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Follies d’Air

The New York Times has a long overdue article on the stupidity of airport security measures for those flying to, within or in markets affected by the United States post-9/11. Pointing out that the security screening at airports in no way reduces any threats (but screening luggage does considerably), and that anyway it is the role of government enforcement agencies to prevent terrorism the old fashioned way, using police work techniques, Patrick Smith highlights the loss of rights, the incredible costs, and the increase in inefficiency of a mode of transport that was supposed to improve our ability to get around and not reduce it.

This is part of an easily foreseen (and indeed The Onion did foresee it in 2000) reduction in rights and convenience of citizens of democratic nations due to the tendency of controlling governments to abrogate freedoms and arrogate powers in the name of “security”, national or otherwise. It’s a pattern much repeated in history, ranging from Julius Caesar’s suspension of the Republic to Napoleon’s eventual emperorship, to the Prussian and later episodes of German control over thought and freedoms to “protect” the nation in the face of anarchist terrorism, to the same behaviour of the British government during the Troubles in Ireland and the subsequent IRA terrorism in the English homeland.

The American philosopher Georges Santayana once wrote an oft-quoted to the point of terminal cliché saying: Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Another American, who went by the name of Mark Twain, also wrote, history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes. What we are rhyming with now, and failing to learn from previous stanzas of history, is the decline in freedom and rights in the name of democracy, thereby killing democracy, just as the Islamists want. And we are handing it to them unasked (and, as Smith points out, in some cases paying for the privilege).

In America the worst thing an ersatz conservative (for they are as much conservative as Maoists are democrats) can say of someone else is that they are liberal. Why is that? A liberal believes that an individual ought to have as much freedom as other people’s rights allow, that governments’ role is to provide the infrastructure of a society, and that those whose circumstances put them at risk through no fault of their own, should be assisted by the common weal (from which we get the term “commonwealth”).

And this is what we are trying to sell to the central Asian and middle eastern countries trying to undergo modernisation? Why on earth would they want that sort of tyranny? They have long-established local forms of tyranny they can more easily, and cheaply, employ if that is what they want. What we are really selling is the American military manufacturing industry, and the corporate interests of those companies that stand to gain from exploiting both the target nations and the American taxpayers. We aren’t selling Democracy, we’re selling “Democracy™”, a brand name of Halliburton, Boeing, and Coca Cola.

Once upon a time I would have read a sentence like that and sighed at the standard refrains of the socialist newspapers sold at the corners of Melbourne streets. Now I fail to see how anyone can not see it’s obvious truth. We have given up our rights. We have allowed our fear, implanted about equally by a small terrorist organisation and the “conservative” power lobby, to loosen our grip on freedom, and the irony is that the conservatives in western nations used to be the party that championed the freedom of the individual. Now they are the party of corporate freedom.

It’s time. Choose candidates who stand against this trend. I am not American, but if I were, I would vote for John Edwards, who seems to be the only candidate who at least expresses these views.

Whew! I started out bitching about the travel restrictions and segued unconsciously to global politics. I think it’s not a stretch, though. One of the things we in the west used to pride ourselves on was the comparative lack of restrictions to travel that we had compared to the Soviet system. Now we aren’t too far from suffering the same government control of who can travel and when and why. Airport security is just the obvious face of the new absolutism. We are ignoring the creeping incursion on our rights as they gradually seep away, irrespective of the country we live in, and the result… well go read some history.

14 Comments

  1. “Once upon a time I would have read a sentence like that and sighed at the standard refrains of the socialist newspapers sold at the corners of Melbourne streets. Now I fail to see how anyone can not see it’s obvious truth.”

    I tend to avoid writing about things political in fear of contributing nothing new while sounding like a middle-class student cliche (“it’s all, like, a capitalist plot, yuh?”). I get the impression that you have the same tendency: I’ve followed your blog off-and-on for years, and don’t remember you making such plain-spoken uncompromising and angry posts as in the past few days. Christmas get to you?

  2. John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

    Not Christmas per se, although I hate this time of year for personal reasons (I always spend them alone and without friends nearby). I really don’t know why I’m so angry these days. I’m getting to the boiling point daily, and in Australia we have the spectacle of conservative veterans attacking returnee from Guantanamo, David Hicks, for not apologising for his support for terrorism, when Australian servicemen have died in Afghanistan. But at the time he did that, it was not prohibited by law – here or in the US – as he was joining a national army, and no Australian or American servicemen had died. They died later, and yes he was in cahoots with Bin Laden, but that is in hindsight. I’ve blogged before about retrospective legislation – this is retrospective moral failure. The poor bastard was stupid and religiously motivated by a cult, but if that’s a sin or crime, then we are all in trouble at one point or another. It’s totally illiberal.
    I am slow to make these sorts of rhetorical rants, largely because I have a generally optimistic view of western democracy, but in times when things really are going to hell, optimism is a bad choice. So I have given into my inner moralist.
    Possibly my problems with employment and family are adding to my irritability. At this rate I will turn into Larry Moran…

  3. Anonymous Anonymous

    “The sense of humour is based on the sense of proportion.”
    If you think that the security checks in airports are out of proportion, try making a joke about it in the queue.
    (I’m not sure where I heard that one, but it could be from Santayana. I quote it out of memory, and translate it to English on the fly.)

  4. Anonymous Anonymous

    “The sense of humour is based on the sense of proportion.”
    If you think that the security checks in airports are out of proportion, try making a joke about it in the queue.
    (I’m not sure where I heard that one, but it could be from Santayana. I quote it out of memory, and translate it to English on the fly.)

  5. Anonymous Anonymous

    “The sense of humour is based on the sense of proportion.”
    If you think that the security checks in airports are out of proportion, try making a joke about it in the queue.
    (I’m not sure where I heard that one, but it could be from Santayana. I quote it out of memory, and translate it to English on the fly.)

  6. Anonymous Anonymous

    “The sense of humour is based on the sense of proportion.”
    If you think that the security checks in airports are out of proportion, try making a joke about it in the queue.
    (I’m not sure where I heard that one, but it could be from Santayana. I quote it out of memory, and translate it to English on the fly.)

  7. jeff jeff

    John’s right. And it’s not just airports. The change in character of this country over the last six years is quite noticeable and frightening. Everyone seems to be security-happy, and it’s not stopping. No matter what state I travel to, I see more police watching me, and tougher laws designed to increase security, prevent immigration, and generally make life more uncomfortable. We’re becoming a police state.

  8. bernarda bernarda

    I quite like using foreign expressions, but mixing languages is a bit disconcerting. Air follies would be ok, as would folies de l’air. If I got the French right.

  9. Jim Thomerson Jim Thomerson

    Isn’t it amazing how effective we have made the failed shoe-bomber?

  10. Jim Thomerson Jim Thomerson

    Isn’t it amazing how effective we have made the failed shoe-bomber?

  11. Susan Silberstein Susan Silberstein

    I _am_ voting for Edwards. Too bad he isn’t a woman…
    My city has the second busiest port in the U.S. The port handles over 20,000 containers a day. You think those are all scrutinized? It has 3,400 marina slips. Some of those boats are fairly big. How many of those boats are inspected?
    The port employs 30,000 people. Think they all go through thorough security checks?
    Not terribly far from here are Mobil and Arco refineries.
    Yeah, throw away my 3.5 oz shampoo bottle.

  12. Dave Briggs Dave Briggs

    Now we aren’t too far from suffering the same government control of who can travel and when and why. Airport security is just the obvious face of the new absolutism. We are ignoring the creeping incursion on our rights as they gradually seep away, irrespective of the country we live in, and the result… well go read some history.
    Yep! And where will it all end? God only knows! I guess it goes to show that you should enjoy your freedom to the Max today cuz…..
    Dave Briggs :~)

  13. James D James D

    The absurdity of security theatre is for me best demonstrated by this story:
    My brother returned from his second tour in Iraq shortly after the Liquid Plot was foiled in Britain. His battalion took military planes from Kuwait to Germany, where they boarded chartered commercial airliners. Before boarding they all had to surrender their liquids. After which they were allowed to board the plane (wait for it…) fully armed. As in, rifles and bayonets and other instruments of killing things.
    Sigh.

  14. James D James D

    The absurdity of security theatre is for me best demonstrated by this story:
    My brother returned from his second tour in Iraq shortly after the Liquid Plot was foiled in Britain. His battalion took military planes from Kuwait to Germany, where they boarded chartered commercial airliners. Before boarding they all had to surrender their liquids. After which they were allowed to board the plane (wait for it…) fully armed. As in, rifles and bayonets and other instruments of killing things.
    Sigh.

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