Friday, June 15, 2012

Fear Of Flying

Personal Dignity
“Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man's self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man.” 
 Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom from Fear

There are countless examples in society where respect is given less importance, where it is deemed secondary to national interests. When this happens, consider it a worrisome sign that something is amiss, something is wrong with our civil society. We know such things are true; we sense a deepening pragmatism leading to a loss of civility. Although a number of issues come to mind, I would like to focus on one today that deserves greater attention: air travel.

When you view videos and read articles about Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers treating people with a decided lack of respect— saying they are following standard operating procedure, which they probably are—it then becomes important to question such procedures. [see here, here , here and here.]. The outrage people feel is the type of normal response one ought to expect a person's  dignity has been violated; in this case by an apparatus of the state machine posing as humans.

Truly, is it necessary to body-pat children? old persons? wheelchair-bound persons with apparent disabilities? infants? Are groping, fondling and committing acts of indecency all necessary for the sake of security? Is that part of the TSA handbook? Flying has already become less attractive, a fearful prospect; these policies make it even less so. Why such policies have not been rewritten likely says a lot about the fixed attitudes of those in power, and the views they hold. If they cannot grasp that such screening procedures, ostensibly in the name of airline security, are aggressive, disrespectful and arbitrary, then one can question their ability to relate to other humans. [They might want to look to Israel, which has a more intelligent and effective way to ferret out possible terrorists, if that is indeed the TSA's mandate. Machinery alone will never do the job.]

Allow me to use an extreme example to make a point; no one is suggesting that this is now the case in the U.S. During the Holocaust, German civilians who donned the official uniform of the Nazi state, acted in accordance with its thoughts, views and sentiments. They viewed persons who did not fit their criteria of persons as sub-human; the results are well-known, as the historical record shows. It doesn't take long for a nation to slide down the scale of moral behavior into the commission of acts that are immoral and indecent. The first step is to treat persons as sub-human in the dutiful performance of a job or task, whose chief objective is to blindly and faithfully follow orders. Such defines the dangers of  Obedience to Authority.

Some persons, especially those who don official uniforms of the State, have a high degree to please and respect the authority of the State, and certainly its laws, which makes society more civil. While this is often a good thing—we ought to respect the laws of the land—it can be detrimental to civil society when the wearing of uniform is used as a means and an method to pervert justice and intimidate others. When that happens, human dignity suffers.

Flying in the last few years has already become stressful; these policies have only added to the individual stress. Moreover, these policies have also unwittingly given moral victory to Terrorists; making fear a "natural" unnatural state. So, what can we do? How about avoid flying on airlines within and to the United States until its screening policies are more clearly respectful of individuals. That is what I am considering. (I reside close enough to the U.S. border, so driving is always an option.)

I do this not to unfairly criticize America—no, I consider America a true and kind friend whose values and traditions I admire and respect— but, rather to draw attention to a current problem that undermines its greatness as a nation. I would like to see its leaders seriously and judiciously reconsider such policies—done in the name of security, but leaving persons feeling insecure— which, when done, will be a step in the right direction in returning the nation to a beacon of hope it has always been.

That day can't come too soon.


  1. Once when I was leaving Israel in the 1970s, the chatty woman at the luggage check-in asked what I had bought in Israel. I was very thorough in my answer. When I said "sun-tan lotion," she scribbled something on my boarding pass. Then when our passes were checked, a guard invited me into a little room where I was very thoroughly patted down. That was the right thing for the airport personnel to do. Better safe than sorry.
    The security procedures at American airports are certainly annoying, but they diminish the odds of successful terrorism, and therefore they lessen the fear of flying.

    1. "Better safe than sorry," is a good policy. In Israel you were patted down in private, and not in public, as is the case in the U.S. This preserves individual dignity. As well, the agents in Israel are more professionally trained than their counterparts in the U.S.


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