Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Get Used To It"

Willie Geist had a man from the Department of Homeland Stupidity on The Last Word last night. No clips or transcript are available, so I don’t recall who it was, a honcho of some sort, and I can’t provide a precise quotation. The topic was, of course, the new search procedures at airports.

This guy said that people were complaining about the new procedure because it is new and they “aren’t used to it” yet. Given time, he said they will become accustomed to the procedure and will quit complaining. He used the example of when liquids were first banned and said that people complained bitterly at first about that, but after a while the complaints subsided, and that given time the complaints over this new procedure will also die out.

I found his remarks seriously objectionable on a couple of levels.

First is the immediate one that government can successfully ignore public complaint, and that the public will just calm down and accept whatever the government decides is necessary. I don’t think so. This is supposed to be government by the people, and the idea that government can simply ignore public opinion is repugnant.

Second is the implication of incrementalism; one cannot ignore the parable of the frog in the pot of boiling water. I do not for one minute believe that this government or anyone in it has the slightest desire to move this nation toward a police state, but it is by no means impossible for us to arrive there without intending to, following a series of small steps each of which is taken in the name of public safety.

His implication was profoundly clear. We took the step of banning liquids, and we got away with it. That outcry over reduction of personal freedom disappeared and so will this one. By extrapolation, so will the next one, and the one after that.

We increasingly limit what the public is allowed to carry with them when they travel, we constantly make the public more willing to stand in line and submit to ever more invasive search, we put more and more surveillance cameras on streets and in public buildings, and we spend ever increasing sums on “homeland security.” As we do these things we move closer and closer to a police state whether we intend that or not. Every move is taken in the name of safety, but whatever the intention every move is nibbling away at personal liberty and privacy, and every move is increasing the power of the state over the individual.

“Those who would surrender liberty in the name of safety will have neither.”

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