Reclining airplane seats as a metaphor for problems in power

Slate has an article up called The Recline and Fall of Western Civilization. The problem of idiots in front of you reclining their seats into your lap is certainly, as a good friend who grew up in the Caribbean would say, a first world problem. But the idea behind the article is that as much as one may grow irritated and resort to childish ploys like kicking the seat in front of you at irregular intervals, the problem really lies with the airlines  that installed them in the first place. Decisions that were likely made by people who never fly coach anyway.


While the  immediate problem is ascribable and attributable to the asshat sitting in front of you,  it is the greater policy that is at fault. When I was a wee junior faculty, raises were total percentage points (now there are no raises). That meant the older and longer you had been around, the bigger raise you got, whether you were a nobel laureate or greybearded deadwood. It made us angry at the senior folks, although the administration was truly to blame.

So when you get mad at NIH and old fartes and propose “rules” for who gets money, stop and think about why the situation exists in the first place. People do have the right to put back their seats, its just rude. Anyone can apply for a grant, but having 6 R01’s is rude in a more fundamental, but less acknowledged way. But, the cause of the problem isn’t that someone puts their seat back (though they could refrain), the cause is the money that goes into NIH isn’t enough for the people it supports. Too many mouths at the trough.

Changing the NIH budget may not work in the short term. But until we do something about or at least begin to work towards changing the perception and role of science and research in our society, the budget won’t go up.



One thought on “Reclining airplane seats as a metaphor for problems in power

  1. I think all these goofy decisions come down to “what sounds like a good idea” vs. “what is actually a good idea”. Reclining seats sound like a great idea because who doesn’t like to recline? But they are actually a bad idea because they torture the person behind the reclined individual. It’s the same with government funding. Cutting funding to NIH and awarding the very little money that is available on a prestige and priority basis sounds like a great idea but it actually is a terrible idea because everyone loses out in the end.

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