TSA and America's Culture of Zero-Risk
(c) 2010 Richard Forno. Permission granted to reproduce freely with credit.
The lede on the DRUDGEREPORT most of Monday showed a Catholic nun being
patted down at an airport security checkpoint, with the caption starkly
declaring that "THE TERRORISTS HAVE WON."
Ten years after 9/11, Americans who fly are facing a Faustian choice
between subjecting themselves to a virtual (and potentially medically
damaging) strip search conducted in questionable machines run by federal
employees or a psychologically damaging pat-down of their bodies. Osama
bin Ladin must be giggling himself silly this week.
But what should we expect in a society that requires adults to wear
bicycle helmets while pedaling in the park, provides disclaimers of
liability on TV advertisements, or prints warnings on fast-food coffee
cups? The name of the game is zero risk. Not risk mitigation, or
accepting responsibility for one's actions, but risk aversion. It's a
failure to acknowledge that we can't protect against everything bad that
can happen to us, so we must protect against everything we think might
-- might -- be harmful at some point.
It's living in fear.
TSA has established itself as the lead federal agency charged with
perpetuating this risk-averse culture at airports around the country.
The proof is evident over the past ten years: Because of the Shoebomber,
we have to remove our shoes. Thanks to the Christmas Crotchbomber, we
are subjected to invasive scanning or government-mandated molestation.
Because there's a potential for explosives in liquid or gel form, we've
got the "Three Ounces in A Baggie" rule. Wearing a sweater or bulky
fleece hoodie? Take it off (along with your shoes and belt) so it can be
examined. Or frisking Granny, or asking toddlers to drink from their
Sippy-cups to make sure it's really Mommy's milk inside. And let's not
forget the thankfully defunct prohibitions on knitting needles, insulin
syringes, matches, lighters, or standing during the last 30 minutes of
flights to Washington, DC.
All in the name of protecting the homeland.
Given this latest round of homeland hysteria, I must ask again -- what
happens after the next 'new' attempt to smuggle something onto a plane?
Actually, we know the answer: another item will go on the Prohibited
Items List and additional screenings of passengers will be conducted,
followed by more patronising security-speak from our Department of
Homeland Insecurity asking law abiding folks to give up more of their
privacy and personal "space" in the interest of Homeland (er, "State")
Security. Big Brother, meet Big Sister. With all her homeland security
lobbyists along for the ride.
Where does it end?
Due to this nationalised risk aversion and a docile public, we're now
living in a country that subordinates law abiding travelers to
quasi-law-enforcement employees of a government agency empowered to make
up the rules as it goes along and arrest/fine those who question,
challenge, or refuse to comply with their demands while impeding their
travel within this great country. What does all of this do to our
nation? Our way of life? Our way of thinking as citizens?
Perhaps this is intentional, and we're being conditioned to accept the
actions of TSA and embrace a zero-risk mentality on our society. What
else can explain the statement made earlier today by TSA Director John
Pistole that citizens who protest what they see as government
transgressions into their privacy are being "irresponsible"? Calling us
irresponsible when protesting this latest round of TSA actions is no
different than our being labelled unpatriotic when protesting or
questioning some of the provisions in the controversial USA PATRIOT Act.
Same stuff, different Administration.
The American public needs to recognise the nature of the terror threat
and accept a certain level of risk in their lives and travels instead of
kowtowing to every reactive security 'enhancement' proclaimed by TSA as
necessary to protect the country.
The tragedy of 9/11 wasn't necessarily the attacks of that fateful day,
but what has happened to America in the years since.
Which should make us wonder: who should we be afraid of, really --
"them" or "us?"
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