Earlier this week on TOL, we ran two seemingly-contradicting pieces. One that claimed that people doing immoral things for their jobs was a key threat to liberty. The other holds that people should not feel obligated to opt-out of TSA screenings if the price of principle is too high for their lives.
The obvious connection between these two is the TSA.
Many people I know believe that TSA agents are exercisers of power over citizens, that they represent, and are complicit in, a system that is oppressing the rights of citizens (conveniently leaving out the fact that you can abstain from air travel). Some have even compared them to Nazi war criminals.
Since the inception of the TSA, and particularly since the screeners, I have watched people’s Facebook statuses fill my feeds as they go through the airport. Usually around the holidays, it seems that everyone feels the need to update their friends on the TSA lines, hassle, and how they enacted their small bit of revenge by being short, dismissive, irritable, or otherwise rude to a TSA officer. People “like” the status. Leave comments like “Way to go! That oughta show ‘em.” (Okay, no one actually says “oughta,” but you get my meaning). Even CNN documented last year the scores of ways that travelers “detest” or “loathe” TSA agents.
Let’s get a few things straight before I go on: the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Obama administration’s TSA policies have unilaterally overtaken an important part of American life and demanded that they hand over their civil liberties in order to partake in it. When the Obama administration announced that the Transportation Security Administration would be including scanning technology as a part of their screening process, I declined flying for two years, taking 17- and 20-hour train rides across the country to avoid that violation of my civil liberties. So rest assured that I, as a person who wants my rights, take the TSA rights violations seriously.
That being said, it is both unethical and wildly irresponsible to treat TSA officers with the blatant disregard for their humanity that I have seen many people do since.
I am skeptical about TSA screeners’ ability, insofar as they are individuals, to “oppress” people, even if they work for the state. Screeners—the people who so very often catch ire in all its forms—make about $30,000 a year. To give you some perspective, that’s less than I currently make in my first job. It’s less than my father made as a working-class man at the end of his career. If my experience is any indication, many of them are in their early 40s, belong to sociopolitical minorities, and appear to be from working class backgrounds.
TSA agents are hardly bastions of power in the world. These are caught up in a system that oppresses people and a system that takes advantage of citizens for its own benefit. They are victims of it just as much as, perhaps moreso, than many of my middle- and upper-class friends who whine about having to take so long at the airport. You may feel that folks should stand on principle and “opt-out” of those jobs, but principle is not a luxury to many people who are trying to feed a family. Given the choice between not taking care of your children and making life a little inconvenient for a few people (who can always travel another way)—which would you choose?
When did we forget that the government’s policies were damaging to everyone?
I fully understand the desire to express distaste and displeasure to the people who are directly in front of you, enacting the policy that denies your rights. But I have never seen rudeness change anyone’s mind. All you do is make someone’s day terrible—whose life probably isn’t that grand to begin with. You make yourself feel superior by treating another human being terribly. You teach others more impressionable than you that TSA agents are not worth basic human kindness. And you have done nothing to actually fix the problem. You might have even made it a little worse. Instead of mouthing off, spend your time and energy doing things to change the policy.
What the TSA and Obama administration have done is wrong, but I hope that this holiday season, as people go through their travel plans, they remember that the TSA agents are not merely arms of the government. They are living, breathing people with the same right to basic human dignity as those who happen to make more money than they do.
Maybe some of them feel that obedience is the enemy of liberty, too—but maybe the cost of principle is too high for them. You just don’t know. So opt-out if you feel the need to (I certainly do), but don’t be a jerk about it.
It is Christmas, after all.