What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: 89AKurt
This past weekend, I protested the TSA at the Salt Lake International Airport along with a couple dozen other individuals. I produced a flyer which we distributed to over 400 passengers, and many of the protestors had signs objecting to various aspects of this federal institution.
My main objections are summarized in a recent op-ed I published in the Salt Lake Tribune. I argue that the TSA’s invasive, warrant-less searches and seizures are in direct violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and that Americans are willingly trading away their liberty for security theater.
This issue has, thankfully, received a significant amount of attention as of late. The national “opt out” day a few weeks ago rallied people around the country in protest of the irradiating, pornographying backscatter machines and the molestation of men, women, and children by low-skilled rent-a-gropers. Hundreds, if not thousands of stories are now in the public domain which both individually, and especially in the aggregate, paint a sobering picture of the degree to which individual liberty has been suppressed.
But as with all things, not everybody agrees with the underlying issue, let alone the reaction to it. As I have been following the issue closely in past weeks, and opining along the way, I’ve encountered several objections to the objectors—naysayers who don’t understand what the big deal is. Often, the person will state that they recently went through the airport and were not subjected to the backscatter machine or enhanced pat down, or even if they did, that it wasn’t as bad as some have made it out to be.
These responses are a perfect example of the self-centered, hedonistic focus our society embraced. It says, in effect, “I don’t care unless it affects me personally.” In the case of the TSA, such individuals are apathetic towards and even proponents of their searches and seizures; their tune only changes if something directly and negatively affects them, say, like their wife’s breasts being fondled, or their urostomy bag being punctured by an agent and dousing them in urine, or their child being taken by an agent out of view.
Indeed, I encountered many such people during our protest this weekend. When asking a passenger-to-be, with leaflet extended towards them, whether they were concerned about their fourth amendment rights to be free from warrantless searches and seizures, I was often told some variation of “nope, not at all” or “who cares?”
In short, these individuals seem to think that because it’s not happening to them, it’s nothing to be worried about. They fail to realize that the fact that it is happening to others increases the likelihood that it may happen to them in the future; by protecting the liberty of others, we protect our own. I’m reminded of the well-known words of Pastor Martin Niemöller which relate and deserve quoting:
They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
One of the more disappointing responses among the group was from an individual who claimed that because the percentage of protestors and complainants to the total number of airplane passengers was so small, it was to be deemed an “average complaint rate” and thus relegated to the same status as those whose coffee is served cold by a flight attendant, or who are inconvenienced with the loss of their luggage. As the argument goes, because so relatively few are expressing concern, it’s a non-issue.
I admit that I do not understand this response. In fact, I find it stupid. My mind is filled with the stories of individuals who have been irradiated and molested, and I wonder what they think about people who show complete indifference towards their situation, since they are only one person. I think of the rape victim who wrote: “What [the TSA] did to me, in full view of everyone else in line, was like being sexually assaulted all over again. I was in shock. I hate myself that I allowed them to do this to me. I haven’t been able to stop crying since.” Is her story not important? Should her rights not be of concern to us?
Should her experience be ignored and forgotten because she is only one person?
Like the story of the increasingly-imposing camel, tyranny naturally increases in size and scope. Its occurrence anywhere should alarm all individuals, regardless of whether they are affected or not. Tyranny does not promulgate only when some statistically-significant critical mass (in excess of an “average complaint rate”) is achieved—its critical mass is one individual.
Wiser men than such apathetic individuals knew better. James Madison, for example, once wrote:
It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The freemen of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle.
Tom Paine similarly wrote:
He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.
Those concerned with individual liberty fight not only for their own, but for that of their friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens as well. Despite their objections, scorn, and at times active opposition, those who mock this as irrelevant or futile should instead be thanking those who foresee the consequences of small-scale tyranny and oppose it on principle, whether or not they have yet been personally affected.