24 November 2010

Yet We Must Abide

I would like to respond at some length to a comment made on my previous entry, Thoughts on Scans and Pat Downs.  Kristin wrote:
"What's interesting is that your comment "when a decision is made" doesn't include any of our individual concerns when they make their decision, but yet we must abide. And even with this loss of individual rights, are we really that much more 'secure?'"
First, some may consider the fact that the head of the TSA, an executive branch appointee, has to be confirmed by the Senate.  Because both the President and Senators are elected, one might argue that the electorate has had a voice in who heads the agency which makes the rules under which the electorate must operate.  Take that for what it is worth, which is not much, substantively, in my thinking.

What drives the executive branch - in particular the agencies which would have to respond to events like another 9-11 or hurricane Katrina - to make the policy decisions is a desire to avoid a negative response from the electorate after an horrific event.  Heads roll after horrible events; they don't tend to roll before a potential event.  Thus, there is at least some self-preservation operating with regard to the rule makers.

This self-preservation is not, on their part, an irrational act by the policy makers - if keeping their jobs is highly important to them.  The idea, particularly in urban areas, that the federal government must respond energetically and omnipotently to a disaster.  Most notably was the outcry for the lack of federal response to hurricane Katrina, particularly from the people and politicians in New Orleans - never mind the total lack of response from the truly responsible parties at the city and state levels.  President Bush never recovered politically from the false impression that the lack of a federal response to Katrina caused the city to be decimated and the urban population to suffer.

As a result, politicians and policy makers don't want to get "Katrina'd" and therefore come up with preemptive measures which can be pointed to in case some horrific event does happen.  These measures are the "but we did (insert preventative measure here), so we cannot be blamed" tactic.

The sad truth is that the part of the electorate that demands an energetic and omnipotent federal response to tragedy bears much of the blame for such policies.  So, if the TSA does not want to have its collective head handed to it by the public, then rules, procedures, and policies become more and more stringent - just in case something might could happen.

I could go on to discuss the infantilization of the electorate, zero-tolerance culture and such, but it is sufficient to say that TSA frisks and such are a result of a not-so-uncommon desire on the part of the electorate to be protected from tragedy.  The TSA may not have asked explicitly for public opinion, but public responses to past tragedies and political self-preservation drive decisions.  I don't expect government agencies to change "safety uber alles" mantra any time soon, if ever.  But then again, that's just my read on it; I could be wrong.

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