Flying Too Close to the Ground: Risk, Trust and the TSA

I would like to believe that our society is not entirely broken and lawless, despite my pessimistic tendencies. As a result, I would see the TSA’s current heavy-handed, privacy-invading attempt to do away with essentially all the human risk of possible terroristic or criminal activity by airline passengers as evidence of the remarkable divide which continues to widen the gulf in this country between those who are governed and those who govern.

Before I go any further, allow me to say that I do not fly much these days. Thankfully, the work in which I currently engage can be done without my gallivanting around the country committing myriad carbon-based offenses against someone. There was a time when I flew with some regularity, both before and after 9/11/2001. Since I began flying, I have seen security go from slightly annoying to where it is today–way over on the “I have to do what before you will let me board the airplane!?” side of things.

But, back to the issue of trust for a moment. I do not believe that human beings are inherently good or even humanly perfectable. As a result, I am all too aware the given the correct incentive and context, anyone can be brought by his/her own imperfect understanding of things to commit crimes. To see the proof of this, one has to look no further than the evening news for the background stories with neighbors/family members saying something like “there is no way ____ could have done that” only to find out that the person did exactly that.

With that said, I must therefore admit to the potential that everyone from a 3-year-old to an 88-year-old is capable of acting in a criminal fashion. However, the probability for many people to so do, in the context of a flight, is so small as to be essentially non-existent. After all, most people desire to continue to live and do not consider that losing their own lives is a small price to pay to kill a number of their fellow passengers. Or, to put it another way, most people can be trusted to look out for their own best interests–even if they do not care too much about the interests of others.

So why are all passengers being treated as though they present a high risk of such behavior? In short, why has the level of scrutiny/interference with privacy and person risen to the level where one is treated as though one is guilty–in contravention to the “innocent until proven guilty” legal underpinnings of our society? We’ll take enemy combatants and try to run them through the civilian justice system to ensure that their “rights” are not compromised, but I–as a law-abiding citizen–am to be poked and prodded as though I were just apprehended for attempted armed robbery?

Each of us understands risk. We deal with risk every day. We understand that risk can only be mitigated or lessened; it cannot be completely done away with. However, if we assign the highest level of risk to every action and interaction in a given day, we are generally considered too fearful to function.

Unfortunately, until the TSA is able to figure out a reasonable approach to determining who should be trusted and what levels of risk are acceptable, it may well be said that the organization is entirely too fearful for its or our good.

UPDATE 11/19 @ 9 AM

From one of Instapundit’s readers:

I recently did a 2900 mile round trip for business. I took two days vacation in conjunction and drove rather than fly. At this point I see no reason to fly anywhere I might be likely to go. You can thank TSA for that. You can also thank the airlines and airports that drop-kicked this particular ball to the feds. While touted as enhancing ’securitah’ what really drove the train was cost reduction, I suspicion. If nothing changes then I’ll remain a former flyer until I win the lottery, acquire a Cessna and do my own pilotage.