Sunday, November 28, 2010

They are just doing their jobs

By Lilac Sunday

Film critic Roger Ebert has written an interesting blog post about the TSA's new screening procedures. For the record, he draws the line at proctological exams in the security line, and he wonders whether children traumatized during screening will grow up to inflict trauma on others.

Ebert also describes the unique challenge he faces as a passenger who has no choice but to present himself at airline security with bandages around his neck and large quantities of liquid food:
Meanwhile Chaz and Millie. my care provider, are trying to get through security with my medicines, my cans of liquid food, stuff like that. They have a letter from the doctor, but usually the TSA supervisor has to be called over. I understand that. My policy is to cooperate, because these are not evil people and they're only trying to do their jobs. (emphasis added)
They're only trying to do their jobs. Where have we heard that before?

Public acquiescence to misconduct by those in uniform is a necessary precondition for tyranny. For example, Kim Jong Il may be madder than a hatter, but he requires armies of bureaucrats and administrators drawn from the ranks of ordinary people, and ordinary people obeying those bureaucrats and administrators, to maintain North Korea as a hermit kingdom.

I am not suggesting that TSA's porno scanners and pap smear pat-downs are evidence that America is descending into tyranny, but the fact remains that evil cannot take hold in a society without public acquiescence to misconduct by those in uniform, and it is therefore critical that Americans do not develop the habit of suppressing our anger, objection, and humiliation with the justification that TSA staff are just good people trying to do their jobs.

Nor should we reassure ourselves that America is sufficiently different from other societies that have gone mad, that it couldn't possibly happen here.

In 1971, Stanford University professor psychology Phillip Zimbardo designed and conducted a two-week experiment into the psychology of prison life.

From 75 student volunteers, he selected the 24 determined to be the most psychologically healthy and randomly assigned them to play the roles of prisoners or prison guards in a mock prison set up in a Stanford University building.

The experiment, now known as the Stanford Prison Experiment, was shut down after only six days, because the guards became sadistic and were subjecting the prisoners to escalating levels of cruelty. Even the prison guards who did not personally mistreat the prisoners did nothing to stop the cruelty inflicted by their fellow student volunteers.

A bunch of middle-class college kids, given uniforms and power over others, quickly began to personify a unique species of evil, that of people in uniform acting under government authority.

And now our government is insisting that law-abiding Americans must acclimate ourselves to physical humiliation at the hands of uniformed government employees, because it's for our own protection. For the love of a free society, we must resist.

Cross posted at Lilac Sunday: Red Girl in a Blue State

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