If you are planning to fly any time soon, don’t watch this video. In an attempt to provide security, we seem willing to forfeit a good deal of freedom and even basic dignity. It is quite remarkable how willingly we line up in crowded rows like sheep and submit to the indignities of airport security. But how much is enough? At what point will Americans balk and either quit flying or demand a change? Surely there are limits. I wonder how George Washington or Sam Adams would respond to such treatment.

TSA Agent: Please remove your wig, jacket, and shoes.

George Washington: Sir. I am an American and a free man. I will surely not accede to this outrageous request.

TSA: Comply with the rules, buddy. Or get out of line.

GW: No American will submit to this. Furthermore, you are surly an agent of the enemy, for no free man would ask another free man to do such things.

TSA: Listen, buddy. I don’t have time for this. Do as I say or I’ll call security and have you arrested.

At this point Washington summarily manhandles TSA agent, who had in the meantime grabbed Washington by the arm. Washington briskly turns and stalks out of airport. He will go to New York on horseback, but he goes as a free man.

p.s. If you are a breast cancer survivor with a prosthetic breast, be forewarned: they won’t go easy on you.

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Mark T. Mitchell
Mark T. Mitchell teaches political theory at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, VA. He is the author Michael Polanyi: The Art of Knowing and The Politics of Gratitude: Scale, Place, and Community in a Global Age (Potomac Books, 2012). He is co-editor of another book titled, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry. Currently he is writing a book on private property. In 2008-9, while on sabbatical at Princeton University, he and Jeremy Beer hatched a plan to start a website dedicated to political decentralism, economic localism, and cultural regionalism. A group of like-minded people quickly formed around these ideas, and in March 2009, FPR was launched. Although he was raised in Montana and still occasionally longs for the west, he lives in Virginia with his wife, three sons and one daughter where they are in the process of turning a few acres into a small farm. See books written by Mark Mitchell.

7 COMMENTS

    • It’s been a few years since I was in Israel, but I do recall one particular tie-dyed traveler at the Tel-Aviv airport who was taken out of line and ushered into a windowless room. He emerged a few minutes later tucking in his shirt and with a sheepish look on his face. Pat down? I suspect it was much more than that.

      Nevertheless, if we did move to implement a system more like Israel’s, the first thing we’d need to do is spend a whole lot of money in recruiting and training. A significant portion of Israel’s airport security system depends on security officials interviewing travelers. These officials are obviously well-trained individuals who ask hard questions and pursue the details with tenacity. My impression is that the TSA relies on low paid and marginally trained individuals operating expensive machines and patting down grandmothers and infants. The human intelligence aspect is emphasized in Israeli model and is virtually non-existent in ours.

  1. Very nice post, Mark. As I said before, I’m not really a “just say no!,” anti-government type, and I don’t have a lot of confidence in those who are…but in this case, I’ll happily make an exception. I hope people continue to confront the TSA, and the Tea Party in Washington bankrupts them, if that’s what is necessary to get them to realize that this latest action infringes not just about our freedom, but (what is more important) their dignity as citizens as well.

  2. I find some similarity between this brief post and the argument–an edifying squabble–that Caleb stirred up. If we are not going to be protected, as the TSA, or rather their bosses, in their wise beneficence desire to do, then we must protect ourselves. Do I hear an echo of “rugged individualist”? It seems I read a while back about one way of dividing the political landscape–those who would limit freedom for the sake of security and others who sacrifice some security for enhanced freedom. Several years ago I–mostly in jest, but with more seriousness than would allow some to be comfortable–proposed the “Redneck Solution to Airline Security.” Require all the guys of that sort to pack when they fly. Side arms, shotguns . . . Bubba & Billy Bob would make any terrorist think twice. All the TSA folk could be put to work patching roads & fixing bridges & working at the new Caleb Stegall action figure factory.

    All joking aside: What is the thought on the porch about the issue Mark raises? (A question not unrelated to the one our Kansan friend asks.) It is fairly easy to rail against the indignity and incompetence. But other than just advising folk to travel no further than their bike or mule will allow, what is a localist answer to a very non local issue? .

  3. The government knows well that the next successful terrorist attack (when, not if, it occurs) will severely damage an already fragile economy. If the attack is severe enough – for instance, involving a critical point of transportation (e.g., GW Bridge or a port), a city (NYC is the obvious target), or even one or several planes, commercial activity throughout the world will grind to a halt. The attacks of 2001 measurably damaged a “healthy” economy; imagine its impact on the current “Great Recession.”

    This is where I think there’s more overlapping agreement between Caleb and John M. than either would probably want to acknowledge. The government can’t afford to have the economy damaged in this way because we are all its wards now – very few of us are “self-sufficient.” We are at the mercy of a global economy that is dizzyingly susceptible to small doses of terror to effect severe damage. “Self-sufficiency” in such terms is not finally the attainment of individuals, but the ability of members of communities to see each other through such circumstances. Bereft of such communities, in the aftermath of the next attacks, we will all turn our frightened and longing eyes to Washington for solutions. While we complain about pat downs and TSA thugs, we generally rest content in our suburban cocoons, and thus – in effect – deeply reliant on that TSA front line to keep our faux individualism intact. If we wish to realize some “rugged individualism,” we’d all do well to fly less and build more ties to our neighbors, including economic ties in the event the trucks stop delivering food to the grocery stores.

  4. A cessation of all air travel might be just the thing this country needs. I suspect a large portion of air travel is recreational. Take the train instead. Better yet, stay at home and work in your own backyard. Maybe TSA’s done us a big favor by showing how unnecessary air travel really is.

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