I don’t want to say that I’m never going to fly again. I’d fly—if it were necessary to hurry to the bedside of a sick relative or to rescue someone. I might, just possibly, fly in order to take the vacation of a lifetime. But routine flying? I’m done with it. I’m simply no longer willing to participate in the system.

Megan McArdle hits almost the right note in this piece in the Atlantic: Dear Airline, I’m Leaving You. She seems to get the ethical aspect of being a willing participant in an immoral system, although she plays it for laughs.

Through most of the past decade, I flew on business a couple times a year. I got to watch as airport security became more and more a kind of shamanistic ritual better suited to deflecting blame in case of a terrorist incident than actually preventing one.

It always annoyed me—the pointlessness, more than the actual inconvenience. But even more than that, the fact that I submitted to it was a blow to my self-image. I take security seriously—all those business trips were for my work on Bluetooth security. As a person who takes security seriously, I really hated my role in the mock security at airports. Each time I submitted to it, simply because it was the only way to get where I needed to go, I thought less of myself.

I also worry about the TSA agents. Where I was only playing a brief role in the security theater, they were doing it as a career. How soul-destroying must it be when your whole career is performing pointless acts of mock security?

And spending your working life doing mock security is nothing compared to what those poor TSA guys and girls are doing now. Spending your days staring through the clothing of the traveling public? Getting paid to grope a steady stream of tourists and business people? No one with good moral character could do the work—which means that any such people will be quickly driven out of the job. Soon the only TSA agents left behind will be degenerates who don’t understand why what they’re doing is wrong.

And that is what I refuse to participate in. It’s not that I worry about people seeing me naked, nor about someone touching me inappropriately. It’s that the whole system is wrong. It mandates behavior that is uncivilized, unethical, harmful to everyone involved.

If I fly again, it will be because I’m doing something so important that it outweighs the harm of participating in the degrading system of mock security our society has foolishly bought into. That’s a pretty high standard.

[Update: After posting this I discovered TSA Enhanced Pat Downs : The Screeners Point Of View, which shows pretty clearly that many of the screeners know what they’re doing is wrong.]

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4 thoughts on “On the ethics of submitting to airport security

  1. “Each time I submitted to it, simply because it was the only way to get where I needed to go, I thought less of myself.”

    Isn’t that a little hyperbolic? Security was always a hassle but it certainly never made me feel like I was submissively giving away my dignity. At the same time, that’s how I would feel about submitting to current procedures. As a lot of people, I feel like a line has been crossed somewhere. A few months ago security was a bit of an inconvenience, but I never felt that my fundamental rights were being violated.

  2. Well, I didn’t say that submitting to the screening procedures made me think myself a worthless failure. Just that each time I went through the charade of pretending (along with everyone else) that we were somehow improving security—even though I knew perfectly well that we weren’t—I lost a tiny bit of self-respect. It wasn’t very much, but over time it added up.

  3. I began to get that feeling when we started having to take off our shoes and miniaturize our travel toiletries. If I could have stopped flying at that point, I would have – except I was in Hawaii on my honeymoon and needed to get home.

    I do not plan on flying again until this nonsense is toned down, unless I absolutely can’t help it (funeral, job, etc.) I feel for my friend, who needs to fly out of Logan in a couple of weeks with her 2-year-old to get back home overseas.

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