Fear and Humiliation in America

An image of Susan Hallowell, Director of the T...

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July 2, 2011

Few stories I’ve read lately have made me as angry as this one, last Monday, about the 95 year old woman, in the last stages of leukemia and wanting to visit family, who was stopped by TSA agents and made to go into the restroom and take off her soiled adult diaper so they could complete their patdown.  http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2011/06/27/TSA-OKs-asking-old-woman-to-remove-diaper/UPI-98401309158000/http://slatest.slate.com/posts/2011/06/27/tsa_adult_diaper_check_agency_stands_by_decision_to_force_jean_w.htmlhttp://overheadbin.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/06/27/6956726-tsa-says-it-did-not-ask-elderly-flier-to-remove-diaper

All  week, I’ve been ruminating over why this incident made me so angry.  After all, she’s only the latest in a series of passengers to suffer humiliation at the hands of the TSA – including the bladder cancer survivor whose external urine bag was ruptured by a too vigorous TSA pat down that left him to board his flight soaked in his own urine.  Or the breast cancer survivor who had to remove her breast prothesis in public to pass the inspection and board her flight.

What I, and most people are first angered about, of course, is the humiliation.  Most of us can put ourselves or loved ones in the humiliated person’s place.  When this, and incidents like it, stir up a public furor, the TSA offers its usual absolution of the agents involved in the incident with a standard line, “We have reviewed the circumstances involving this screening and determined that our officers acted professionally and according to proper procedure.”  And, as in this case, we are constantly reminded that, “The Transportation Security Administration cannot exempt any group from screening because we know from intelligence that there are terrorists out there that would then exploit that vulnerability.”  Really?  If we skip some 95 year old cancer patient, diapered and in a wheelchair, we’re suddenly going to be overrun with terrorists emulating her?  Pardon my skepticism here.

Perhaps it would be worth it if this huge, expensive and invasive program actually caught any terrorists, but according to an eye-opening article from Mark Hyman – himself a former US intelligence agent – in November of last year, http://spectator.org/archives/2010/11/23/disband-the-tsa/, it doesn’t.

Calling it a “bloated, ineffective bureaucracy,” Congressman John Mica (R-FL) reported that under the watchful eye of the TSA, at least 17 known terrorists evaded screeners and traveled on 23 occasions from eight U.S. airports utilizing SPOT methodologies. Among these was the failed Times Square bomber who was apprehended just prior to boarding his flight to Dubai.

So, if it’s so ineffective, why do it?  http://www.e-ir.info/?p=5405

The number of people killed in terrorist attacks worldwide is very few and while the loss of these people is devastating to the families of the victims it does mean that “terrorism is one of the minor causes of human suffering in the world”. When compared to the number of people killed in the recent Haiti earthquake, 90,000 -230,000, the attacks on the United States of America on the 11th of September 2001, that killed 2,973, seem minor on the global scale however the strength of response by the United States Government shows that the number of people killed alone is not the most disturbing factor in the attacks. Although planes had been hijacked many times prior to 9/11 their use as “flying bombs” was unknown, their use to destroy the centre of American finance and seriously damage the centre of the United States military made the attacks much more alarming to the American public. The September the 11th attacks and the global war on terrorism are products of our time, the entire sequence of events on the 11th of September was transmitted live around the world making for maximum shock and every step of the war on terror has been recorded and shown on television and this public scrutiny has led to the war on terrorism being unique as the public watches the retribution of the state onto their perceived enemies …”     Why would the government drum up such fear and set up such an inefficient bureaucracy, seemingly designed more to humiliate its citizens than to catch terrorists?

I can think of two possible reasons, neither of which excludes the other.  First, the American Empire was, itself, humiliated by being caught with its pants down on 9/11.  And like an abusive parent or spouse, in order to maintain control, especially in the eyes of its own citizens, it was necessary to hype the fear generated by 9/11 with the myth of the omnipresent  Super Terrorist, determined to destroy us ordinary Americans and our way of life and to create a state response increasingly based on humiliation to keep us intimidated and not asking questions.  After all, though many ordinary Americans were caught in the attack, it was the symbols of the political/financial/military Empire which has created so much chaos abroad through the years that were attacked.

Second, as declining energy supplies and the costs of climate change put increasing pressure on our economy, the American Empire is in decline.  Our government and financial leaders know it, 40 percent of Americans know it somewhere deep inside, http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0611/58097.html and as it declines, it will become more and more difficult to shift the blame to outsiders and prevent our own uprisings such as are occurring in European countries right now over similar declines.  Their answer?  Apparently, to ratchet up the fear and humiliation.  Have you noticed the uptick in articles and media coverage of “home grown terrorists” over the last year as the government struggles to wind down our costly wars abroad?

And humiliation?  It’s everywhere you look.

As Americans continue to loose homes and jobs, our leaders argue over whether to shred the safety net with, or without inconveniencing the corporate/financial kleptocracy who  profit from the failing Empire while increasingly blaming tapped-out “consumers” (itself an archetypical term of humiliation as far as I’m concerned) for the lack of recovery. http://www.oftwominds.com/blogjune11/US-kleptocracy6-11.htm

Humiliation dominates much our video games, television shows and movies.  Look at the current and upcoming list of TV “reality shows”.  They increasingly involve putting ordinary people in contests almost totally based on humiliation rather than skill as does much of what passes for entertainment, now.

Much of our political and religious conversation, egged on by power players in both domains who profit from the divisions, involves little more than one group humiliating another.

Even the act of keeping or finding a job in corporate America is, more and more, based on how willing you are to humiliate yourself for the opportunity.  http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/06/hormel-spam-pig-brains-disease

A public kept in a state of fear and humiliation can be dominated and made complicit in its own subjugation.  The TSA assures us that only 3 percent of passengers are subjected to pat-downs, and that the inspections occur only after someone has triggered a metal detector or declined a full-body scan.   But humiliation studies show that it only takes a few “examples” to keep a fearful, humiliated population under control.  Most people, even those who have not suffered any particular humiliation, upon seeing a small number of vulnerable others humiliated, will comply rather than risk humiliation themselves.     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humiliation,  http://www.humiliationstudies.org/documents/KleinLookingBackForward.pdf

As Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano so aptly put it, “It’s all about security.  It’s all about everybody recognizing their role.”  Except, the security they seek through this process of fear and humiliation is not ours, but theirs.

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4 Responses to Fear and Humiliation in America

  1. pamela says:

    Bravo! Linda!
    a great article!
    I think you hit the nail on the head about the reason we are so upset by this story. It’s the humiliation. I can imagine my little grandma being done that way and it makes me just sick, just sick.
    I’ll not fly on another plane until this crap stops and I think that is the only way we can put a stop to it. Just stop flying!
    eventually when the airlines get tired of losing money, they’ll pay their lobbyists to go and have the law changed.

    • theozarker says:

      Thanks Pam, I agree. But this goes far deeper than just the TSA abuses; I really think it helps explain why so many people act and, especially, vote against their own political and economic self interests.

  2. Bill Hicks says:

    Great post! Sums thw whole issue up pertfectly.

    As I wrote recently on my own blog: “No supposedly democratic society can survive with the malignant cancer of an out-of-control national security state metastasizing within its bowels.”

    So how long before even the sham of representative democracy we still have is extinguished?

    • theozarker says:

      As someone who did my high school government class paper on the Goebbels propaganda machine, even the name “Homeland” Security sends chills up my spine.

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