Fascism with a Smile
My last article suggested that readers who wanted to see all the elements of ham-fisted fascism in full operation need only visit an airport. Shortly afterward, I got a note from a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employee. She politely defended her agency and her comrades.
I felt lousy that O’Boyle’s inner smart ass had squeezed off a thoughtless screed against a group of hard working public servants. My correspondent reminded me that most of those in her position are friendly, polite, and conscientious. She’s right. The rude, sarcastic agent I met in Ft. Lauderdale is the rare exception, not the rule. TSA agents are our friends and neighbors, coaches, scout masters and den mothers. They provide an important service and want to do so as well as they can. TSA agents are just doing their jobs. With understandable pride, she closed by inviting me to fly out of her airport to see the TSA at its best.
My mind flashed to a friendly, cheerful security check where the boots you lick taste just like chocolate ice cream. I imagined a TSA wonderland where the official, witty repartee is so entertaining that “customers” ask for an extra pat down.
The problem is simple. Polite enforcement just makes creeping fascism worse. A cheerful smile on a fascist face doesn’t change its nature. It makes it more dangerous by making it more tolerable. Fascist power depends on complacency and the general acceptance of a host of colossal lies. Fascist power is implemented by ordinary people who accept and repeat the lies in exchange for good jobs with excellent benefits. Never doubt that they will follow orders, with or without a smile.
Sending TSA agents to customer service seminars doesn’t make the rest of us customers. Neither would putting yellow smiley face stickers on their TASERs. We’re not customers. We’re subjects; we’re subject to search, subject to interrogation, subject to arrest. Our property is subject to confiscation. If you resist, you are subject to injury or death. It’s for our own protection.
My TSA correspondent believes a constellation of false assumptions which her employer hopes Americans will also accept. Chief among them are the two monster whoppers: that terrorism is unspeakably dangerous, and that our government offers protection from it.
People constantly evaluate risks and the precautions to take against those risks. It’s only in places where our government has full responsibility for our safety, such as airports, that risk evaluation departs from reality.
Even the most casual analysis shows that airport security is an elaborate exercise in political theater, not public safety. The TSA does not provide protection. It provides obedience training. There is no rational connection between the risk of a terrorist attack on an airliner and the breathtaking effort we invest in avoiding one.
Government statistics clearly show that terrorism is not very dangerous. It is nowhere near dangerous enough to justify having thrown away over $100 billion and most of the Bill of Rights in fighting it since 2001.
According to CDC statistics it would take a successful 911 attack every month to make terrorism as dangerous as driving to work. You are three times more likely to die falling out of bed, six times more likely to drown in your bathtub, and 1200 times more likely to choke to death than you are to die in a terrorist attack. The chances of death by poisoning are 5000 times greater.
If our safety is so important why isn’t the government spending billions to root out e coli from the food supply instead of searching and bossing around air travelers? Why aren’t we tearing out every bathtub in the nation? It’s because airport security isn’t about safety, it’s about obedience.
The second lie, that our government can protect us from terrorism, especially in air travel, is equally ludicrous. Private security experts have called the TSA a steel door on a grass shack. Passenger screening has become a bizarre, pointless ritual. We genuflect to the patron saints of past failed terrorism, taking off our shoes, dumping containers of hair gel, tossing nail files and souvenir penknives. Only compulsory government sponsored “safety” checks would include such ridiculous, ceremonial humiliation.
No terrorist worthy of the label would think the best way to put a bomb on a commercial airliner was to sneak it into the passenger compartment. Although if we are to judge by the number of tests the TSA has failed, it could be done without much trouble.
Nor is any group of passengers ever again likely to allow a plane to be hijacked. If there is a next time, it will take a lot more than a few swarthy guys with box cutters to commandeer a plane full of able bodied passengers.
Government airport security is an unquestionable success. The success is not, however, in providing public safety, but in spreading fear, grooming complacency, and training us to unquestioned acceptance of authority. The smile on the fascist face simply makes our training less obvious and more palatable.