There was a joke that made the rounds after the shoe bomber incident, when TSA responded by having us all take off our shoes at security: “Good thing he wasn’t the underwear bomber.”
Well, now we’ve got the underwear bomber. So far we haven’t been told to strip down to our skivvies, but the proclamations coming out of TSA are almost that ludicrous. One carryon bag. Stay in your seat during the last hour of the flight, with nothing on your lap. No electronics. The only thing there that applied to the underwear bomber was the staying in the seat part — since he had to go to the bathroom to get to his explosives. But there’s no rule that says bombers can only detonate explosives in the last hour of a flight.
“Magical thinking” is security expert Bruce Schneier’s new term for absurd security theatre like this. In his first post after the incident, he pointed out that only two changes we’ve made since September 11 make flying safer: reinforced cockpit doors and the fact that passengers know to respond to hijack attempts. He went on to observe:
This week, the second one worked over Detroit. Security succeeded.
Security succeeded, but of course, the security system failed. U.S. intelligence people had warnings about this particular bomber, but did nothing. As Schneier frequently points out, the real security solution is not more and more harassment at security checkpoints; it’s less visible, less sexy things like intelligence gathering, expanding police capabilities, arresting terrorist plotters without a media show. He explains all this better than I could in this interview with Rachel Maddow.
But from the warriorship perspective, he makes an even more important point in an interview he did with Jeffrey Goldberg for The Atlantic:
The fact that we even ask this question [about whether it’s only a “matter of time” before we have another successful attack] illustrates something fundamentally wrong with how our society deals with risk. Of course 100% security is impossible; it has always been impossible and always will be. We’ll never get the murder, burglary, or terrorism rate down to zero; 42,000 people will die each year in car crashes in the U.S. for the foreseeable future; life itself will always include risk. But that’s okay. Despite fearful rhetoric to the contrary, terrorism is not a transcendent threat. A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy our country’s way of life; it’s only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage.
It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about terrorists or street crime: There is no such thing as perfect safety in this world. Sure, there are things you can do to improve your odds, like paying attention, listening to your instincts, and learning some fighting skills. Given that 42,000 figure on U.S. car crash deaths — a number much higher than the 14,180 murders in the U.S. in 2008 — a defensive driving class is not a bad idea, either.
But you can’t protect against everything. And if you run around being scared all the time, you just look like a victim — and that makes you even more vulnerable. That goes for countries as well as for individuals, by the way; the more scared we look, the more likely someone is to jump us.
Instead of getting scared and responding like sheep to whatever nonsense the TSA comes up with, we need to lobby our government to put the time and money into programs that work.
Meanwhile, I guess I’ll buy some new underwear for my next plane trip, just in case shoes aren’t the only things we have to take off.
Nancy Jane’s collection Conscientious Inconsistencies is available from PS Publishing and her novella Changeling can be ordered from Aqueduct Press. All fifty of the short-short stories she posted as part of her year-long Flash Fiction Project are available here.