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The TSA:Can we do better than the patdown?

November 19, 2010
Probability Broach cover

The original paperback cover

I’ve been pondering how a liberty-loving American should consider the latest increase in TSA “enhanced security measures.” As I write this there is a lot of conversation – on talk radio, on the MSM, and on teh interweebs – about what the role of the government should be in trying to make air travel safe.

Air travel is regulated by the Federal government in a myriad of ways. On the other hand , the airlines are private companies. Some are US-owned and some are not. Most all of them are publicly held, so they have literally thousands of owners. It seems the owners should have some say in how the companies are run, does it not? And yet, they have absolutely no say in how the security procedures are handled. The TSA could be jackbooted, sex-molester thugs and the airlines cannot do anything about it. As it is, all the current talk seems to be moving in the direction that fewer people will be willing to put up with the “enhanced security measures.” This will mean a reduced level of revenue for the airlines, and there is nothing they can do, singly or together, to improve their situation.

To me this would be akin to the Federal government deciding that that agents should stop every passenger car at every state border to inspect it for explosives or other terrorist supplies. Sounds ridiculous, right? And yet we collectively put up with not only long lines (which are totally unpredictable and add a high degree of stress to the air travel experience) but treatment by government employees that we would not tolerate in our local police forces. Just how can you get a TSA agent fired, anyway? I would expect it is almost impossible, no matter what documentation you might have as to their poor behavior.

So how does this relate to the book referenced above? In L. Neil Smith’s Libertarian-vision alternate universe novel “The Probability Broach,” air travel in the Confederate States of America can be done quickly, but most folks opt for rigid airship travel instead. Airships should be a viable means of travel in North America, since we have helium reserves here, unlike most parts of the world. (Remember, hydrogen is flammable; helium is not. We should have pushed for airships a hundred years ago!)

Smith’s airships are somewhat like a Las Vegas hotel and casino in the sky. Shops, hotel rooms, restaurants, all sorts of recreation are available. And you can always watch the landscape go by – airships don’t travel nearly as high as passenger jets.

In Smith’s world, everyone is armed, almost all of the time. They believe very strongly in their right to bear arms, and most people select knives or firearms with the same care Americans here select their cars. Not everyone is a crack shot, but they know that they have the right to carry and to use that weapon if necessary. This is an essential element of liberty – some argue the most essential piece. (See Smith’s book of essays Lever Action for more information about why it’s that important.)

So anyway, in the book (both versions – print, and the graphic novel created by Smith and Scott Beiser), protagonist Win Bear, from a closer-to-our-world alternate, is stunned to find out he can take his gun on flying machines. There are restrictions as to type of ammunition, so the cabin won’t be breached in case the gun is fired, but that’s it. No one would ever think of denying a passenger his or her gun. (Or knife, or sword, etc.)

Now, that only works because it’s a world where the right to bear arms has always been protected – with extreme prejudice if required. It’s not our nanny-state where most people would shirk from the sight of a gun. (Well, maybe not. I live in the Chicago suburbs. I doubt the response is the same in, say, Tulsa, or even Omaha. We had that anti-gun law in Chicago for years that was recently overturned by the Supreme Court.)

If someone in Smith’s Confederated States  tried to hijack a plane, the people around him would take him down in seconds. Therefore, no one tries it.

Cover of the graphic novel version

The entire structure of the culture is influenced by the single fact that the populace is armed. I never really thought about it, I guess. If you start to look at the culture we live in through that lens, things are very different, indeed. We live in semi-fear in the suburbs of a city that has a very high crime rate, mainly due to gang-related gunplay. Much of it has to do with drugs, of course. (That’s another Libertarian tenet, of course. Another thing for another discussion.) In any case, suburban folks (mainly white) are always at least a bit in fear of city gang members (mostly black or hispanic). But remember, the white suburban folks don’t have weapons, because they are Good People and They Know Guns Don’t Solve Anything.

But, you see, they do: guns really do solve some things. Not all, but some things, anyway. Could gangs ever have got the upper hand if the rest of the population was armed as well? Sure, they could be more willing to shoot. Then again, people defending their families and homes used to be quite willing to do whatever they needed to do. When did we start cowering in the shadows, again?

So: am I advocating that we should all strap on six-shooters and line up at Midway Airport? (Well, that’s not a bad idea, really.) Not today. There’s a major cultural shift that’s necessary before that can work. What we can – and must – do, is find ways to empower the passengers and crew so that if a terrorist should show up, they can take care of it. I don’t necessarily mean Todd Beamer-style, as in “Let’s Roll,” but as in not treating passengers as if they were cattle, or small children. It’s obvious the TSA (and by inference, the Federal government in general) considers us unable to take personal responsibility. Or – and this is more likely – they want us to become cattle, unwilling to oppose them. I’m not wearing a tinfoil hat, here. I don’t believe it’s one of those conspiracies being run behind the scenes by some secret society. I think it’s part of the overall government “we need to control everything” mentality, amped up by a hard left-wing philosophy.

I don’t have to cover everything about the way liberals have been trying to build the soft tyranny/nanny state. Mark Levin did a much better job of it than I ever could, anyway. It’s all about the control of the populace, because liberals fundamentally believe they should choose what is right for us better than we can ourselves – even though that is completely in opposition to the intentions of our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and our Bill of Rights.  We’re given up our rights, little bit by little bit, for years and years, practically since the Revolution.

That puts us in a situation where the conventional wisdom is that we need to be protected, because we can’t do anything about it. All the discussions I’ve heard or read have to do with the inappropriateness of the kind of TSA response – not that the government shouldn’t do something. No one that I’ve heard has talked about the idea of just doing nothing, or cutting back on the TSA’s activities, in favor of giving some rights back to the passengers. Hell, the pilots were being screened the same as the passengers, for crying out loud! If they don’t trust the pilots, who can they trust?

So let’s cut the TSA by, say, fifty per cent. Let’s use them to screen people based on profiles – and quit talking about that like it’s cutting somebody’s heart out. It would help a lot if we could maybe have a little more space between the seats on the planes, so we could get people up and out if we need to. Why set up a plane so that passengers are trapped in their seats, so if something happens (like, say, a crash) they can’t get out safely because cramming people in was a better financial decision. Did anyone at an airline ever think that maybe people would fly more often if it was more comfortable, therefore offsetting the loss of seats in each plane by higher overall volume?

I know this is long and rambling, but my point is that we’re still rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. We need to look at this airplane terrorism problem from a different perspective. Screening before entering the plane can’t cover everything that a terrorist could attempt – so when the day comes that they get through the screen, they’re on a plane that has no defenses. All our teeth have been pulled.

We need to take back our teeth. If they know we have them, they are far less likely to screw with us.

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