Airport Scanners and American Aversion to Risk

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Richard Forno’s article not only points to the absurdity of the TSA’s “porno scanners,” but to the reason that many Americans are willing to accept such an invasion of privacy–the myth of a “zero-risk culture.” Forno has hit the nail on the head. Why does one poll indicate that 80% of Americans support full-body scanners? Was the poll badly done? I hope so. I hope that Americans have not bought the idea of a world without risk to the point that they would give up all their freedoms for the myth of an absolutely secure world.

When I was a child, I rode my bicycle quite a bit–without a helmet. I played in the back yard by myself. I rode in the back of my Dad’s pickup truck on the freeway on the way to the Mall. I sat on a bale of hay near the bottom of a stack as the loaded truck drove down the highway at 40 mph. Was there risk in those activities? You betcha. Should I have avoided doing those things? Hell, no. Risk is a part of life. There is a risk of terrorist attack–it would be naive to deny that. But the risk of dying of heart disease, stroke, cancer, pneumonia, the flu, auto accidents, gunshot wounds (with the perpetrators being Americans), lightening–all these risks are greater than the risk of being killed in a terrorist attack–even for frequent air travelers. Many Americans want a society that controls all risk–controls which foods people eat, what they can drink, what they can smoke, whether they can sit on the back of a pickup, how they should ride their bicycles, and whether they can fly on an airplane without being virtually stripped naked. The sad thing is that we’re all going to die anyway. There is room for common sense controls that minimize risk of harm–but to invade the most private aspects of daily life smacks of totalitarianism. The government becomes a nanny, or at worst an abusive parent, and the people become docile children. Hopefully enough pampered Americans will grow up before the country in which they were reared grows unrecognizable. The saddest thing is that so many would not care.


The TSA, Full Body Scans, and Touching Genitals


Transportation Security Administration

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Fear is sometimes necessary for our survival, but irrational fear drives much human evil. The chances of dying of sudden cardiac arrest, cancer, an automobile accident, lightning are all greater than the chances of getting killed in a terrorist attack. I am not denying that it is probably a matter of “when,” not “if” the next terrorist attack occurs. This is true in the life of any nation state, and 9-11 was only the worst of a number of terrorist attacks (e.g., Oklahoma City and the first WTC attack) that have hit the U. S.

People in political power want more political power–Lord Acton‘s principle that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is now a cliche, but one that is true. Homeland Security (an Orwellian name for an agency if there ever was one) and the Transportation Security Administration, theĀ  TSA, are perfect examples. Now the TSA is requiring some individuals to either undergo full body scans or allow their genital areas to be touched by TSA security. Those who refuse both options are expelled from the airport and not allowed to travel. Now personally I do not care if I am given a full body scan; the person watching the scan would be sickened by a body that is overly well-nourished. However, privacy advocates are rightfully disturbed by a scan that reveals a person’s most intimate body parts. Some people are more modest than others; others may have suffered a sexual assault in the past and be extremely uncomfortable with a full body scan or (especially) with any touching of intimate bodily areas.

Americans should be outraged by the TSA’s policy–and opposition is growing. To defenders of the policy I would ask, “How much freedom would you be willing to give up for security?” I firmly believe that some Americans would support a dictatorship if they felt more secure under one. I suppose the fact that many Americans are in the “me, me, me” generation, spoiled and feeling a sense of entitlement, makes it easier for them to feel entitled to eliminate all risks in life. These individuals prefer a nanny state even if it means exposing all air travelers to full body scans.

I realize that the government has some responsibility in trying to stop terrorist attacks. However, a determined enough terrorist, with luck (if anyone would call it that) can slip through any security system, no matter how invasive or sophisticated. Or the terrorist may choose a way to attack Americans that does not involve an airplane flight. What do these invasive scans bring that will make air travelers more secure than previous scans? I pray to God there is never another terrorist attack such as 9-11, even though such hope may be unwarranted. I fear if there were such an attack, the United States would be in danger of becoming a true totalitarian state. It has happened before–in the Lincoln administration during the War between the States and in the Wilson administration during World War I. It may be a legend that Benjamin Franklin made the statement that’s been going around the web the last few years, but it is true nonetheless: “Those who would give up freedom for security deserve neither freedom nor security.”