We Think We Are Free

Would you feel comfortable going to a doctor or a dentist whose training consisted of “120 hours [three weeks] of classroom and on-the-job training.” Would you hire an accountant or engineer whose training was similar? Would you consider anyone a professional if they had only three weeks of training?

Have you noticed that after every TSA outrage, government spokespeople and their media apologists maintain that the TSA agents involved were just doing their job in a professional manner? Consider this recent incident—after subjecting a frail 95 year old woman suffering from leukemia to an hour long search in which she had to remove her adult diaper a TSA spokesperson insisted TSA officers work “with passengers to resolve security alarms in a respectful and sensitive manner.” The spokeswomen concluded “We have reviewed the circumstances involving this screening and determined that our officers acted professionally.…”

Not only were they acting professionally but the TSA spokesperson maintained that their common-sense defying actions were necessary “because we know from intelligence that there are terrorists out there that would then exploit that vulnerability.” Presumably, on the grounds of “national security,” the “intelligence” that al-Qaeda is recruiting 95 year old American women to hide explosives in the diapers was not produced.

In no sense of the word are TSA officers professionals. The use of the word professional when describing them is deliberate propaganda designed to get the public to submit to coercion.  A professional is a term reserved forhighly educated, mostly salaried workers, who enjoy considerable work autonomy, a comfortable salary, and are commonly engaged in creative and intellectually challenging work.”

OK, it is clear that the minimally trained TSA officers have little or no autonomy to use common sense in doing their job. However, it is equally true that those calling TSA security personnel perverts and criminals are also missing the point. As you walk through TSA security, the ordinariness of TSA personnel is palpable. By and by, they are simply our fellow human beings trying to make their way in the world and earning a living in the best way they know how. They are a modern example of what social philosopher Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil.”

In her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Arendt reports on the lack of anti-Semitism or psychological damage in Eichmann. Then you may ask, “How could he have committed such heinous crimes?” Arendt reports that Eichmann had limited intelligence, was unable to complete high school, was unable to think for himself, and had a strong desire to get ahead. Having been a witness to the rank-and-file of German civil service endorsing the “final solution,” he believed his moral responsibility was absolved.

In his book They Thought They Were Free, Milton Mayer tells the story of how decent Germans became Nazis. Consider policemen Willy Hofmeister. Mayer relates the story of how in 1938, Hofmeister was assigned the job of rounding up Jewish males in Kronenberg “for their own protection.” Hofmeister was no Nazi thug; he was polite and respectful as he did his dastardly deeds.

During one of his stops, Hofmeister explained to a Jewish man that he was taking into custody why the town synagogue was blown up that day: “They blew it up as a safety measure.”

No, American totalitarianism is unlikely to look like German fascism. Yet, if you read Arendt and Mayer, the parallels will chill you. No, most TSA personnel are not Eichmann’s in training; but then again, nor were most Germans. Most Germans who enabled the Nazi machine and most TSA personnel are more like Willy Hofmeister—just doing their jobs.

Many Americans support and defend unconstitutional and useless searches on the grounds that they are “respectfully” done and necessary for our safety. The media acts as propaganda outlets to promote these unconstitutional acts; judges rubber stamp unconstitutional laws. Many Germans thought they were free and that their behavior was normal. The spirit of Willy Hofmeister is alive and well in America. We think we are free. Are we?

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7 Responses to We Think We Are Free

  1. Enjoyed this Barry. I am hard pressed to decide if this has moved from soft to traditional hard tyranny. Keep up the defense of liberty.

    • Thanks, Andrew. I was unaware of your own blog which is superbly well-written and very interesting.

      Soft to hard? I guess we won’t know until history judges us. More from Milton Mayer about Nazi Germany (21th Century America?):

      “Each step was so small, so inconsequential … one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. . . .Each act. . . is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow.”
      “You don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ . . .But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed.”
      See http://moraloutrage.wordpress.com/2009/10/31/things-you-would-not-have-accepted-five-years-ago

  2. topthinkest says:

    I had very similar thoughts several months ago when the video of the small child being searched was making the rounds on the news. The one thing I keep thinking about every time a story like this breaks is that the attackers on 9/11 totally achieved their goal. They wanted to scare and disrupt the American way of life. The fact that I still have to take off my shoes, remove my belt, and walk through a x-ray machine every time I want to board a plane is direct evidence that how we once lived has changed.

    I was just recently got back from a trip to China. Because of my negative experiences from the TSA, I assumed the Chinese government would be equally, if not more, evasive. This was not at all the case. Although we spoke two different languages the attendants were polite, courteous, and infinitely more efficient.

    I enjoy traveling a great deal, but I have to shake my head as I walk through the scanner bare footed trying to hold up my pants.

  3. Steve P says:

    Barry,
    Arendt was visciously attacked from all sides for her comments about Eichmann, but that’s because she was completely misunderstood, even by her fellow intellectuals of that time.
    You are absolutely correct. Eichmann is US! The attitude that “as long as they act ‘professionally’ it’s alright” reminds me of the favorable impression concentration camp victims had of Joseph Mengele during selection at the railway station. He was courteous, well dressed, and even empathized with his victims. Some actually believed he was trying to help them! It just serves to demonstrate that humans are the same throughout the world.
    I wish Arendt were still alive today so that we could benefit from her billiant mind helping us make sense of contemporary events. Fortunatel,y many of the insights she has provided us are timeless. There are many parallels between the rise of totalitarianism in Russia and Germany in the earrly 20th century and what we are experiencing today. Key ingredients are missing so we are not likely to experience a similar outcome, but I would recommend Naomi Wolf’s book “The End of America” for anyone who wishes to get a better picture of the dangers to freedom we are facing.
    One rarely hears Arendt’s name mentioned in print or other media. Hers was one of the greatest minds of the 20th century in my opinion.

  4. Steve P says:

    Barry,
    I would be willing to bet that there is an inverse correlation between the degree of freedom that exiasts in any given society and the amount of times the word “procedure” is used. I’m also likely to blow a gasket if I hear that word used again in the same sentence as “TSA”.

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