Speaking of Paranoia…

Here is a great quote, lifted from The Week (my favorite magazine*), which lifted it from David Iganatius in The Washington Post. It points out  that we have gotten so used to thinking in terms of preparing for the very worst, the very least likely scenarios, that that we don’t realize how overbearing (and often dumb) our safety measures have become. I was thinking the same thing today as I struggled to open the super-tamper-resistent seal on my can of whipped cream. I really was not that worried about someone tampering with my whipped cream. — L

This September, as we mark the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, let’s resolve to dial the paranoia meter back a notch. The Transportation Security Administration is so pervasive at airports that we forget how bizarre it is to see old ladies and pregnant mothers and 8-year-old kids frisked and searched as if they had just arrived from Waziristan. Does this really make sense? Every Cabinet secretary seems to have a security detail; so do governors and maors and prominent legislators. What are all these secruity officials protecting our officials from? Al Qaida? Hezbollah? Aggrieved constituents? Or is it something more ephemeral — a nameless, pervasive sene of danger? Surely, we have reached the point of diminishing returns for the fortress mentality.

Right on! Sometimes we get so concerned about safety that we forget what we are giving up. Like freedom. And resourcefulness. And using our common sense. Or even believing that common sense has any value at all.  — Lenore

 

*I also write a humor contest in The Week. But I was a subscriber long before they hired me!

26 Responses

  1. Good quote. I honestly think this blog has helped me think more critically about dangers or imagined ones – instead of just assuming measures like frisking are there for a reason, to actually look into why. To use one’s brain. Thanks for your posts!

  2. A lot of the time, I think having a security detail makes people feel, not safer, but more important.

  3. Alot of the irrationality of the airport security implementations is due to political correctness. I guess the thought process is, “oh, we can’t look like we’re ‘profiling’, so we’ll frisk 89 year old grandma from iowa, but let Mr.-30-year-old-from-the-mideast right through. Although the terrorists are adapting how they recruit walking bombs, profiling is the surest method to determine who might be an enemy. El Al uses it very successfully.

  4. It’s funny how tamper resistant seals, such as that on whipped cream, are difficult for adults to open, but children have no problem. Same goes for “child proof” medicine bottles.

  5. I don’t know what age of child they’re trying to thwart with those tamper-resistant seals, but my five year old can read. The other day he looked at my antibiotic prescription, read aloud, “Push down and turn”, popped it open and smiled. It’s like a PUZZLE to solve! 🙂

  6. Wonderful, Lenore! Thank you! I go through this all the time with other parents interacting with my kids, telling them “Don’t do that! It’s not safe!” and I’m like, “What are you afraid of? That she’ll scrape her knee? Break her toy? That’s OK. Don’t protect them from childhood.”

    I touched on this in my Walden piece a few weeks ago here: http://childwild.com/2009/07/07/walden-pond/

    I think it’s so important to push back against the culture of paranoia, and to keep our kids safe from the things that really threaten them, which include a culture of fear. I do a lot of “dangerous” things with my children, like letting them cook their own food and climb trees and run barefoot on beaches. I do that stuff because its how I grew up, but also because it’s vital for them to be able to think for themselves, and to question what the authorities tell them about danger, and to know how to solve trouble when they get into it. I’d like them to grow up to be wolves, not sheep.

  7. “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
    –Benjamin Franklin, 1755

    Several years ago, I was flying out of the Newark airport and in the customer service line struck up a conversation with a man headed for Israel. He said, “I hate it when they say the searches are ‘random.’ I’m Muslim. When I get to Israel, they’re going to strip me naked. But at least they won’t pretend that it’s ‘random.'”

    @AirborneVet, my mother always had us open the childproof caps for her. Good to know it’s pretty much universal.

  8. This post, including the reference to flying, is very timely for me. I’m headed on a plane in two days, something I haven’t done in almost 8 years. The last time I took a plane was just a couple of months after 9/11, before all the current restrictions were put into place.

    I used to fly regularly for work before that (something about having kids, quitting work, and no longer living near a major airport hub has made driving seem like a lot less hassle since then). I’m a little nervous about bringing something I’m not supposed to have to the airport. Fortunately, we have a very small airport (only one gate), so my car will be close by if I have to go back to leave something. But still, it has changed so much in 8 years – am I going to get myself in trouble?

    Crazy. Makes me wonder how we all managed to non-nonchalantly take our lives into our hands to get into planes before 9/11. Precautions are good, but as soon as we make one place more secure, those looking to harm will just find another less secure outlet – like the health club – or a way around the security.

  9. @ verbatim
    What El Al does is behavioral profiling, which is quite different. They don’t suspect someone based on gender, age, race, religion, etc. They probe the person’s story.

    Read:

    http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2006/08/behavioral_prof.html

    to get more on the difference. In depth screening absolutely has to be random.

  10. Go rent “Bowling for Columbine”. Yes, Michael Moore can be a bloviating doofus but that doesn’t mean that he’s wrong. The real message of BfC is that Americans are and have always been scared witless and ruled by fear.

  11. Oy, TSA. Yeah, my mom, who has a replaced knee, gets the full search every time. She’ll be the grandmother from Iowa you see pulled aside. What is really irritating is what you KNOW they don’t find or care about and let through.

    I flew a lot for work before my son arrived. I was a gestational diabetic, and so I did let the screeners know they were going to see lancets, medical supplies, and YES, they were GOING to let me bring my snacks through. Most of the screeners I spoke with thanked me for letting them know and casually mentioned that most travelers didn’t do that. Heck, if they aren’t stopping people for pointy metal objects, what would they stop them for?

    On the other hand, I’ve had the dreaded ” factory-sealed but obviously terrorist jars of baby food” confiscated by these same screeners. The small fry’s moccasins had to be taken off and put through the x-ray as well. Bottles of my milk, cow milk, juice, & water get opened and bits of paper waved over them. (and yet, my milk is supposed to be exempt– pah!)

    Good grief. I hate that flying these days is a Kafkaesque endeavor. We should have just raised 2 fingers at those (unprintables) and gone on with business as usual as far as EVERYTHING. But there was too much stampeding at the time, and now we seem to be stuck with it. Arrgh.

    This insulation of gov’t officials from the populace is NOT a good development. Who they are fearing is a very, very good question.

  12. Kelly, your kid is also old enough to heed warnings like “Don’t eat that, it’s bad for you”. They’re trying to thwart the pre-readers, the 2 year olds and all.

  13. Appproaching life with a positive outlook in llife can help overcome with paranoia. Worrying cannot change the future because nobody knows the future. We just have to believe that somebody up there loves us enough to take care of our future.

  14. I realized this last night while I was preparing my carryon for an airplane flight. In the “illegal to take aboard” category: my first-aid kit. At the same time, my camera tripod is perfectly fine, even though at three pounds of dense metal, I could use it to crack skulls left and right.

  15. Quite right, Susanna.

  16. Hi Lenore,
    The Week is also my husband’s favorite magazine. Did you see the article recently by Michael Chabon that described his free range childhood and compared it to his childrens’?

  17. I think the terroristst are probably sitting back right now, looking at America and saying “mission accomplished”. I think the damage already done is actually worse than what is feared.

  18. I know a lot of people that won’t travel to the US anymore because of the risk of getting harrassed going through customs and immigration etc. Everyone has heard stories of this happening to people they know and in the end, you just think ‘Why bother?’ when you can go somewhere else in the world and be made to feel welcome and not under suspicion just for being ‘a foreigner’.

  19. In Australia, a bikie war (no, not the one between mikeonbike and jen about helmets & bike trailer saftey) recently spilled over to Sydney International Airport and one gang beat to death a bikie in front of hundreds of horrified travellers, then walked outside and took taxis into the city.
    No cops arrived in time. Airport security – unseen. It would seem they are only good at pushing around pregnant women and berating old ESL citizens who happen to leave their baggage unattended for five minutes.

    Along with reporting investigations where journalists gain access to 747s at Heathrow, I think the whole airport security is simply a exercise in promoting fear and reminding people ‘terrorists, terrorists, terrorists’.

  20. Regarding sealing whipped cream: believe it or not, this is necessary. There are people who inhale the gas from canned whipped cream in order to get high on the nitrous oxide that works as the propellent. (The term for this is “doing whippits.”)

    I used to work for a chain of family restaurants (Big Boy.) We used to use canned Reddi Whip but employees would go into the walk-in cooler and “do whippets” with all the cans of Reddi Whip. When we would try to use the topping for deserts, the cans would be depleted of nitrous and wouldn’t work. Entire cases of Reddi Whip would have to be thrown out.

    The chain switched to whipping up the cream in mixers and using pastry bags to apply because they got sick of wasted cans of Reddi Whip.

    A seal on the can you buy at the store lets you know that nobody has huffed the nitrous from it. I can easily imagine a situation where somebody along the line gets to the can before you do and it would be annoying to buy a can only to find out that it doesn’t work.

    Strange world, ain’t it?

  21. I was having a conversation with a neighbor this week about how kids get to school. I was actually quite surprised to learn that just 10 years ago lots of kids would walk and cycle, but now practically no-one does.

    I was left asking myself, “What happened?”

    Sadly, the answer was 9/11 and Ali Kemp. It’s going to take some real effort to change the outcome of the lessons we’ve learned from these. When you think about it, the lessons ought to be “Learn to protect yourself” and “Know your community, interact with the people around you, and look out for each other.”

    There is safety in numbers, but instead we are seeking safety in isolation and the comfort of being inside our own boxes. But if you just sit inside your own “safe” box you are stifling yourself. We are like birds in cages.

    I hope that growing awareness will soon begin to swing things in the other direction.

  22. kradcliffe, the term for inhaling ReddiWhip is probably more like “doing whiffs”. Whippettes are little compressed nitrous canisters that are legitimately used by caterers to help prepare their own recipes of whipped cream. There are also little devices that enable one to puncture the canister ends and collect in a bag the nitrous gas, which is then inhaled. *That* would be “doing whippettes”. Regardless of your take on the wisdom of inhaling nitrous, either method is decidedly unhip from an ecological point of view: the brief pleasure has as its byproduct the introduction of a bunch of new stuff to the solid waste stream that will take a long, long time to break down.

    Having said all that, it is probably worth noting that nitrous is far less dangerous to kids (and adults) than the other products they may intentionally inhale, e.g. solvents. Because they use the same delivery method (inhaling, not smoke), they are classified together as “inhalants”. This is problematic in the way that lumping pot and meth together under the label of “drugs” is: it glosses over crucial choice distinctions that can reduce harm to the individual in favor of unthinking restriction.

  23. The chain switched to whipping up the cream in mixers and using pastry bags to apply because they got sick of wasted cans of Reddi Whip.

    A silver lining – you started serving real whipped cream!

    There’s good in everything, then.

  24. ..making fun of irrational fears and being outraged is ok…but boring after awhile…itz mor fun for me to dig into the neuroscience of these behaviors and emotions, feelings…..thatz the most fun 4 me….

  25. My mom flies every week for work and she could tell you some stories. She’s been strip searched twice. Once they confiscated the watermelon she had taken for her lunch because it was a “gel-like substance.” WTF? It’s a melon. I refuse to fear fruit.

  26. Maybe the tamper proofing is actually to keep kids from going through the aisles and taking the whipped cream or from taking hits off it. I know in our small town life in the 70s that was actually a thing to do in the dairy section of the grocery store. Not me of course. All the other kids. Really.

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