Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pat Me Down

Color me paranoiac, if you will, but I'm convinced the current media panic-fest over airport security is politically driven. Americans are being whipped up into yet another absurd frenzy over an issue that, in view of the problems we face, strikes me as entirely trivial and peripheral. Given the history of shoe- and underwear-bombers and the highly publicized intentions of Al Qaeda to personalize their attack strategy, it seems to me reasonable to respond in kind. Unhappily, the situation in which we live requires constant vigilance. If that means a full body scan in the interests of preventing potential bombers from boarding commercial aircraft and, in some cases, pat-downs, so be it. I am less concerned with the sanctity of my private parts than I am with getting to my destination with safety.

The fact that this has been a major 24-hour news story for several days plays on our inability, as a nation, to make discriminating choices. It seems, on the one hand, that we are unable to tolerate the least insecurity in any aspect of our lives; we demand protection from the slightest threat. And that, on the other, we scream bloody murder if we are asked to make the smallest sacrifice to ensure the security we crave. Despite indisputable and centuries-old evidence that we are, and will remain vulnerable creatures, no matter what we do to protect ourselves, we act in the expectation that in our case it will be different.

I wonder, too, about the dread fear of being touched. It's obviously not something that I crave, from strangers, but the security pat-down--and I myself have been subjected to this treatment, and survive to tell the tale--is sexual only in the imagination of those who fear it so. To have the fleeting, professional, impersonal, and hopefully skillful touch of searching hands is surely no worse than a visit to the doctor's--and could prove as life-saving to oneself and one's fellow travelers. I understand that there are those who have more reason than I to object viscerally to this kind of invasion--I think of rape victims, for example, or of people of color who associate it with the too-familiar humiliation of encounters with authority. I sympathize with them. Still, we are dealing with something broader and more potentially life-threatening than personal dignity or phobias.

So who, I ask myself, stands to gain from inflating this issue into something far greater than it ought to be? Politicians, that's who. They are grateful for any distraction from their own costly and disastrous failures. Those on the right--this is my unhappy belief--will exploit the slightest opportunity to foment discontent and rage against officialdom. It is to the advantage of some politicians, then, and of those who use them to further their financial interests; those, I mean, who can afford to buy politicians to do their bidding. And, sorry, yes, the media, too, who have a vested interest in controversial or sensational fodder for their news cycles, and who also have their bottom line of corporate profit to ensure. Those who stand to gain the least from the furor--or lose--are the airline patrons, who will find themselves standing in longer lines behind noisier and more quarrelsome fellow-travelers, whose objections to routine security will be validated by the current frenzy.

So yes, pat me down. Please. Scan me, by all means. And move me on with the assurance of safety toward the gate.

12 comments:

mandt said...

"I wonder, too, about the dread fear of being touched" You might be amazed how many adults have spousal or childhood abuse issues. I would destroy any adult who manhandled my child. It's outrageous and not a trivial matter to subject American citizens to this level of police state intimidation, particularly when experts agree that other, more compatible procedures are as effective!

PeterAtLarge said...

No, MandT, actually I wouldn't be amazed. Saddened, certainly, but not amazed. I myself am among them, as I have written about in the past. And in the work I have done over twenty years with men, I have come to understand just how many have been abused, in how many different and often appalling ways. Even knowing all this, and in full sympathy with those who have more reason than I to be fearful, I stick to my point. To my knowledge, we're not talking about body searches of children. If there are other, less intrusive methods, I have not heard about them. My ignorance... The best to you for Thanksgiving!

mandt said...

Ah, so many of us share the spirit tears. Peace to you and a happy Thanksgiving to you Ellie and the family....

khengsiong said...

Homosexuals probably don't feel easy being touched by someone of same gender...

mandt said...

"Homosexuals probably don't feel easy being touched by someone of same gender." WTF? How would you feel if the Dali Lama got a pat down under his robes? Would it remind you of the Chinese occupation....twit!

Donna said...

Knowing full well that there will be mistakes, exceptions, discomforts, etc., I could not agreed with your article more. Somehow we Americans seem to always be looking for perfection....security without inconvenience, economic recovery immediately and without sacrifice, etc. Unfortunately, imperfection (and dealing with it) is a large part of the human condition. Get over it!!

Vyvyan said...

Interesting that along with this post, I had another article in my inbox about the risks of radiation exposure from the new airport scanners, and some scientists believe that the cumulative effect could be dangerous, especially to frequent flyers. A down side to the "assurance of safety"? According to the article, flying, in and of itself, exposes one to approximately half the radiation of the average chest X-ray - hmmmm...

CHI SPHERE said...

This furor is exactly what Al Qaeda/Al Wasari and company would have our mass media frenzy moguls latch onto to stir up further fear and loathing for our form of government. This is the psychological tool by which terrorism can use the media of free states to make many small incisions into the body of the victim to slowly erode/bleed away the trust we have in our safety net of precautions.

In Vietnam I was subjected to psychological warfare methods like seeing the effects of punji sticks that sent human excreta into the bodies of fellow soldiers causing obvious horrific infections. Some of my comrades in arms fell into depression and fits of fear that sent them home with enhanced PTSD. As a Doc in the Nam I can confirm that these psychic wounds were the most destructive and long lasting. I occasionally still wake up dripping wet in the middle of a very dark nightmare over these imprinted horrors certain that the sweat is blood is on my hands and body!

I certainly do understand how violated those who have be abused feel for my children were abused by
a sociopath when I was working far away from my home. My rage and anguish after learning of this was nearly uncontrollable and it sent me to an airplane back to them seconds after I received the call from my weeping 6 year old. The 8 hours it took to get home seemed an eternity.

This is what the sociopath terrorists are using to break the comfortable mindset of American culture.
We have to decide what freedoms we will sacrifice in order to travel by air or train. Travel was always risky and considering how many fatalities occur on our freeways each day that we rarely reflect on, I think we are relatively free to travel great distances
with only moderate procedures in force.

Being a TSA employee who is asked to do this work every day to insure our safety must be similarly weird and taxing.

Peace and blessings to all humankind on this day and ever day. Many small acts of kindness and a loving heart can heal the unjust cuts we all are subjected to during our lives. I hope that in some future humankind will grow together to heal our fearful ways and use our collective brains to practice living methods that will sustain life. It doesn't need to be a dream for we are all capable of compassion.

mandt said...

"This is what the sociopath terrorists are using to break the comfortable mindset of American culture." What utter rubbish. It never ceases to amaze me how authoritarian appeasers will march to compliance waving a flag or a Bible. Americans must ALWAYS question authority or lose Democracy!

They call him James Ure said...

"I am less concerned with the sanctity of my private parts than I am with getting to my destination with safety."

Great, great article. I totally agree with everything you said. Especially the doctor example. That is how we can explain this to our kids. That it's no different than the doctor.

Also, we can tell them that's these TSA workers are professionals like doctors and police officers that kids are told are o.k. to trust. I'm sure the TSA officials are more sensitive when frisking young people than adults.

But, sadly, the reality is that it isn't past terrorists to kidnap a kid, drug them and sneak a bomb onto the plane on their person.

If we show we're not freaked out, then most likely they won't either. Plus, I think kids would be better able to endure it as their parents are right there next to them.

And, I say this too as a fellow survivor of sexual abuse as a child. The fact of the matter is that I'd rather put up with some uncomfortable patting then risk a plane full of a hundred people blowing up.

Is it better to be a bit uncomfortable but survive? Or, not be made uncomfortable for a few seconds but die from a bomb? The other issue (that's NOT being discussed in the news much) is how little our cargo is inspected.

PeterAtLarge said...

I seem to have touched a sensitive spot here, if you'll excuse the coy association. "Appeasing" authority is not what I'm about, nor what I intended to suggest. Good sense is more like it. Or the recognition that my individual needs, preferences and aversions may sometimes have to be put aside in favor of the common good--in this case, the safety of my fellow-travelers. My point also is that this issue is being exploited for purely political gain, in order to stimulate further outrage against "big government." Also on the political front, it's an opportunity for people of ill-will to call for "profiling"--a code word, surely, for racism. As many others have pointed out, those who wish to do us harm are not stupid. As we have already seen, profiling leads only to the recruitment of foot soldiers who do not fit the profile. What needs to be questioned here is only in part the policy. Agreed, it's important to exercise due skepticism. But what I question at a deeper level in this instance is the motivation of those who greedily exploit this new opportunity to generate fear and loathing.

roger said...

the whole scanner/patdown/frisk/take-off-your-shoes-belt/no liquids/no nail-clippers looks like a huge scam on the public to keep us frightened and divert our attention from real ways to airline safety and economic justice, among other things. a load of crap.

i don't, yet, think any of this is a plot to accustom us to a police state. i hope it may signal a tiny bit of awakening to the intentional fear mongering of the he-man weirdos and wacko "muscular" christian warriors who would sell us out even more to halliburton and the rest of the war biz.