'Don't Touch My Junk, Touch His'


>Finally, civil libertarians have significant segments of the press and public on their side in a war against the post 9/11 war on liberty. But while widespread outrage over new TSA screening procedures is gratifying, it's also a cautionary tale about the role self-interest plays in the defense of individual rights. It demonstrates that a fearful public will sometimes choose liberty over a promise of security--so long as the invasion of liberty is profoundly personal and highly visible (unlike electronic surveillance), while the promise of security is transparently absurd.
"Don't touch my junk, touch his," might be an apt motto for some who have suddenly discovered their inner freedom fighters. I know that sounds harsh, and I don't want to malign growing resistance to scanners and abusive pat-downs or to suggest that it reflects a wholesale public awakening. Many fliers (myself included) have submitted to TSA procedures in the past, not out of misplaced faith in their ability to keep us safe or lack of concern for privacy but because they weren't worth the trouble of protesting and risking a missed flight, if not interrogation or even arrest. Still I can't help comparing the sympathy afforded this new uprising against security theater with the antipathy directed toward people who have been decrying gratuitously abusive tactics of the security state for nearly a decade.
Consider the overnight conversion of Charles Krauthamer from authoritarian to libertarian. Krauthamer has characterized torture as a "moral duty" in the proverbial case of the "ticking time bomb" (based on highly questionable assumptions that torture produces reliable information and is never inflicted on the innocent; never mind the case of Maher Arar). Absent a ticking bomb, he acknowledges his "tentativeness and uncertainty" about torture, not categorical opposition. But Krauthamer is suffused with moral clarity when confronted with intrusive, (painless) TSA screening procedures. "This time you have gone too far, Big Bro'," he declares, with a show of populist bravado.  
What's his solution to airport security? Racial profiling. The trouble with screening procedures is "political correctness." The "profile of the airline attacker is ... universally known," Krauthamer asserts; (no tentativeness or uncertainty here). He's not a libertarian; he's a tribalist, convinced that he and others like him are imbued with rights and confident that his fellow tribesmen can recognize a threatening outsider when he crosses the threshold. The same TSA responsible for the "idiocy" of new screening procedures is apparently smart enough to recognize a terrorist by his appearance; he's not a "beltless salesman," much less a "wizened senior" (and, I guess, he is not Timothy McVeigh); he is an immediately recognizable "Nigerian Nut job." In other words,"Don't touch our junk. Touch his."

Jump to comments
Presented by

Wendy Kaminer is an author, lawyer, and civil libertarian. She is the author of I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional, and a past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. More

Wendy Kaminer is a lawyer and social critic who has been a contributing editor of The Atlantic since 1991. She writes about law, liberty, feminism, religion and popular culture and has written eight books, including Worst InstinctsFree for All; Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials; and I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional. Kaminer worked as a staff attorney in the New York Legal Aid Society and in the New York City Mayor's Office and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993. She is a renowned contrarian who has tackled the issues of censorship and pornography, feminism, pop psychology, gender roles and identities, crime and the criminal-justice system, and gun control. Her articles and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The American Prospect, Dissent, The Nation, The Wilson Quarterly, Free Inquiry, and spiked-online.com. Her commentaries have aired on National Public Radio. She serves on the board of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the advisory boards of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Secular Coalition for America, and is a member of the Massachusetts State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Sad Desk Lunch: Is This How You Want to Die?

How to avoid working through lunch, and diseases related to social isolation.

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Where Time Comes From

The clocks that coordinate your cellphone, GPS, and more


Computer Vision Syndrome and You

Save your eyes. Take breaks.


What Happens in 60 Seconds

Quantifying human activity around the world



More in National

From This Author

Just In