Saturday, June 25, 2016

Traveller’s Lament

I have written before about my increasing horror of the simple freedoms we feel inspired to give up in the name of elusive safety.  From metal detectors in shopping malls and schools to taking our shoes off at airport security, I am annoyed at these things that we seem to assume we must do.  I do understand the importance of safety and security.  But I worry at the steady way in which we give up liberty for the promise of a safety which seems elusive and, in a society so unwilling to regulate guns, probably imaginary.

Last week, T, JT, and I set off to Kansas City from Newark airport.  We got in the security line like willing sheep, surrounded by signs reminding us to take off our shoes, remove computers from our bags, and generally do as we were told.  Or else.

When we snaked our way through the line to the security conveyor belt, an actual person instructed us to empty our pockets, put everything (including computers) in our bags, and leave our shoes on  He spoke to us in the annoyed tone of man long accustomed to dealing with stupid people, an understandable attitude but a bit rough to take at 6:15 in the morning, especially when the place was filled with contradictory instructions.

JT, now a large 16 year old who needs to shave every day, toes the line in these situations, aware that teenaged boys look threatening to the world.  Sensing that I was about to speak my mind about the conflicting TSA messages, he shot me a warning look.  I stayed silent.  But honestly, I am a woman whose daily job involves moving 130 disorganized, loud, self-immersed middle schoolers.  I know better than to post instructions and then give conflicting orders.

Post and follow one set of instructions.  Require us to empty our pockets and walk through a metal detector; scan our carry-on bags.  Do it with an air of friendly efficiency.  

But we should still know that the promise of safety in this world is a guarantee that cannot be made.  I prefer liberty  because I fear our preoccupation with order and safety offers a false promise of security that leaves democracy deeply vulnerable.  So I endure airport security with no confidence that it actually makes us safe; such safety doesn’t exist.  And is sure as hell isn’t a function of shuffling people with shoes off, belts removed, or disordered instructions about why all of this matters.

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