comfort of impersonal contacts. I won’t call this growth, although some might. Isolationism—I WILL call it this—has been abetted by our health concerns: this is happenstance. But, other factors and forces were always already building, not the least of them, complexity. I submit that our comfort with distance, forced or chosen, is tantamount to rejection of community.
    (There is a better,albeit legalistic, word for this but It has escaped my consciousness for the moment.) In any case, the world gets emotionally colder and more distant, even as climate heats up. And yes, this may be classed as evolution of one sort. I don’t, and won’t call it growth.

  6. 100% with you.

    Sadly even on working the tv. Just last night I took a long convoluted route to get to the correct episode on hulu. The wire from my clicker may have gotten disconnected from the back of the tube.

    One time my daughter said she doesn’t understand why some people in my generation get so mad just because an order is wrong? I said it is because my generation works hard for the money we spend for goods and services so it is upsetting when we repeatedly don’t get what we paid for. We value money because we know it does not come easy.

    I had to explain that in the past if we paid for a hamburger and diet coke we expected to get a hamburger and diet coke not a chicken quesadilla and sweet tea. It’s not that errors would not occasionally be made. But it wasn’t expected and people took their jobs seriously. If it was my job to get the order right I really tried to get the order right. Not just hand out something/anything in a bag to keep the line moving. The thing is my daughter didn’t deny that the orders are very often wrong. She just doesn’t seem to care.

    I have my theories of why this is happening and it does seem to be a generational thing. Younger people perhaps think they should be paid more so they can throw out all the wrong orders until they get what they want. They find out it is no fun to work jobs to make the money but they then blame the employer for not paying them more. They don’t seem to understand how free markets are supposed to work.

  7. Agreed. Angry people.

    Just a couple of incidents in the past week:

    A guy in a sleeveless t-shirt was ‘expressing himself’ to the Canadian finance minister by shouting at her f -off repeatedly along with get the f -ing out of the province as she boarded the elevator in an Albertan town hall.

    Two Air France pilots got into a fist fight in their cockpit and flight attendants had to break it up and baby sit them for the rest of the flight.

    So yeah, it feels to me like there’s more frustration and people who want to be heard, and there’s more ways to do it and more bad examples to follow.

    And there also seems to be some parallel, maybe complimentary, trends:

    Quiet quitting,

    “which isn’t actually intended to lead to a resignation exploded into the popular lexicon last week when a TikTok video went viral … Clocking out at 5 p.m. on the dot, only doing your assigned daily tasks, limiting chats with colleagues and no working overtime … “quiet quitting” may be a new invention, the mentality behind it is not … “work to rule,” for example, describes a labour action in which employees strictly perform the work laid out in their contract, without taking on additional work … In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a major economic movement, The Great Resignation, which saw people leaving their jobs or switching professions in droves, as they re-evaluated their relationship to work during a life-changing health crisis.”
    https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/quiet-quitting-worker-disengagement-1.6560226

    Lying flat,

    “Chinese youth opt out of the rat race in search of personal peace. Young people are abandoning demanding careers and ditching consumerism, but the ruling communist party needs them to work hard to further economic growth … “To lie flat” (tang ping) and “let it rot” (bai lan) are two terms that have become rallying cries for Chinese youths exasperated by the Chinese job market as well as the larger expectations of Chinese society.”
    https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/8/27/chinese-youth-opt-out-of-the-rat-race-in-search-of-personal-peace

    Somehow it all seems related.

    1. It seems to be the general trend that once a society reaches a “comfortable” level of existence built upon hard and demanding effort, subsequent generations get, in a certain sense, fat and lazy. I believe Japan is an illustrative model.

      One can also question the economic fairness of an employee who is expected to give more than 100% on a fixed salary. If the employer expects 110% she should pay commensurately. Of course this is predicated on the assumption the employee isn’t desirous of moving up the ladder.

      We’ve all seen the ubiquitous for hire signs festooning the landscape. I’m curious where these former fast food employees have gone to greener pastures? I’m curious, if McDonald’s paid the average hamburger flipper $20.00/hr and the shift manager more than an additional $2.00/hr, (commensurate with the responsibility) would that really put such a dent in the company’s blue chip profit?

      Trying to squeeze every drop of blood out of a rock never boded well for any society.

  8. You lost me when you started arguing for your right to abuse service workers. Just because you got yelled at and verbally abused by customers doesn’t mean it was correct for them to do so. Be angry, by all means. But if you think someone being in a “starter job” means that you deserve to be able to take that anger out on them, then your attitude is part of the problem. You’re just upset that people will push back now.

    1. Lol. You poor confused soul. You think it’s the people with the money who ultimately are going to eat all of this?

      I’ve got several bridges in Manhattan to sell you.

      1. Your reply is entirely nonsensical. Whatever you think is going to happen, it still doesn’t excuse your attitude toward service workers.

        “Indeed, service and retail are seeing an almost anti-customer-service ethos take hold” I think you’ll find that if you pull your head just a bit out of your upper colon and treated them like humans, that you would be able to have plenty of pleasant customer service interactions. It appears you have decided that everyone is justified in abusing the public facing workers of the organization. Instead, can I suggest controlling your emotions as adults are expected to do? If you want to put on a wise, worldly persona, don’t then tell on yourself about your childish reactions to everyday life.

        Lastly, if you want to sound a little less like you’re grasping at ill-defined straws, perhaps you could outline what you think will happen. Not in terms of “all of this” or “Where this all leads should be obvious to anyone,” but actual predictions.

    2. As a former server, I can’t help but agree. Seems like this should be a case of basic reciprocity. You want your food and drink in good condition and in a timely manner and I want money for it; we both also want to be treated with at least a rudimentary level of respect (we live in a society). Servers routinely make exceptions for the latter. The fact that someone is paying money doesn’t make their assessment of their experience or their response to it fair game. Money does not turn people into lords, even some people like to act like it. There were people who were justifiably upset by this or that and God bless them, I get it. Still, I was always polite even to the assholes, but they were, obviously, assholes, precisely because they had the kind of ridiculous expectations that Dan decries in cohorts he scapegoats. Some of the assholes even were that cohort, which, to that extent, he unwittingly enables. More often than not, the worst of them were not the person who was spending their one night of the month out, but the moneybags shitbird who enjoys denigrating peons. I won’t ever make excuses for them. Dan is denigrating one crappy entitlement in service of raising up another crappy entitlement. The notion of Dan going to the store to watch a customer buy some new pants is hilarious to me, and that he considers it a badge of honor is a neat instance of labor bowing down before capital. The money serves.

      1. Boy, I can’t imagine someone getting the whole thing more wrong than this. Bravo.

        How long were you a waiter? I did it for over 15 years. I also was a dishwasher. And did every other of the lowliest jobs on the planet. How about you?

        Good grief.

        1. Started as a busser. Was a waiter for (what?) seven, eight years. I certainly remember customers who had bad experiences not because anything went wrong, but because they brought absurd expectations to the meal, an obvious scenario your piece only seems to believe exists on the supply side. And this in the COVID age of customers literally attacking waitstaff. I just find the notion of you having to play the penitent witness to a customer, outside of work, after they were already reimbursed, over an accident, nothing to gloat about. What is this, a Victorian novel? Some Wooster and Jeeves tosh? If I was that customer I would’ve turned that manager down on the spot.

        2. Imagine being a waiter for over 15 years and not believing service workers shouldn’t have to suffer through irrationally angry customers. If nothing else, you’re telling on your inability to learn from experiences.

  9. I agree that the incompetent and dismissive behaviors that you identify are responsible for making our lives worse, and that anger at these behaviors is justifiable. But I’m not persuaded that this explains the pervasive anger we see at the present moment. Why don’t people bear these new burdens with greater equanimity? Your answer seems to be that these burdens are so great that one can’t help getting really angry at them. I’m inclined to think that other factors are making people angrier (eg, the adoption by the media as a whole of the Fox News model of increasing viewership/readership by constantly drumming up outrage, the lack of emotional composure that is inevitable in a hyper consumerist society dominated by TV and social media), and that the factors you identify are the legitimate receptacles of this new anger, rather than the primary causes of it (I agree that they contribute to it).

      1. Your focus was on interactions between consumers, on the one hand, and various providers of goods and services, on the other. These were all your major examples (airlines, Fed Ex, tech support for phones and TVs, retail workers). Am I wrong about that? If not, then it is fair to say that the nature of contemporary interactions between consumers and goods/services providers was the factor you identified as the one that is making people angry. And I think it’s fair for me to push back and say that–horrible as these goods/service providers are (no debate from me there)–what’s really making people angry is what they’re consuming (e.g., rage inducing media) and various other lifestyle factors that aren’t discussed here.

          1. Yes, but you discussed virtually all those things in the context of obtaining goods/services – the problems you identified stemmed not from the act of consumption itself, but rather from the obstacles one faces when trying to consume the good or service in question. For example, the problems with high tech TV that you discuss all involve the difficulties one encounters in trying to set up the high tech TV, operate the high tech TV, or obtain assistance in fixing the high tech TV. Thus, what you’ve identified is a set of barriers that make it harder to watch the programming that you want to watch; in other words, they are obstacles that make it harder for you to consume the final good. Whereas I think the bigger problem is that, even if your TV worked perfectly, what you’d be watching would be some 24 hour cable news program that is designed to make you as angry as possible. In other words, the final good is a far greater source of your anger than the obstacles you must surmount to obtain it. My point is this: the elderly couple who stops watching TV entirely is probably a lot less angry than the billionare who is rich enough to get someone to set up his TV for him. And if you spent all your time watching cat videos, rather than rage-inducing political media, you probably wouldn’t be that angry even after all the hassle you suffered in setting up your TV.

            (I’d note that the one point in the article where you do seem to be discussing problems with the final good, rather than the process of obtaining it, is your discussion of the highly distracting alerts in high tech cars. But as I read your article, the other problems you discussed were difficulties one faces in obtaining what one wants to consume, rather than problems stemming from the consumer good itself.)

          2. Well, you see Dan, that’s where you fell short by narrowing your focus on only a hand full of every day transactional outrages, instead of the other quadrillion things that anger people. You have to broaden your scope to cover all of life’s ills that illicit anger like ED, a run in your stockings or a bear market, to name a few. You’ve got until the heat death of the Universe (man, that makes me angry) to list them all and add brief liner notes. Lol!

  10. You say, “I was simply trying to offer some illustrations. It wasn’t meant as an advanced treatise on the phenomenon.”

    Fine, but illustrations of what? You told us what: “What these examples illustrate is a convergence of forces over the last twenty years or so that have made our daily [and even more frequent] interactions much less pleasant: an unprecedented dependence on and engagement with unresponsive and unaccountable systems and people; ubiquitous outsourcing and automation; and a significant swing from a customer-centered business model to an employee-centered one, especially in service and retail.”

    i never said you didn’t offer enough illustrations of that phenomenon. What I said is that there are good reasons to believe that the phenomenon you are illustrating is not what’s really causing people to be so angry today. My example was cable TV news. You can make that “system” much more “accountable” and “responsive” (i.e., improve the TV industry until there was less hassle involved in setting up, fixing, and using your TV), so that you are able to set up and watch your TV with ease, but if what you’re watching is alarmist cable news, you’re still going to be angry.

    I don’t debate that the phenomenon you are illustrating is real and important. But I’m not convinced that it is what is making people so angry today.

    1. Apples and oranges. I’d bet the ranch that during the unfortunate interchange between Dan’s wife and mother with the airline’s system and insensitive reps, the last thing on either party’s minds were Trump, Biden, or social media.

      If you are implying that the current social and political milieu has everyone subliminally primed to be argumentative and angry over everyday inconveniences, I’m not buying it. I think Dan was talking about nothing more than a general lack of empathy, civility and business decorum.

      1. Well, I interpreted Dan as positing the phenomenon that he very insightfully identified an explanation for the pervasive and unprecedented sense of anger that seems to characterize life today. And the difference between Dan’s account and mine is that there are easily conceivable solutions to the problems Dan identified. Many of the systems Dan rightly criticized as being unaccountable and unresponsive could be fixed by more aggressive enforcement of the antitrust laws (this is most clear in the cases of FedEx and the airlines). One could also imagine consumer regulations that prohibit telephone and TV companies from forcing customers who need tech support to haggle with robots for thirty minutes before they finally get to talk to a human–the law could say that the companies must make a human available right away. But there’s no readily perceptible solutions to the kinds of problems I’m talking about. For example, if you accept as true that the media market has evolved in such a way that the only news providers who can survive are the ones that generate as much outrage as possible, then you have to face the fact that this is a fountain of anger that no one knows how to turn off, for no one has a model of a major news provider that can prosper today without consistently generating outrage. And if you accept that the sources of our anger may be even broader than that (e.g., consumerism, social isolation, imperialism), the solutions become even less apparent.

        1. I agree, solutions are hard to come by with wicked problems. But, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. People want to be treated with respect and a modicum of understanding and empathy. in what is ostensibly neutral territory.

          What further exasperates the problem in consumerism is the breaking down of the laissez faire paradigm that the market will self correct. Today’s greater dependency on specialization and de facto monopolization of critical services has the consumer by the short hairs with few if any options of going without the product or service or finding alternatives. And, the government treats these critical businesses and services like the sacred cows of neoliberalism.

  11. > Show any anger towards or even just raise your voice to an airport clerk or steward, and you may very well be dragged off by the police. If you think this is hyperbole, I was threatened with this twice – once at a car rental desk, inside an airport, and once on a plane – and in neither case had I done anything more than verbally express my irritation at appalling customer service, after having spent an even more appalling sum of money.

    This is going to sound snarky, and it is, but bear with me as I try to grope across this generational gap, Boomer, and please explain something to me because this is a genuine, honest question that I am issuing from my innermost heart of hearts.

    I want to know what, exactly, specifically, and in precise detail, you think that shouting at a steward should have accomplished, if not your arrest.

    1. I want to know what, exactly, specifically, and in precise detail, you think that shouting at a steward should have accomplished, if not your arrest.

      ————

      I’m afraid your desire will have to go unsatisfied.

    2. One has a right to get upset at effrontery’s to one’s normative expectations in a pay for service transaction. And, it is only the saints among us that can keep from elevating our voices to an understandable degree that is far from your hyperbolic term – shouting.

      Some service people are not suited to interface with a disgruntled public and find refuge in having unpleasantness terminated by having people hauled away in cuffs instead of trying to defend the often indefensible business model that treats paying customers like canned sardines.

      Dan nor anyone else has suggested that it is permissible or de rigueur
      to abuse service personnel but, you suggest the opposite is to be condoned.

      1. Bingo.

        I will respond with seriousness when engaged with seriously and in good faith. I will not when engaged with snark, misrepresentation, and accusation, especially from anonymous strangers. They will get as they give and if it goes too far, will be banned.

        This isn’t a street corner. It’s my magazine.

    3. What the customer hopes to accomplish by showing anger and raising his or her voice in the airport is to cause enough of a ruckus that the airline decides that it will be better for it to honor its contract with the customer and provide the customer with the goods and services for which the customer has already paid. Raising a ruckus is a valid bargaining strategy, especially in a world where the customer–who has already paid for the ticket–has no other meaningful ways of compelling the airline to honor its end of the bargain. You do realize that, when you shame the customer for employing this tactic, you are acting as an apologist for the airlines, right?

  12. Several confused souls in the comments. To save everyone’s valuable time: The opinions of anonymous strangers on the internet regarding what I am “excused” in doing or not are of zero interest to me.

    And of course, one sad sack already had to pull out the “ok, Boomer.” Poor thing just walked right into it.

  13. Some additional observations on the apparent increase of angry people:

    1. Political polarization, accelerated by social media and cable news, has normalized interpersonal hostility and demonization of others. A media environment that formerly modeled restraint and objectivity gave way to one that embodies subjectivity and self-righteousness. “The Resistance.” “Anti-vaxxers.” “The personal is political.” Reflexive left-right hostility migrates to employee-customer relations. Best defense is still a good offense, so offensiveness is the best policy in many types of interpersonal interactions.

    2. The “employee-centered” model is real because HR is a nightmare. Disciplining employees for misconduct, including bad behavior toward customers, is a minefield for employers. Claims for discriminatory discipline or discharge are easy to make, expensive to defend, and available to almost everyone. Claims by angry customers, on the other hand, are not as threatening. Even then, however, many large employers encourage blunt, bureaucratic procedures for employees dealing with dissatisfied customers, such as referrals, calling security, law enforcement, etc.—to avoid legal claims arising from angry interactions and aggressive behavior by employees.

    3. Buyers and sellers in the same anger exchange: Service/retail workers are also service/retail customers and vice versa. Today’s rude retail clerk may have been yesterday’s mistreated airline passenger. Like energy, anger is preserved—it’s recycled from both sides of the counter, often by the same people.

  14. You’re conflating two very different social phenomena.

    1. That big systems such as the airlines or Amazon fuck up more as they become so complicated and involve so many variables that there is more and more possibility of error. That has nothing to do with the good will of the people involved or not.

    2. That people who deal with the public in restaurants and commerce are less and less courteous. I don’t live in the U.S. and in my experience in Chile that is not true. Waiters here are less servile than they used to be, but that does not make them rude or impolite. In fact, servile waiters make me uncomfortable. Waiters work for tips and so they have every incentive to please customers. In places where there are no tips, such as Starbucks, the service is polite and efficient too in any case.

    Are young people less polite than they used to be? It’s hard to say. When I was young myself, I didn’t notice whether people were polite or not: it didn’t matter much to me. Now that I’m 76 and afraid of falling as I walk down the street or use the subway, I’m extremely aware of whether people are courteous to me or not. So it’s hard to have an “objective” point of view on this matter.

    1. Not conflating anything. Discussed a bunch of factors that I think are significant and of which I think most people in the US are aware of and will understand perfectly well, unless they are in the grip of something.

          1. Just to find a point in common, I am reading the rock and cultural critic Mark Fisher and he compares the experience of contacting a call center with what K goes through in Kafka’s the Castle.

  15. Why not call dealing with these problems, of Fed Ex packages and waiters a form of street smarts?
    The Greeks called it Sophrysone, didn’t they? The problem you seem to be saying is that the system is rigged at the least by virtue of being complex and behind the scenes.
    There are people who deal better with these situations- some of them are my relatives- and a lot of it comes from hard experience and advancement in the system to the point that they have their own power base- the thing about angry people is to ask what power do they actually have and just to ignore it otherwise- anger is usually an expression of powerlessness or a sense of being threatened- I have been pointlessly angry sometimes too and what more if used sensibly it can get a point across

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