Communion Of Dreams

A “How To” manual?
November 27, 2010, 3:10 pm
Filed under: Book Conservation, Civil Rights, Constitution, MetaFilter, Politics, Privacy, Society, Terrorism

Many years ago, when I was just starting my book conservation practice and *very* hungry for business, a fellow came in looking to have some work done. He had a couple of books that he wanted rebound together “for convenience.”

I took one look at the titles, then flipped the books over and read a bit of the back cover. At a glance I could see that they were the worst sort of modern neo-nazi crap. I handed the books back to the guy and showed him the door.

* * * * * * *

I’ve been in something of a funk this week. No, it’s not my usual seasonal blues – not yet, anyway. Rather, it’s a reaction to having so many different things pending and beyond my ability to control or really much influence. I have invoices out that seem to have fallen into a bureaucratic black hole somewhere. I’m still waiting to finalize the book contract. The residual pain from the pneumonia I had this summer is still there, and while I have decided to just get on with life and get things done, it still is wearing. The publisher who would be a good fit to put out the care giving book still hasn’t bothered to respond to our proposal. That kind of stuff.

But there’s something more. A sense of alienation from the vast majority of Americans. The ones who seem to be willing to put up with the latest round of security theatre, as shown by polls, comments, and interviews.

* * * * * * *

His wife, Marti Hancock, 58, said that ever since she was in the air on Sept. 11, 2001, and feared there was a bomb on her plane, she has been fully supportive of stringent security: “If that’s what you have to do to keep us safe, that’s what you have to do.”

* * *

But people throwing around incredibly loaded terms like “police state” and “fascism” is ridiculous given that the actions shown in the video are clearly not part of TSA official regulations, an argument that’s made clear in the post itself. Let’s be real here.

* * *

Nearly two-thirds of Americans support the new full-body security-screening machines at the country’s airports, as most say they put higher priority on combating terrorism than protecting personal privacy, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

* * * * * * *

Some folks say don’t blame the TSA agents who are stuck with doing this job – it’s a tough economy, and a secure job is a secure job. From the ‘front page’ of Daily Kos a few days ago:

But as you travel this holiday week, here’s something to keep in mind: The TSA screener monitoring the scanners, or touching your body, did not make the policy. They’re just doing their job, and not one they have a lot of control over:


Like it or not, there are soldiers in the field, and special ops trying to root out folks that want to put bombs on planes.

They aren’t with their families over the holidays. They are making sacrifices.

Yet when it comes to security checks at airports some Americans can’t stop whining.

Typical. Americans want to have their cake and eat it too.

If you see a TSA agent over your holiday travels, how about saying Thank You instead of f*** you.

* * * * * * *

A big part of the problem is with the psychological make-up of humans, which make us prone to falling into these kinds of roles. This has been documented time and again. Things like the Milgram Experiment, or the Stanford Prison Experiment, which show that most people will default to obeying authority even over their own moral code. From the Wiki article on the Milgram Experiment:

Milgram summarized the experiment in his 1974 article, “The Perils of Obedience”, writing:

The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ [participants’] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects’ [participants’] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.[3]

From the Stanford Prison Experiment homepage:

How we went about testing these questions and what we found may astound you. Our planned two-week investigation into the psychology of prison life had to be ended prematurely after only six days because of what the situation was doing to the college students who participated. In only a few days, our guards became sadistic and our prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress.

I feel like these sorts of studies, which I remember quite well from the 1970s, have been adopted as something of a “How To” manual by those who want to systematically destroy our heritage of freedom.

* * * * * * *

There are times I wonder whether anyone is paying attention.

But then, I come across a comment like this in one of these discussions:

When I use a term like “police state,” I do so specifically. I am not exaggerating when I say that, if we cannot travel within the country by bus, train or plane without undergoing a body search, we will be living in a police state. All authoritarian states restrict travel in similar manners. It’s a distinguishing characteristic. You don’t really see that implemented as policy outside of police states.

And when I say things like this, it gets attention and usually positive responses:

When people are scared, they’ll do things they normally wouldn’t.

Think about that. Who has been scaring the public? Who benefits from us losing our heads in fear?

And once rights are lost, they are damned hard to reclaim.

So, perhaps there is a growing awareness of the issues involved.

* * * * * * *

I don’t want to sound like some kind of conspiracy nut or libertarian crank. Sure, there are those who want to exploit any given situation for their own personal gain, and that is probably more than sufficient explanation for our slow slide away from our Constitutional freedoms. But it seems like the infringements that started with the “War on Drugs” and ramped up at the beginning of the “War on Terror” are coming even faster now. We’re accelerating somehow.

Dystopian science fiction was popular when I was growing up, and it lives on in the form of the popular Zombie genre. There are good reasons why I envisioned it as part of the background of Communion of Dreams. But it is just damned depressing to think that we actually have to live through it.

Jim Downey

4 Comments so far
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John and I have been discussing this, too. I worry about the loss of freedom of movement, and the idea that you have to be exposed to an extra dose of radiation or be groped in an intimate way in order to board a plane. Happily, there were none of the new scanners in place in StL or Houston Hobby this past week, or else I was opting for the groping for me and the kids. I definitely do think the higher ups are taking advantage of fear of terrorism to justify taking away freedoms.

Comment by Sarah CD

I think that is *very* smart, Sarah – my post this morning shows some very real health concerns, particularly for kids.

Jim D.

Comment by James Downey

[…] yesterday’s post, in which I focused primarily on the civil liberties aspect of the latest TSA security […]

Pingback by A quick follow-up… « Communion Of Dreams

[…] what people are like when frightened, and how that can have an impact on social mores. Consider my recent post about how willing some folks are to put up with the new security scanners and “enhanced pat […]

Pingback by And here I thought Heinlein was just a dirty old man… « Communion Of Dreams

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