"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

9.13.2006

qotd

"The whole screening process is a facade to make the public feel safe, to show that the government is doing something." - Gary Boettcher, Coalition for Airline Pilots Association

This quote comes from an interesting article in today's Post about how people are flouting, intentionally and unintentionally, the current ban on liquid and gel substances in the airline cabin. I've always felt that most of the security measures enacted since 9/11 are cosmetic in nature and do very little to make us any safer. It would be much more effective for our government to invest the resources they spend on throwing away tubes of lip gloss on effective counterterrorism measures, like training analysts and developing other human intelligence capabilities. You'll note that the August plot to blow up planes over the Atlantic wasn't stopped because of what happened at the airport x-ray machines - it was stopped because British authorities had good intelligence and were able to track the suspects for months to establish a case against them.

Besides, if you're going to allow people to carry on liquid medicines, baby formula, and juice and gels necessary to treat low blood sugar, what's the point? A terrorist could easily disguise explosives as one of those substances. Then we're back to square one. Providing our intelligence services with the resources they need to figure out who the terrorists are and what they're trying to do will be a lot more effective in the long run than playing cat-and-mouse at the x-ray machines.

This article, though, is very interesting on another level: that of the limits of the rule of law. In Congo, many people only follow laws when there's some kind of enforcement capability, which isn't there very often, especially in rural areas. It has been amazing to me how quickly I adjusted to that system of just doing what you want, what's most convenient for you. And even though I know that the lack of rule of law is one of Congo's biggest problems, I had a hard time adjusting to following rules when I got back this summer. Not on major things - of course I pay my taxes and of course I don't rob banks - but on little things like crossing the street at a crosswalk, when the light says I can cross. Choosing to abide by the law isn't always convenient, but it's the price we pay to have an orderly society in which the police come when you dial 911 and the lights come on when you flip the switch.

In Italy a few years back, someone told me that Italy's parliament often passes laws establishing new taxes, but that people wait to see if their neighbors will pay the tax. If most people don't pay the tax (presumably because they think the tax is too high or that a particular good or service shouldn't be taxed), the government ends up repealing that tax.

This is about consent of the governed at its most basic level. Agreement that everyone has to follow the rules is the basis of an orderly society in the republican (small "r") tradition. But what happens when a lot of people see a rule as being unreasonable, or beneath them and their $300 Chanel face cream? Exactly what we're seeing in this article. Bad rules don't have legitimacy, and they are extraordinarily difficult to enforce when the population doesn't want them to be enforced.

I've flown twice since August 10 and have followed the restrictions, even though I think they're ridiculous. But I wonder how long they'll last given that people clearly know how to sneak stuff on. I wonder if this will stop being a game and start being something people complain to their elected officials about, or if we'll accept yet another cosmetic "fix" in the name of security. I wonder...

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