Spreading Safety or Fear

 Posted on June 01, 2007 in Uncategorized

Scott Greenfield, in Simple Justice, writes here about the TB-infected man who, despite being on the watch list, made it through customs and into the U.S. Scott suggests this theory of airport security:

Why is it they check the bottoms of my shoes, and won't let me go through the magnetometer, because I have a fourth ounce of shampoo in my possession, but TB Andy breezes through? If you ever needed proof that this whole border crossing nonsense is a palliative to make the public believe they are safe from terrorists, here ya go. It's designed to make average, ordinary and utterly non-threatening Americans (of whatever race, color, national background, etc.) feel better through harassment. That's right, safety by annoyance. The more they annoy, the safer we feel. God bless America and Homeland Security.

I think Scott has it backwards. All of the ineffectual and silly airport "security" measures are not intended to make us believe that we are safe. When has a government ever benefited from its citizens thinking that they are safe? People who feel safe start looking critically at how free they are.

Rather, the shoe-x-raying and fluid-confiscating are intended to remind us that we are in danger, and that we need the government's protection. They are intended to convince us that the government is doing all it can to keep us safe, but that we aren't entirely safe. The government holds out the enticing possibility that if we give it a little more power we'll be safer.

The problem is that governmental power and individual freedom are the two variables in a zero-sum equation. We can't give the government more power without giving up more freedom.

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