What the TSA Patdown Searches Are Really About
You can hardly watch a TV news show, listen to a radio broadcast, pick
up a newspaper, or read the Internet without hearing about the
aggressive Transportation Security Agency patdown searches at airports.
The TSA and all relevant officials tell us that they’re really for our own protection. But are they? In truth, the searches have virtually nothing to do with increased airport security.
Several years ago, my four year-old daughter was pulled aside in one such screening because she happened to be the Nth person in the line to go through security. Though she was traveling with me, her mother, and sister, she was subjected to 40 minutes of terrifying interrogations and inspections of all her personal effects, though not a bodily patdown.
The startling part of it was the mindlessness of it all. The guards were simply being good Nazis. Today, it is no longer mindless. It is part of a sustained campaign to condition the American public to being humiliated by government officials in the name of national security.
Physical humiliation of the subject is the first act that an interrogator performs on a victim. You can see this in the pictures from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The prisoners were made to perform all manner of humiliating acts: wear women’s underwear on their heads; masturbate in front of female guards; pile onto one another naked; submit to rape by their guards; etc.
The humiliation destroys a prisoner’s dignity. It is from his innate sense of dignity that a person finds the indignation, and therefore the capacity, to resist abuse. It is our dignity that the TSA and the government must strip from us if they wish to reduce our capacity to resist their aggressive encroachments on our civil liberties. And it’s working.
It’s amazing how many people say that the searches are worth it—something upwards of 75% if the news reports can be believed. They have already internalized the submission to authority that makes an authoritarian state so effective. And they create the public pressure for others to submit as well.
These are the same people who tell questioners that they don’t mind if the government secretly reads their email because they have nothing to hide. The suggestion is that those who do protest wholesale invasions of privacy, even for such quaint reasons of guarantees against such invasion rooted in the U.S. Constitution, must have something to hide.
This is what makes an effective authoritarian state self-policing, as was Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Resistance to abuse is a prima facia sign of guilt.
It is not an accident that the matter is saturating the media to the point of exhaustion. The message is very straightforward and all reinforcing: you need to be afraid; we’re doing this for your own good; and don’t resist for resistance is futile.
Not a day goes by any more that some incident, somewhere, by somebody is portrayed as a threat to U.S. national security and, therefore, a reason why civil liberties must be reduced even more.
The ultimate absurdity of this was seen in the summer of 2009 in the discussion about escalating the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. The National Security Agency reported that there were “at most 100” Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan.
So, on the basis of this existential threat, the U.S. sent in another 100,000 soldiers and civilian support personnel. That’s 1,000 soldiers at a million dollars a year apiece for each cave dweller posing mortal threats to the U.S. way of life 11 time zones and a 6,000 mile ocean away.
The absurdity has become palpable. The government doesn’t even try to hide that it reads our email and listens to our phone calls, that it has suspended habeas corpus, the longest standing protection of a people against the abuses of a rogue government. It no longer denies that the president claims the right to murder Americans for any pretext, without due process of law, so long as he deems that person a threat to national security.
The truth is that the government is not fighting wars against terrorists any more. It is creating, provoking, escalating wars and then using the resistance as the pretext to create a police state capable of conducting a war against its own people.
Of course, it will be so much easier if it can convince the people to surrender their rights willingly, voluntarily, to submit as the cattle that must be their ultimate, inescapable fate. Public, inescapable, physical humiliation is just one of the ways to condition people to that subservience.