I'm Sorry, America

October 11th, 2012

I recently got into an argument with a friend who declared that he wouldn't visit the United States under any circumstances so long as the TSA existed. How preposterous, I thought, in part because he'd visited the US in the early naughts, and certainly the agency had existed then, and moreover, sure the whole pat down thing is stupid, but really it's not so bad that it should prevent people from visiting an entire country, especially if they have otherwise compelling reasons to go. My friend and I went around in a few circles as I tried to pinpoint what I imagined was some other issue of anti-US sentiment or belief in exaggerated claims about the TSA's operation. As happens often enough, though, what I ended up discovering was that it was I who didn't quite have a reasonable argument, because I didn't have a properly strong basis of fact to use. Sure, my convictions were strong enough, but it hardly makes sense to pitch one's own convictions against someone with an argument built on data...unless you're into religious fanaticism or whatever.

So I pledged that I'd inform myself. It sounded like something of a boring task, which I guess is why, in the six or so years I've been away from my home country, I haven't really bothered to make any meaningful investigation of what the TSA and traveling in the US has become. Sure, I read the occasional news reports on the implementation of this or that, or the growing concerns over such and such "threat," but I tucked them comfortably away in the "eh, no government agency is perfect" file, certain that while there's plenty I don't like about the US, it's still the country I know, and still among the "good" ones.

After a mere hour of looking at the TSA's history, its operation and plans, however, I've blown that file to pieces. It's not any one thing in particular, though the things themselves, such as the implementation of giving airline passengers the "choice" of either being touched in the specific areas our indoctrination as children has taught us shouldn't ever be touched by strangers or else viewed through a scanner that shows (and perhaps records) every bit of our naked bodies, and a Homeland Security official's interest in tazer-bracelets capable of painfully immobilizing the wearer at the will of whoever has the right title, to be worn by all passengers, certainly have their own disgusting shock value. What really concerns me is the apparently deep-rooted belief that by handing over privacy, we'll keep all the bad things away. The idea is of course prevalent in other areas, and has been around for a while, but I honestly didn't realize it had become so strong.

A recent piece in the NY Times outlined an important point: to date, the policies of the TSA have basically been crafted in reactionary bids to prevent travel terrorism after the fact. Once someone tries to sneak explosives in their shoes, shoes must be removed by everyone. After some gasoline makes it through in soda cans, we're unable to carry liquids of a certain size. Completely ignoring the fact that actual terrorist attacks can and are likely to evolve and diversify, by their own momentum and by the simple conclusion that perpetrators are privy to what we scan and will deliberately change tactics to avoid discovery, these policies are nothing better than palliatives. Not only are they ineffective in glaringly important ways, they've apparently successfully carried out the task of making the American people feel safe about flying. I suppose the reactionary operation of the TSA follows logically from the fact that the administration itself was created in response to the September 11th, 2001 attacks. But to imagine that this administration and its policies are actually carrying out the --duty-- of "making sure nothing like that ever happens again" is beyond preposterous. Are we really that fucking stupid?

Unfortunately, it'd seem we are. Not because everybody blindly accepts what's become of the TSA. Clearly, it's an issue, and there are several people speaking out against the nightmare of personal invasion and incompetence the administration has become. But several really isn't enough. I know that it cannot be expected that every American citizen will be particularly smart, or will particularly care about things that affect them, but the simple idea here is: if you are indeed concerned about what "bad things" other people can do to you, you should not be in any way supporting the TSA. You should be part of the effort to get this clearly abortive morass of insanity out of your country, out of your bra and underwear, out of your luggage, and out of positions of power. Did you know that the ~400 TSA workers actually caught and fired because of stealing passengers' items have freely described a culture of "convenient" and "commonplace" theft at airports? That one such man alone was able to steal $800,000 worth of passengers' goods before he was caught? Of course he was able, walking into the terminal of a US airport has essentially come down to handing over your possessions and access to any and all parts of your body by distant representatives of Uncle Sam. It's reprehensible, but it's still not quite as bad as a public that has allowed this sort of behavior from a government agency to continue for over a decade.

The current effort to change TSA policies isn't fast enough, and isn't strong enough. If the US is really a country able to boast of its strength and its defense of freedom, it has no business whatsoever putting its citizens --and any visiting travelers-- through the prison-like motions of ensuring that nobody gets away with doing that small percentage of bad things we've all seen before. I don't care if there isn't anything better to put in its place right now. I don't care if it's impractical to rally against the TSA or to stop flying within the country while it continues to operate. This kind of dominion of the government over the people will rot the country as a whole a hell of a lot faster than anything anyone from any other place could possibly bring from outside.

So, there you have it: I was wrong. And I'm sorry. I had no idea how bad this had become. It's no longer just about the annoyance of putting your bags on a conveyor belt, or slipping off your shoes. It's about what kind of people we are.

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