Question Authority and Why It’s Time to Fight Security Superstition
I have a confession to make.
When I’m on an airplane, and the flight attendant tells everyone to turn off their cell phones and personal electronics, I never turn my iPhone off. I just leave it on. I’m not sure why I don’t turn it off. Probably because I’ve never seen any compelling evidence on how cell phones in the on position affect flight safety in any way shape or form. And since I have a natural bent to buck against the system, in light of no empirical evidence, I tend to disregard and dismiss authority.
Same thing goes for the gas station. When I see that little sign that says to turn off my cell phone, I don’t do it. I leave it on. I even talk on it while I’m pumping my gas.
When I was told not to take pictures at Newark International Airport last December by a New Jersey Police Officer I complied while he was within immediate sight, and then took my camera right back out and started taking as many photos as I wanted after the police officer had passed.
Cory Doctorow has a post out today called “Time to Fight Security Superstition,” and I agree with him. I’m tired of taking my shoes off at the airport. I can’t imagine anything really hidden in a shoe that could possibly take down a flight. I don’t know why my laptop has to be taken out my bag and put into a separate bin alone. Recently on a flight I put my MacBook and my cell phone in the same bin. I got an extra special personal security search by a TSA agent. While he was searching me he asked me, “do you know why I singled you out?” I answered “no,” and he said, “because you didn’t put your laptop in a bin all by itself. You’re supposed to know to do that.”
To me these kinds of interactions with power trippy cops are just stupid. What difference does it make if my cell phone is in the same bin as my lap top?
On another flight recently I had a small little tube of toothpaste and some mouthwash — within the TSA legal limits. But… and this was my mistake, — rather than have a small quart sized plastic bag, I had brought with me a gallon sized plastic bag. The result? I had to throw out both my toothpaste and my mouthwash. Now honestly, what in God’s name difference does it make if the bag that holds my toothpaste and mouthwash is a gallon bag or a quart bag? Why does it even have to be in a plastic bag at all? Shhhh… these security secrets are not for you and me to know.
On my way back from Portland weekend before last they made me throw out a corkscrew that was in my shaving kit. They missed it on the way up to Portland but caught it on the way back down home. Of course both going to and from Portland they missed the pocket knife in my shaving kit. And I swear to God I could do far more damage using my hefty Manfrotto tripod as a weapon than I ever could with a corkscrew.
Part of what prompted Cory’s article today is a recent PR propoganda campaign on the part of the British Metropolitan Police to turn in odd looking photographers. I’ve had my fair share of run ins with both real cops and fake cop security guards over my own photography, so it was with a groan that I responded when I first learned of this campaign.
Are they serious? A campaign to turn in odd looking photographers to the police? Heck I’m about as odd as they come sometimes. I even have my own set of images of security cameras that I collect. But, I swear to God I’m no terrorist.
As far as I’m concerned in many ways the terrorists have already won. When people live their lives in such fear that they make up all kinds of crazy rules and regulations and live security the superstitious way that they do today, then the terrorists have been effective at changing our life and getting their point across.
Yeah, yeah, I know. A lot of you are going to call me a prick. You’re going to say that I need to learn to blindly follow the rules that are placed before me. But blind acceptance of rules can be as dangerous as anything. I believe blindly obeying authority is a bad thing. I believe that blind obedience has been as responsible in many regards for even more tragedy than terrorism. The Germans that blindly obeyed the Nazi government. The Mai Lai Massacre in Vietnam.
I tell you, the blind obedience to authority that probably took place in Abu Ghraib and the resulting photographs probably put our country at risk far more than someone refusing to turn their cell phone off on an airplane.
Stanley Milgram showed us a long time ago that we humans are capable of doing all kinds of horrible things when people in authority tell us to.
I don’t have any plans to go to London anytime soon. But if and when I do I will take my photos of security cameras just like I do here in the United States. And if I get hassled by the police over there, I’ll blog about it just like I do over here. Superstition and badly thought out propaganda campaigns only make things worse not better.
I think a better PR campaign for the Metropolitan Police could have been to simply borrow those famous words by FDR and print them up in big bold red letters on a black backround, “we have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”