21 November 2010

an unpleasantness...

I had the unfortunate experience, earlier today, to bear witness to the baneful effects of the current wave of fear and paranoia that have overtaken the American mindset. Daily, fresh horror stories related to the TSA and the indignities of airline travel fill the online news sites. I am not one of the four out of five Americans the TSA claims to fully support the use of the whole body scanning technology. I find it invasive, not just physically, but, and I think this is more significant, psychologically. Its use undermines the purported right, in the minds of possibly every American, that one has jurisdiction over one's own body, that one is entitled to self-ownership. I don't want this to be construed and categorized as a libertarian argument. At the heart of this matter is the deep conviction and consequent outrage over what many feel is an arbitrary violation of this right by means of authorized coercion. The comments following every online article I've read on this issue are angry, many of them alluding to potential retributive acts of violence. This keenly felt impulse belies the TSA's figures. Four out of five Americans, it seems, are as mad as hell.

I spoke with one of them today, someone I know, but he does not feel, as I and my friends do, that this technology and the tactics employed in its usage, constitute a threat to anyone's liberty. Airline travel, he asserted, at great volume, and with a stunning agitation, is not a right, but a privilege. Take the car or bus if you don't like the way the system is working. I do think, and said as much earlier today, that this view might be a bit of a hard sell with the 24 million Americans expecting to fly over the next few days. I was called a name or two, nothing obscene, but startling nonetheless. One of my friends was subjected to significantly more interesting and provocative verbal abuse when he stated that had he a teenaged daughter, he would be outraged at the prospect of what he referred to as "molestation" . Admittedly, this could be heard as an inflammatory word, certainly one with lots of feeling behind it, but he truly believed this and I absolutely defend his right to have an opinion, one I cannot honestly disagree with.
This was not what the now seething gentleman, (this description sounds jarring and may fall into the category of "oxymoronic infelicity"), wanted to hear.

It was, well, crazy. This chap was so caught up in his psychic conflagration that he simply could not reason. Nor could he listen to and tolerate the opinions of others. He resorted to ultimately futile tactics in order to wound those around him. His argument was preposterous. But, most worryingly, his emotion was beyond his control, and this unmanageable outrage is what I am hearing more and more of in this season of thanks. What has happened to us? How have we reached this awful place where fear and suspicion hold mind and spirit hostage?

On a related note, Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam uses a body scanner that works its magic with radio waves rather than x-rays or ionizing radiation and does not produce an explicit scanned body image, thereby addressing some of the more direct privacy concerns. Could this not work here?

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