A few weeks ago I was reading Ace of Spades, which most of the time does not raise my blood pressure, when I came across this dismissive, gloaty type of post about how we’re done as a free people, because look at how people go through airport security: they eagerly, quickly, get all their trays and lay out their everything, etc.
The implication is that people like or approve of the security Kabuki, and are doing it out of how much they approve and want to have their stuff pawed through, etc.
It felt wrong when I read it. But I couldn’t put my finger on it.
So, yesterday, while having my 4th amendment rights violated I realized how wrong this was, and why it’s wrong.
Going through the TSA’s tender ministrations ALWAYS makes me forget I’m an OWL (older, wiser, libertarian). I want to put on my best innocent voice (the one I used to rile college authorities) and say “When was the fourth amendment repealed?” or “Excuse me, you have perhaps failed to realize I’m an American and we have certain rights?” or even “Can you direct me to the place where the constitution is still respected?”
However, I went through the line as “eagerly” as everyone else. More possibly, as I take my shoes off before I even get in line. A mother behind me was having near-silent kittens about her kid walking on the airport floor in socks, but heck, I used to eat sand on the beach and walk barefoot on village streets when horses and oxen were the main transportation.
I did not do it because I thought the authorities had the right, or because I approved of what they were doing. Even if I thought the security kabuki (shoes, really? I mean the shoe bomber should have been spotted just walking through) was doing anything (I traveled with a can of mace disguised as a lighter for ten years after 9/11. Not on purpose. I’d forgotten I had it in my purse. The point is it was never found, even though what it was disguised as — a lighter — is also forbidden) I couldn’t approve of what they were doing yesterday which was apparently training new personnel during one of the busiest hours I’ve seen DIA. This meant every bag scan called supervisors over to discuss it for ten minutes. I was happy we’d built in an extra hour, but we let people ahead of us who were already boarding.
So why was I “such a good sheep”?
Not for the authorities. The mechanism made itself clear when obeying just as crazy an authority a few minutes later.
Unless you have flown more than one airline recently, you probably don’t know what I mean. If you have, though, you know each airline has come up with a more “efficient” way to fill the plane. They’ve done it all. Zones based on your lateral position (Window, isle, middle); zones based on where you sit on the plane (front, back, middle), zones based on your first name, your last name and how well you dance the Macarena.
All of these have “studies” that show how efficient they are. And none of them — save the one airline that lets you board at will because their experts have proven its faster — actually makes any sense when you throw real people in. There is always someone battling a too-large-by-a-tenth-of-an-inch carry on. There is always someone who boards wrong. And even when it all goes “right”, even obeying all the rules, there is almost always a long wait in the boarding sleeve, something that never happened before all these systems.
Maybe there are people who believe these systems. I don’t know. Most people seem to be rolling their eyes so hard the concourse becomes littered with them.
But we do it. “eagerly” and quietly.
We do it for the same reason, I realized, we facilitate the TSA madness. We do it not out of fear, not out of submission, but out of politeness to our fellow sufferers.
Imagine I had given in to my inner bastage and started asking them by what right they were bullying me. Who would it have affected? The TSA? Oh, h*ll no. They like cracking down. They do their job in the hope they get to clobber one of us. You can feel that.
But the people behind me would miss planes/have their day destroyed by my going into a kabuki theater of my own (It wouldn’t change anything, except I wouldn’t now be in Chattanooga, TN at the start of liberty con.)
Essentially we obey these irrational schemes, the government’s and the airlines’ both because we are being polite to those people with us both strangers and family/friends. The being polite to/respecting strangers IS what makes a civil society work as a free society. And it was the trap we’re caught in.
The search, in Portugal, is far less rigorous because there is much less feel that you owe anything to strangers. If they tried to make them jump through the hoops we jump through, everyone would rebel.
Paradoxically that is what makes the country function less like a free society, because you also need tall, strong walls to prevent people stealing plants from your garden; you’d never put Christmas decorations outside; and you really can’t trust anyone you’re not tribally (blood or tradition) connected to.
So, while I agree that the TSA and the way we put up with it is a foot in the door for tyranny, it must be realized what they are exploiting is one of the very characteristics that makes the US work: consideration for strangers.
It’s sort of like the flu pandemic killed more strong, young people, because how violently your immune system reacted was the biggest risk factor.
It is possible for the TSA to go so far that the same “politeness” demands we stop obeying them. I think they are aware of these limits, though possibly not consciously. I’ll note the noodie scans are not being used as much/often are completely ignored while people go through the old metal detectors. Also, the craziness a few years back, in which they were testing drinks sold and bought inside the security area, has been dropped. That last one a) really p*ssed people off. b) was not caught in the politeness trap. If I’d been accosted, I’d have accidentally/on purpose poured my coffee on the tsa agent’s crotch, and what would it have affected, other than his wedding tackle?
BUT until they do or they step outside the trap, yeah, Americans will behave like sheep. Not because they are, but because they respect their fellow citizens too much to want to hurt them.
Which is why these excesses must be fought outside the tsa line, legislatively and through incremental change in the people we elect. It is also why government must be kept small, so it can never use our own best traits against us.
It can’t be trusted and it subverts everything. As we keep trying to explain to the left side of the isle, it’s not that we don’t want to help the poor; it’s not that we don’t believe in equality under the law; it’s not that we don’t think some people who are in invidious conditions SHOULDN’T be given a way to access what others get by existing — it’s that we can’t trust government and work-a-day bureaucrats to do it.
It’s because when you give power to bureaucrats, we all end up, metaphorically, having to take our shoes off for strangers, while the underwear bomber and three guys with box cutters can walk right through.
It’s because ultimately government only has power over those willing to obey laws and considerate of their fellow men, hostages to the prepotent insanity of the people who are attracted to TSA like jobs.
Terrorist, criminal and those really determined to hurt others because of race, creed or sex, can do so anyway. They’re not caught in the politeness trap.
Government when it tries to become everyone’s mother is like a gun aimed ONLY at the wrong people.
And it’s time we change it. Long before we get on a TSA line.