A Truly Controversial Position

As an “out” atheist, I’m used to proffering polemical positions on everyday subjects. When you don’t believe in the existence of the supernatural, magical thinking becomes something of a trifle; there’s little point in holding court on the hidden minutiae of the Tooth Fairy. “Luck,” for example, does not exist; it’s a meal of hypersensitivity in the brain’s pattern recognition software combined with a spot of confirmation bias tea—if you think you’re un/lucky, you’re far more likely to remember experiences that support that conclusion and forget ones that run in contradiction to it. “I’m so un/lucky” is an absurdly common trope, and I have to confess my desire to roll my eyes when I hear it, but such is life. When I tell people that I don’t believe in luck, destiny, innate “higher purposes” and the like, I’m used to being greeted with some combination of surprise, apathy, and condescension. What I am not used to getting, however, is open hostility. Not to worry, though: I’m relatively certain I can evoke abject horror in my audience by sharing an unprecedentedly contentious position:

* * *

I don’t hate the TSA.

I know—it’s unthinkable, right‽

A good deal of what they offer is largely security theater, but there can be little doubt that the absence of airport security would be unthinkably terrible. Thus, it seems that the TSA’s biggest flaw is its visibility. The more I think about this issue, the more it seems to tie into the topic of bodily integrity. What people object to most seem to be its treatment of passengers: its body-scanners and “overly enthusiastic” pat-downs. I seem to lack the sympathy necessary to entertain complaints about the body scanners—being portrayed as a naked smurf on someone’s security monitor is not a serious violation of privacy, and those vocal concerns over “radiation” are entirely unfounded and reflective of no more than scientific ignorance and a popular proclivity toward pseudoscientific credulity. In the case of the former, I do not view nudity as shocking or remarkable (though I have no desire to be naked in public, this is an issue of body image, not principle.) In the case of the latter, a crash course in physics (rather than an incitement of public panic) is necessary.

Naturally, some criticisms of the TSA are incisive and well-deserved. For the most part, however, these are systematic faults wherein the responsibility lies not with the individual TSA employee but rather with the administrators who write the organization’s policies. Try as I might, I simply cannot share in the hatred of the TSA employee whose job it is to check the small child for dangerous materials. (Can a reasonable person truly believe that no adult would ever put contraband in a baby’s diaper? In an infant’s pants? Surely not!) Like the big-name customer service representative whose power extends no further than quoting lines from a standardized script, the ammunition of my rage is better unloaded on systemic faults. People who have unpleasant jobs have unpleasant jobs. Sometimes that means we have to do things we expressly don’t want to. Sometimes it means that we have to do things we know are remarkably unproductive. Having to carry out bad policies does not constitute an endorsement of those policies.

But,” I often hear, “if these people don’t like their jobs, they should quit!” I find this attitude stunningly ignorant. It comes from a place of privilege no less offensive than the “States’ Rights!” Republican who endorses a state’s attempts to outlaw abortion, basking in the musk of that fetid façade of filiality, “We have to protect the unborn, so if she really wants an abortion, let her go to another state!” It invites no less acrimony than the millionaire decrying the decrepitude of society—O, those slovenly welfare queens! How they have undermined the very spirit of our nation! Would that we could return to simpler times! Let us be done with these big-government handouts! Let us grow strong in our apathy toward one another!

These people should find new jobs? Let them eat cake!

The people who hold down these jobs are people—human beings like any other. These are people with wants and needs. These are people with bills to pay, with hopes, dreams, and aspirations. These are people with families. These are people whose job it is to keep the world—or at least their small corner of it—safe from harm. That’s no small order. Can it be any surprise when an undertrained employee gets overzealous? The world is not black and white; I cannot accept the curious notion that these incidents represent anything other than the inevitable result of a series of poorly conceived policy choices.

Should the policies of the TSA be reevaluated? The certainty with which I answer that question in the affirmative should be unambiguous: absolutely. Security is not a light switch, however. One cannot merely implement it by fiat. The people who wish us harm, few though they may be, are no less capable of ingenuity than any other, so the negotiation of a convenient yet effective system will not be seamless. It is, like most everything else, a process. Railing against ill-conceived policy decisions? I get that. Advocating for an overhaul of the agency? I get that. Hating the people whose job it is to carry out its protocols? I don’t get that. Wanting to do away with airport security entirely? I definitely don’t get that.

The people who are telling you to take off your belt, stand in the smurfer, and occasionally cup your sensitive bits aren’t doing it to ruin your day. Pretending that they are doesn’t make the world a better place. It just directs what may well be justified anger at an inappropriate target. Sick of having your nether-regions checked for narcotics?—your shoes for C-4? Tell someone who can actually do something about it. All you’re doing by making a scene in the airport is ruining everyone else’s day too. Stop that. Condemning the guy on the ground for groping granny is not helping.

Perhaps that’s not as provocative as I predicted… I’ll have to try harder next time.

Addendum:

See? There are totally things worth getting mad at individual people over. Theft is bad.

One of my theories of government – in fact, of all sorts of authority – is that a crime committed by someone in a position of power must be punished MORE harshly than the same act committed by an average citizen.

…and I totally agree with that.

10 responses to “A Truly Controversial Position

  1. “being portrayed as a naked smurf on someone’s security monitor is not a serious violation of privacy” unless you are transgender, or have a colostomy bag, or need to use adult diapers, or have mastectomy prostheses, or…

  2. Sure, I see where you’re coming from. I don’t understand why someone would feel pressure to hide those things, but I understand that not everyone is as open as I am about being seen by security professionals in some room somewhere. It’s not a big deal to me, but for people who think it is a big deal, there are alternative screening options.

  3. If I were transgender I’d stand in the smurfer, wait for the reaction of the person behind the monitor, and wink. LOL… maybe next time I’ll go packing just to see the reaction! (For those who don’t know, “packing” is the term used when someone is wearing a strap-on under their clothes.)

  4. It’s a lot less funny if you’re traveling with people you are not out to (perhaps co-workers or friends you met recently), and the TSA guy outs you to them. Being outed is at best unpleasant and at worst actually dangerous.

  5. Yeah, that is a serious fucking violation. Being seen by someone in a disconnected room who has no way of communicating with the people you’re around is one thing; having something like that happen is totally different. (And totally unacceptable.)

  6. “A good deal of what they offer is largely security theater, but there can be little doubt that the absence of airport security would be unthinkably terrible.”

    Bit of a pity we only have those two choices.

  7. I don’t believe I was suggesting that those were the only two options. Some people do advocate for the complete dissolution of the TSA, however.

  8. I don’t know the details of your experiences with people expressing displeasure of one sort or other when you say you don’t believe in “luck”, but it could be that some of these people had a different sense of “luck” in mind than you assume. The term “luck” is often used simply as a way of describing the occurrence of a statistically unlikely event with no irrational/superstitious/magical thinking involved.

    For example, someone who thinks they are more likely to win the lottery if they rub a rabbit’s foot is engaging in irrational magical thinking. However, a person describing the winning numbers in a multi-million dollar lottery as “the lucky numbers” isn’t necessarily saying they believe in ‘luck’ in any magical sense; it’s often just another way of saying “the winning combination” etc.

    But I digress…

    As for not hating the TSA, I don’t find that a particularly contentious position. I think most people recognize airport security as a very necessary and relatively minor inconvenience. The last time I flew there were very few people in the airport (it was a major international hub, too, usually jampacked with huge lines).

    I was SO lucky! ;)

  9. Well, yeah, that tends to be what I mean when I say something like “how lucky!” There’s no mysterious spiritual force called “luck” out there in the world, invisible like aether, but statistically improbable good things are worth noting every now and then. Still, there are quite a few people in the world who believe luck is some kind of innate spiritual force that people access or carry to varying degrees. Magical thinking indeed.

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