Touch My Junk, Please!

Touch My Junk, Please! November 19, 2010

A lot of commentary has appeared in recent days over the new TSA regulations that call for full-body-scanner nakedness or state-sponsored sexual molestation.  On the one hand, I am inclined to think we’re all getting a little carried away here.  Do we not want to be safe on our plane flights?  Do we not understand that this requires certain sacrifices, certain inconveniences, and that it is the job of the Homeland Security Department and the Transportation Security Administration (otherwise known as TNA) to respond to and anticipate the most cutting-edge ways terrorists devise to blow us to bits (in their tender mercy)?

Neither am I convinced by the argument that there is some abridgment of constitutional rights taking place here.  Flying is more or less a voluntary activity, and one can at least make the argument that these are reasonable measures in light of a compelling national interest.  However…

There are three legitimate issues here:

(1) This is yet another example of government encroachment into the lives and liberties of ordinary Americans.  While I don’t view this as an abridgment of rights, there is no doubt that this is a further interference into the exercise of our liberties.  The sentiment is widespread: a wildly expanding government reached into the mortgage industry (and contributed to the mess we’re in), reached into the auto industry (with more dubious results), reached so far into the health care industry that the government hand is down doctors’ and patients’ throats — and now the government is reaching into my pants as well.  When do we stand athwart the tendency to solve everything with government solutions and shout stop?

This is why the TSA issue has roused its own folk hero: John “Don’t Touch My Junk” Tyner.  He is the latest in a long line of common-man heroes like Joe the Plumber, Rodney “Can’t We All Just Get Along?” King, and Sarah “You Betcha” Palin.  Well, okay, those probably aren’t the best examples.  But folk heroes do not arise because of their own great talents.  They are, by definition, Everyman.  Folk heroes arise because they represent the zeitgeist, the spirit of the moment.  J-Junk Tyner and his act of minor rebellion made him a hero to thousands, if not millions, of frustrated travelers.

(2) What adds to the frustration, at least for many conservatives, is that there are better options available – but they are options we will not pursue because of political correctness.  I speak of course of profiling.  Is profiling racist or bigoted?  Or is it, as conservatives allege, simply rational thinking?  All people are not equally dangerous.  While no individual can be judged guilty according to the group to the national or ethnic group to which he belongs, one might argue that individuals can be considered more deserving of scrutiny because of the nations or ethnic groups to which they belong.  And if they get upset about it, then they should take out their anger on the people who belongs to their national and ethnic groups who are bringing scrutiny and irritation upon them all — they should not be angry at a security apparatus that simply recognizes that some people are more likely to be a threat to other travelers than others.

Charles Krauthammer points this out  in an excellent column today.  For how long will we keep up the charade that 3-year-old American girls and 95-year-old British old ladies are just as dangerous, or just as deserving of scrutiny, as young men from Saudi Arabia?  Is it fair that everyone should be subjected to these procedures in order to spare the sensibilities of some?  The Israeli airline system takes note of individuals who are more suspicious, and subjects them to more probing questioning.  Could we do such a thing in America?

So the issue is not: the government is doing something unconstitutional.  It is that the government is invading our lives more and more, and we are avoiding a far simpler solution for the sake of political correctness.  (Of course, the liberal response would be that it’s not merely political correctness, but a matter of doing what’s right.  I tend to lean to the conservative position here, though, and I’m trying to plumb why people are upset.)

(3) Finally, it’s easy to crack jokes about all this, but it’s a very unpleasant experience for some folks.  I personally wouldn’t mind a pat-down from, say, a Victoria’s Secret supermodel.  If we were able to choose from a gallery of attractive persons of both sexes, I imagine fewer individual travelers would object.  (Thus the title of this blog post.)  And hey, most men have had more…well, intimate interactions with their doctors — but then, I guess we don’t want to make trips to the airport like a visit to the proctologist.  And although I don’t particularly care whether some beer-bellied TSA agent pats me down, I don’t really like the idea of the same being done to my wife and daughter.

And again, while I don’t particularly care if some screener sees an image that runs underneath my clothes, American culture is extraordinarily cruel in some ways to women, and many find the prospect of their naked bodies being imaged terrifying.  So either you let everyone see what you look like naked, a thought which will drive some women mad, or you let someone feel you up, after which some women (in particular) will feel violated.  Surely this is not the right solution?


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  • David Smith

    Krauthammer’s comment on Fox several days ago is more to the point – we should be looking for people, not objects. That will require profiling, and until the Feds are ready to do that they don’t deserve our support. Kabuki Theatre that reacts to the *last* threat that they let board a plane is not only not worth $7 billion a year, but also treats citizens like subjects. It’s time for a top-to-bottom review and cost/benefit analysis of the entire Homeland Security Department.

  • Kristen

    In my mind, one of the best arguments for the equal protection clause is that articulated by Mr. Justice Jackson — it keeps a democratic majority from imposing burdens on THOSE PEOPLE that we would not tolerate for ourselves. If I also have to bear the burdens myself, that’s a pretty good check that they actually are reasonable burdens to be born.

    (By the way, Jackson served on the Supreme Court before the Warren/Brennan revolution of the 60s and 70s and is not remembered as exceptionally liberal. He’s also known for saying “the Constitution is not a suicide pact.”)

    In my mind this is a slam dunk. The latest round of TSA regulations may or may not be necessary or prudent — but to impose a set of burdens on my high school classmate Shafi that I am not willing to bear myself (or might THINK I’m willing to bear, as an abstract intellectual concept, but really I won’t have to) … that leads absolutely nowhere good.

    • Minority Report?

      Thank you, Kristen, for standing out as the lone voice of reason.

      It seems that more and more americans are becoming un-american by letting their core values erode. Why on earth many of us are so willing to forgo the 4th ammendment protection is beyond me. It is ironic that we won’t condone strangers fondling and groping our wives, children and husbands under any circumstances, but are perfectly willing to let TSA personnel do that with impugnity.

      Justice Jackson was right then and right now. Thus, your friend Shafi has no less right to have his dignity intact than anybody else.

      As for Krauthhammer, if one follows his writings, it is plain to see that he is just a dangerous demagouge who conveniently feigns short memory when it suits him. As a Jew himself, how can he not remember that Hitler got started by singling out the Jews from everybody else? It went down a slippery slope from there. Hitler riled up the majority and what happened is surely never right. In other words, just because the majority supports something (profile muslims, arabs, etc.) does not make it right. The tables can turn in a second when you travel elsewhere. There has to be some universal principles of human rights. Don’t assume someone is guilty because of looks or religion. Punish only if a crime is commited, and only those who commits the crime– not his/her entire race. Otherwise, what is there to prevent someone from claiming that every white person is a potential Charles Manson, Timothy Mcveigh or Jeffrey Dahmer?

      For those who are Biblically inclined, just don’t do unto others what you don’t want perpetrated upon yourself. Human dignity is human dignity. No point in making it “us” versus “them.” Otherwise there will be nothing but perpetual hate and it will only start a cycle of mutual vengence. A mob is hardly a democracy.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Yes, Kristen, I think this is the essence of the best response on the other side of this issue. Thanks for bringing it up. There are legitimate concerns on both side of the issue. On the one hand, the vast majority of those who wish to visit terrorism upon us *do* fit a profile, and therefore searching for people as opposed to objects makes sense. Should 100% of travelers endure these measures when only 1% (if that) fit the profile, and we might just as effectively prevent terrorism by requiring those 1% to endure some extra scrutiny. On the other hand, singling out a particular group for particular difficulty is a troubling precedent – especially when that group is defined by ethnicity or national origin.

      Whether your friend Shafti would have to endure these things – if people of a certain profile were singled out – would depend on the profile employed. One that I’ve seen suggests that people who are American citizens would have lighter scrutiny, while citizens of other nations, perhaps only or especially those nations with a history of terrorism against the United States, would face tougher scrutiny. That seems to be the most reasonable formulation to me. It would not be (as one commenter here has alleged) like singling out the Jews in Nazi Germany, since it would not be defined by a religious/ethnic group.

      Anyway, it’s worth recognizing the legitimate claims on both sides, so thanks for bringing that to the table, Kristen.

    • Nathan Rein

      I agree with you, Kristin. The argument seems to be that invasive pat-downs by the hands of the TSA is an outrage when respectable white Christians – especially the hapless womenfolk – have to put up with it, but it’s nothing more than reasonable to expect some (never very clearly defined) group of outsiders to submit to it. After all, we all know what a terrorist looks like, don’t we – we’ve seen them on “24.”

  • Jeff Collier

    My problem is three-fold.

    Third, it’s just security theatre. The head of security at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv says that he could smuggle enough explosives past one of these (very expensive) machines to bring down a 747. We don’t have better things to spend our money on?

    Second, there are plenty of instances of TSAs yelling out things like, “Cutie alert” or shuffling middle aged white males toward the pat down line. Want your wife subjected to that in the name of security theatre? Your daughter?

    But first and foremost, not only is it an invasion of privacy, it’s a slippery slope precedent setting erosion of our expectation of privacy. They’ve been cranking the heat on the kettle for a while, and if we don’t jump soon we’re gonna get cooked.

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  • Mark

    Thanks for the article. For me Krauthammer’s persepctive really resonates, and I’m in total agreement with profiling. Equally interesting, Israeli air security refuses to use body scanners despite the fact that they are a bigger target than any other place. They employ profiling/background checks and have an excellent security record.

    This article, however, is the latest in a string of responses that troubles me as a Christian. Now I know I’m going to stir the pot, and I don’t do this with any judgment – just to spur discussion of something that is troubling to me. In point number three you mention that it is easy to joke about this, and then go on to joke that you wouldn’t mind a pat down from a Victoria Secret model. Several of my other Christian guy friends have made similar comments. I understand that it is joking, but in light of Eph. 5:4 is it wise? A few observations:

    1. The underlying current of this kind of joking stokes (or maybe reflects) the objectification of women in our culture. What we are ‘joking’ about is a reality in our culture: if the woman is attractive enough, it’s ok for me to treat her like a sexual object, and for her to gratify me sexually (“feel me up”.) But if she’s unattractive to me, she’s not worthy – hands off!

    2. Joking this way treats the act of sexuality, and the marriage relationship too lightly. In the midst of a culture that already treats sex as simply a selfish transaction between two beings shouldn’t Christians (especially married Christians) be extra sensitive to this issue, even in our joking?

    With so many of my guy friends so casually joking about what is a really crass idea – wanting beautiful women to “feel them up” – it really makes me wonder if we haven’t become to casual (lazy) in our approach to holiness, and our witness to the world. Perhaps we have absorbed more of our culture than we realize.

    Just thoughts…

    Thanks!

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Mark, I figured that someone would respond in this way, and I don’t mind it at all. I understand. It’s a touchy issue (no pun intended). Knowing where we can have fun with an issue and have a sense of humor about it, and knowing where it crosses the line, is difficult. To my mind, it was less a reflection of the objectification of women than a commentary on the silliness of men. I think it’s an empirical fact that fewer men would object if they were being frisked by attractive women instead of men. I suppose we all know that’s true. And I think we joke about it largely as a self-mocking exercise. Many who are willing to joke about it are just finding humor in the situation, and would not (if it were not required in order to board planes!) allow another woman to touch them in a way that only their wives should.

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  • Karen Spears Zacharias

    When people become as strident about protecting their privacy on social media as they are about the random TSA screening then all this hoopla might bear some credence. Until then, I think it’s like the chicken screaming about the sky falling.
    The people screaming the loudest are the same ones posting photos of their babies online and Twittering that they are in the carpool lane at Hoover Elementary. I’m much more worried about the pedophiles lurking in the blogsphere than I am about the TSA employees getting their jollies from touching somebody’s junk.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Good point, Karen. Thanks!