Friday, May 13, 2011

Freedom and Resistance

[Note: Blogger was down yesterday and earlier today.  Sorry to miss posting.]

At book club this past Tuesday we were discussing the currently popular book The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, about a post-apocalyptic tyranny in what’s left of North America. Science fiction and fantasy—any literature that creates its own world and milieu—has at least as an underlying purpose a way of letting us look more objectively at our own world by contrasting and comparing with something unlike it. So we were talking about the likelihood of tyrannies happening in our world, which led to talking about Bonhoeffer, our book club choice a couple of months ago.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas, recently received an award as best Christian book of the year. I devoured it last summer and was very glad I persuaded my book club friends to take it on. It’s a challenging but very rich read. We have been bringing it up again and again, because there was so much in it. Unlike the fictional tyranny in The Hunger Games, Bonhoeffer’s WWII Germany was real and historical, and so we hope reading about it is enlightening.

I continue to ask, how could a people who were so cultured and technologically advanced devolve so quickly into savagery? One reason for studying and remembering the holocaust is to keep us mindful never to let it happen again. Bonhoeffer’s descriptions of Hitler’s savagery, of his cultivation of violence for its own sake among subordinates, were details new to me, and still shocking. In our book club discussion this week, I was hoping that the very love of freedom that is ingrained in American culture might be an inoculating preventative from allowing a tyranny to be imposed on us. But I don’t know if I am just being hopeful.

Yesterday Ludwig von Mises linked a review of a book called Defying Hitler, a memoir by Sebastian Haffner—yet another to add to my long list of books to plow through. But the review, by Wendy McElroy, repeated my question from book club, with a little more articulation: “Haffner,” she says, “explores a question similar to one that has haunted me since 9/11. He examines how a highly cultured and civilized nation could slip so quickly into the barbaric totalitarianism of Nazi rule. My version of this question is, how could America, a nation with deep roots in individual freedom, so quickly slide into a police state?”

That is my question in part as well. For instance, TSA rules at airports are very troubling. We tolerate a lot that we know has nothing to do with making us safer. No liquids in containers larger than three ounces. Take off your shoes. Submit to random searches. I’ve been irritated by it, particularly because there was no special effort to identify likely perpetrators, or even to better screen airport employees. Something that looks at country of origin and a few other factors, while no guarantee of safety, makes a lot more sense than randomly targeting even small American-born children traveling with their own parents. (Note: the Iraqis in Mr. Spherical Model’s training program, that I wrote about April 18th, were in customs at our airport for three hours when they arrived; while that was very inconvenient for them, I was somewhat comforted that special care was taken to make sure they were who they represented themselves to be. And they understood that as well.)

When additional TSA indignities were added last year, that was a tipping point for me. While the smaller things were also “unreasonable searches,” the invasions were not invasive to this level. Now we have a choice of being photographed naked, with those images out of our control, or we submit to an invasive groping patdown including our private parts. The claim was that this is in response to attempts to smuggle in explosive materials possibly in body cavities (because of the underwear bomber). But the naked imagery, it is admitted, would not have revealed that criminal, which is why the random patdowns.

So, it is assumed that the choice to buy an airline ticket and fly to a destination is “reasonable suspicion” for revoking our Constitutional protection to be safe in our persons, property, and papers? Or—we are all treated as criminals so that actual criminals aren’t identified by ethnicity? This is not a sane response. In Israel, where they know about taking it upon themselves to stay safe against continual terrorist attacks, they do not do what we do to innocent people.

We flew our daughter Social Sphere home at Christmas, the first time she’d had to fly since the new TSA invasion of privacy. She had a fair amount of radiation last year from some diagnostic testing, so we wanted to avoid further radiation. Despite government assurances, reports are that the scans do indeed cause rather high levels of radiation at the dermal level, so the scans are in some ways more dangerous than a concentrated x-ray of a single organ. There is also the fact that, like the new British princess who is described as 5’10” and a size 2, Social Sphere is attractive in a way that would be noticeable to any viewer of those scans, and there have already been reports of them showing up where we were assured they would not. Do I sound like I do not trust a particular government bureaucracy?

And then there’s the added difficulty that those embarrassing, invasive patdowns can spread disease. The TSA officials use gloves, yes. But that is for their safety. They are not required to change gloves between people, so it is conceivable that the very gloves that invade someone else’s groin area can then be placed in yours. I admit to being a bit germ-phobic, but that possibility is nauseating to me.

Here’s what happened with Social Sphere. Getting home turned out not to be a problem. The relatively smaller airport she flew from wasn’t widely using those new scanning machines, so she walked easily through the old metal detector. But going back to college, at our large international airport, she explained to them that she couldn’t afford the radiation and refused the machine. They pressed, and insisted there was no danger, and pleaded with her to just comply. After several minutes of holding up the line, she finally submitted to the scanner against her will. And they found they couldn’t see something they wanted to see, so they then forced her to additionally submit to the invasive patdown, which she admits was very discomforting. (She did make sure the gloves were clean—or at least they told her so.)

So, a lovely young American female, on her way back to college after Christmas, to a large, private, Church-run university, who displayed no signs of rebellion or lack of civilization, was deprived of her Constitutional protections because we fear terrorist attacks from males, aged 18-35, from particular watch-list countries, involved in radical Islamist fatwahs. There is no connection between the deprivation of rights to Social Sphere—to all of us—and increased safety from particular attackers. And yet the vast majority of airline patrons submit to the loss of freedom without even a hint of refusal.

I don’t know what I will do. So far I have been able to choose not to fly. But there are times when I might really really want to get somewhere faster than driving. I can refuse the scanner (plan to) and let them know that I consider the invasive patdown without probable cause to be an illegal search in violation of my Constitutional rights, and have someone nearby take video of any patdown to make sure that it is not unduly invasive, with the implied threat of a lawsuit. That is, if I, at that point, feel brave enough to buck the status quo. It is hard to be the only one who sees that something is very wrong, or to be the only one who will speak up and say so.

The fact that I (along with you) am subject to such a dilemma in the most free country in the world, where we thought we had freedom genes born in, is worrisome to me, in the same way loss of a sense of humanity and love of life must have been worrisome to 1930s Germans who were paying attention.


While I was waiting for the server to come back online (which is why I missed posting Thursday), I came across this news article. Hurray that Texas is a free country! I think it has only passed the Texas House and still faces the state Senate. Hope it happens.

You can read the Dallas CBS story in full here.

Texas House Bans Offensive Security Pat-Downs

May 13, 2011 6:44 AM

A TSA agent waits for passengers to pass through a magnetometer at Los Angeles International Airport on November 22, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (credit: David McNew/Getty Images)

1 comment:

  1. In talking to my supervisor, a former TSA agent, she informed me that those who refuse to accept both the 'nudie scans' and the 'gropings' are not refused entrance by the TSA. Instead they will take you into a holding area where you will wait until a representative from the airline you have a ticket for comes down to refuse to allow you on their flight. Of course, unless the vast majority of travelers were to take this action, you would still be denied access to your flight. However, I did find this information interesting.