Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Authority, Bystanders, and Dehumanization: Why Resistance is Important

This morning, I opened my local newspaper, the Albuquerque Journal, to find a headline that offered a false dichotomy to airline travelers. It read:


The story highlighted the controversy newly set off by John Tyner, who told a TSA screener not to "touch his junk" or he'd have the TSA guy arrested.
And a week before the "don't touch my junk" hero from San Diego, there was Megan McLain. Africana Online writes:

McClain, a radio host for the libertarian leaning show “Free Talk Left”, was one of the people that did not feel comfortable with the invasion of privacy. She told the TSA screeners that she was uncomfortable with the scanner. On a radio interview this week, she explains the humiliation that followed. TSA agents immediately began yelling “Opt out” when she voiced her discomfort. They brought her to an area where they were going to proceed with new pat down techniques. McClain was familiar with this technique and had some questions first. The technique is more invasive than physical molestation. TSA agents actually squeeze and twist breasts.

The agents were not very cooperative when McClain asked some questions. They handcuffed her to a chair and began yelling at her. She was not in a private area and other passengers had to walk around her. The TSA agents called in 12 police officers because McClain asked to speak to a supervisor. They lectured her for 30 minutes on terrorism while she remained cuffed to the chair. By this point, McClain was crying and shaking. She was unable to wipe her face and felt utterly humiliated. The agents and officers would not allow her to touch her possessions. They eventually ripped her airline ticket in half. Four different agents had her ID and were writing down information, presumably to do a back ground check on her. After about an hour of verbal abuse, the police officers escorted Ms. McClain to the ticketing counter where she had to find another way home since she had missed her flight. (Emphasis added.)

According to the grassroots organization We Won't Fly , incidents like this are being reported by airline agents every day now, as the holiday flying season approaches. And it is vitally important that we understand what is going on. These virtual strip-searches are both useless and unnecessary to airline security, and because of the attention "opt-out's" draw from other TSA agents and bystanders, they may be dangerous. So why is Janet Napolitano and the Department of Homeland (In)Security so determined to publicly invade the privacy of ordinary, law-abiding Americans at our airports by conducting Fourth Amendment prohibited searches that in any other context would be called molestation? Today in a news story about the growing outcry against these practices, Napolitano said:

"It's all about security. It's all about everybody recognizing their role."

Although the first part of the statement is patently untrue, the second part is telling. We've got to know our role, fellow peons, and give up our rights like good little do-be's, submitting to even the grossest invasion of our privacy for the sake of some higher purpose. And pay for the privilege to the tune of the cost of the airline ticket and our self-respect.

More telling is how those who dare to question the false choice given them are being treated. The TSA Gestapo tactics humiliate the few who have enough self-respect to question their authority, and in the manner of petty power mongers the world over, they do not allow the third choice, the one in which their intended victim is allowed to change her mind and not fly at all. Notice that Meg McClain was reduced to tears, powerless to even wipe her face, and unable to claim her personal possessions.

To submit to the virtual strip-search, or permit oneself to be sexually molested in public, or be reduced to utter humiliation as punishment for refusal, these are all actions that render a human being powerless over her own person and property, and thus are dehumanizing. The purpose of such activities on the part of government "authorities" is to instill fear of ever questioning, protesting, or even so much as stepping one toe across the increasingly narrow line of normal. The fear is meant to be felt by both the victim and the bystanders. During the Shoah, the Nazis and their collaborators raised such tactics to high art in order to control the populations of countries across an entire continent. Make no mistake, these tactics exist to do the same to freedom-loving Americans.

Bystanders. Note that I Ieft out the word "innocent." There are no innocent bystanders. A person standing by, knowing what is going on is far from "innocent." Although we are not perpetrators, we are made complicit by the act of witnessing the dehumanization of others. Our silence in the face of the dehumanization of the victim not only shames us, making us far more likely to remain silent in the presence of even more egregious crimes against our liberty in the future, but that very shame we feel dehumanizes us as well. It breaks the bonds of good will we ordinarily feel toward our fellow countrymen and women, destroying any real community and replaces it with conformity and obedience powered by fear.

This is why resistance is so vitally important.

There are two kinds of peaceful resistance available to us. There is passive resistance. In this case, refusal to fly is passive resistance. By choosing the third option--the one that the TSA, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and my local newspaper--and by choosing it before ever going to the airport, we are practicing passive resistance. Let the airlines* go bankrupt if need be, we say. We will not pay to be virtually strip-searched or groped by some Gestapo pervert.

*And to those who say that the fault does not lie with the airlines, well they take our money and allow our rights to be violated without so much as a whimper. And remember the nickel-and-diming for each additional check-through bag? The long waits without a bathroom on the tarmac? Being packed into planes like sardines and fed peanuts on cross-continental flights? Airlines have not been good to their customers for a very long time. With few exceptions, they haven't earned our money and the goodwill it represents.

The passive resistance shown by a large number of people, like those who are calling the airlines and their trade organizations to communicate their displeasure and refusal to fly, can go a long way. The fact that such passive resistance as that voiced in blogs and on chat rooms and discussion lists is showing up on the front pages of newspapers, and has caused Congress to convene a hearing shows how successful it can be. And more importantly, passive resistance also protects one against the shame and loss of self-respect that goes with the meek bystander syndrome.

Even more effective in this regard is active resistance. I decided not to fly last year, and I drove to Continental Congress. but if I ever have reason to be in an airport, and I saw another human being being dehumanized like Meg McClain was, I have decided that come hell or high-water, I would conquer my fears and begin to chant "This is wrong! This is wrong!" I would do so, not hysterically, but as politely and firmly as I could manage, over and over. I would not expect to stop the petty tyrants of the TSA, but I would let them know that at least one witness knows the truth of what they are doing. I expect that in true Alice's Restaurant* fashion, others would join me. There might be consequences. But as the living heir of men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and braved hanging to bring themselves and their posterity liberty, I ought to be able to take it. And keeping my humanity, my menschlicheit, in a place where there are no human beings is very important to my own self-respect.

*"If one person walks in and sits down and sings 'You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant', they'll think he's crazy, and they won't take him. If two people walk in together, sit down and sing 'You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant', they'll think they're queer and they won't take either one. But if three people--can you imagine, three people?--if three people walk in, sit down and sing 'You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant', why then it will be a movement! And that's what I'm starting. The Alice's Restaurant Massacre Movement. And all you have have to do to join is wait for it to come around on the guee-tar and sing 'You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant.' In harmony." -- Arlo Guthrie, Alice's Restaurant Massacre.

There are other forms of active resistance. If you are going to be near an airport that has the Porno-Scans on the day before Thanksgiving, be sure to make up a sign and join the protests that are scheduled to occur. And if you are traveling, you can always join in on National Opt Out day, in which you opt out of the scan and elect to suffer the indignity of a molestation pat-down. Remember, during the French Revolution the workers threw their sabots (wooden shoes) into the gears and ground them to a halt before they could grind down the workers. And thus we get the word sabotage. Except opting out in great numbers will not destroy property, but it will slow down the terribly dehumanizing system enough to make a point. And if everybody is being molested together, with bystanders chanting "This is wrong!", as a witness, why then it becomes Civil Disobedience. Thoreau would be proud that some of his spiritual descendants still live and breath under the friendly skies.

Finally a note to those cynics who say: "National opt-out day, protests, and refusing to fly. These will not change anything. It will not make (the ubiquitous) them change the policies. They mean to establish tyranny over us and they will do it."

Well, maybe it will not make them change. There is precious little we can do to change the ubiquitous 'they'. But it will change us. It will change us from shame-faced and culpable little mice, scurrying about with shoulders hunched, afraid of the petty tyrants of the TSA, into proud practitioners of Civil Disobedience. Sure our actions could have consequences. They might not let us fly, or they might call out the riot police and arrest us all. If they do that, then link arms and go downtown singing. I Won't Back Down is a good one.

Read The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail. Our ancestors were made of sterner stuff than we, no doubt. But if they could brave British Regulars at the North Bridge, and the winter at Valley Forge, then we can certainly brave the temporary inconvenience of missing a flight, or donning the plastic handcuffs for the TV cameras and the video cams of strategically placed bystanders. If it gets on camera, TSA CANNOT win. It will go viral within minutes on You Tube.

And for those of you who would protest, but you just cannot bear the idea that you might never fly again, Sam Adams had words for you. They're not kind, but they are to the point:

"If ye love wealth better than liberty,
the tranquility of servitude
better than the animating contest of freedom,
go home from us in peace.
We ask not your counsels or your arms.
Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you.
May your chains set lightly upon you,
and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."
--Sam Adams, Speech at the Philadelphia Statehouse,
Second Continental Congress, August 1, 1776.

There is a time for prudence, but that time is not when your countrymen and women are being dehumanized before your very eyes. Those who first dehumanize another will dehumanize you, and when you are no longer human beings in their eyes, then your very life is at stake.


Allen Cogbill said...

I have to fly for business occasionally, and I used to have to fly at least once a month. Now, it's not nearly as often. In any case, I utterly loathe TSA. If I woke up one day to find that thousands of TSA personnel had vanished from the earth, that would make my day. Their solemn duty is to make sure that you know your place, and that they are in charge. That's the whole reason for TSA's existence: to make sure that Americans are good sheeple and get used to taking orders from their rulers. They are no different from concentration camp guards.

Currently, there are credible reports of TSA personnel, as part of the "pat-down", actually putting their hands down the pants of some fliers, front and back. There is at least one lawsuit filed, as well, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for a Federal Court to limit the power of the Federal government (this is a well-known flaw in the implementation of the U.S. Constitution).

In the short run, we should call our Congress Critters to complain, as well as call major airlines, who have a financial interest in keeping passengers relatively happy. I doubt much will come of it, but I could be wrong. More effective, as you suggest, is for large numbers of people to go to airports to protest.

It's also true that airport authorities no longer have to put up with TSA: managers of airports can, in essence, fire TSA and replace it with private contractors. This is a little-known provision of the law that authorized the creation of TSA. If a number of airport managers decided to do this, it mightactually happen. It's unlikely to happen at just one airport, for several reasons.

Sorry for the rant, but except possibly for BATFE employees, there are very few lower life forms than TSA employees.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Hi Allan, I enjoy a good rant. Yours was a good rant.

Mike Blessing suggests we give our business to the on-line meeting companies, like Citrix Go To Meeting. It will be cheaper, less of a hassle, and will allow business to boycott the TSA Gestapo. We are capitalists, and on-line meetings are way cheaper and more productive for the time spent. Time is money, and travel wastes huge amounts of it.

There is no doubt that when you give a uniform and some authority backed by force to someone without many job skills, and pay minimum wage, that person will take satisfaction from petty tyranny because there is no satisfaction in the money, and the job itself is no great shakes. I saw so much of the same with public school teachers that I left the classroom. Sure there were a few good ones, but working in such a system is as dehumanizing as what they do.

The TSA employees are subservient Kapos, only no one put a gun to their heads to force them to sell out the liberty of their countrymen. They are therefore far more culpable, and I hate them.

There, I said it. My own integrity would not allow me to wish them dead, but that one-way trip to Mars for colonization would be just the place for them. Send Congress along as well, and get them the hell out of our way!

Alas, you are right about the courts, even with their lifetime appointments, they are cowards or progressives. We can expect precious little help from them.

But we have one power the TSA, Big Sister Napolitano and the rest do not have. We can REFUSE to fly! I think we can stand the temporary inconvenience, and if the s**t hits the fan--as it looks like it must--then who will be able to fly anyway?

The protests call attention to the problem, but a sustained boycott will drive the message home.

Brianna said...

Thankfully, we are driving to New Orleans. My adviser and several other students are presenting as well, so we decided to go together to save money.

The airports firing TSA would be great, but I'm not sure it'd work even if several did it at once. After all, that'd be a cartel action, and we all know how the FedGov would feel about that!

Narada said...

Ok so my wife thinks I'm nuts for wanting to harness train the horses!

It may be that the BS of our economy and the deterioration of our basic rights will lead to a major change sooner than later. So I train the horses if gas is no longer there to pump, our grass burners will make a slow plodding trip less tiring than on foot!

As finance gets ever more tight air travel is going to be less a need and more a luxury for those who can afford to be abused let them have it.

The internet has brought the world to every home that can hook up, and to anyone who can find a wireless connection and has a device of one sort or another.....
True ther is nothing like being ther and taking in the romance and mystery of a new destination for pleasure. I would like to explore the world and experience new land and cultures.....But!
I suffer any time I have had to fly post 9-11! I am the "right type" for questioning, searches, and general molestation. A darker complexion, a curly head of balding "greco-romanic/mid-eastern" hair and a definably Semitic countenance. I will not subject myself to unlawful search of my person or possessions! Metal detectors, Okay - X-ray my luggage well maybe....
But have two goons grab me by the shouldes and haul me to a bench and have me remove clothing! I was caught off guard the first time! NEVER AGAIN!

In fear the loss of liberty seems so minor until you find your days dark in the tyranny of your folly!

Abolish the Patriot act rescind the laws and folly enacted by fear mongering and foolhardiness.
There needs to be a voice loud enough. One voice in chorus with tens of thousands will be heard......

rant rant rant........

Unknown said...

Great post! This is just getting way out of hand.

I fly 3-4 times/month for work now. That's down from 4-6 times/month at my last gig. Running a National or Regional Sales Force, not traveling by air is not an option. So what is one to do? If I get a job that keeps me at home, I cut my income by 2/3 overnight; or suffer the indignity and keep traveling. I fear the coming economic collapse may make this decision for me.

I usually travel casual and get suited up upon arrival. I was thinking of getting some really loud t-shirts made condemning the TSA for their complicity in these illegal search and seizures. I would then wear a speedo and flip flops through the checkpoints. I guess if they still want to pat me down they will have nothing left to check- but my junk. This get up along with my business guy brief case and wheely bag - should make a great scene and get all those iPhones recording.

I believe getting lots of viral video of how crazy this all is can only help wake up the masses that don't fly- but are patriots and defenders of Liberty.

I could write 100's of pages of all the crazy stuff I have seen TSA do (not do)over the last few years. Like a 3' tall trophy with a marble base is less of a weapon and flies, but my nail clippers can't. I challenge Janet to a fair fight - she gets the clippers and I get the club... oh I mean trophy. The clippers are obviously a much better improvised weapon. Funny thing was the trophy was for winning a karate tournament... Yes the 90 yr old with knitting needles is a far bigger security threat. And on and on and on...

Seem lately that the curtain is being pulled back. Regular family travelers are now seeing that we are not any safer, just lots more hassled. But, since they only suffer this indignity once a year, it is soon forgotten and us frequent travelers are left to suffer.

You can only see old ladies canes searched while 20 something young men in Muslim garb walk right through so many times before even the most dense figure out it's all a sham.

Allen Cogbill said...

It continues to get worse.

The TSA goons are at it again, this time working in conjunction with other jack-booted thugs from the Border Patrol, ICE, and local cops. These agencies set up inspection stations at the Greyhound bus terminal in Tampa, FL, and forced passengers to undergo a search prior to being permitted to board the bus.

These steps by the TSA and the other notorious government agencies are simply steps along the way to prohibiting Americans from traveling without asking Big Bro for permission. We no longer have to worry about whether the U.S. will turn into a police state or not: it already has!

Anonymous said...

TSA agents are really just trying to make a livng. I have a hard time "hating" some one who probably doesn't like giving pat downs. But it's part of the job.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

I am tired of the over-use of the word "hate" that implies that everyone who disagrees with your particular point of view is a "hater."

As for just doing their job, and just wanting to make a living, where have we heard THAT before?