Monday, November 22, 2010

See Something, Say Something

"Animal nature, or sexual exuberance, is that which prevents us from being reduced to mere things.  Human nature, on the contrary, geared to specific ends in work, tends to make things of us at the expense of our sexual exuberance."  (Georges Bataille, Erotism, trans. Mary Dalwood)

“In Western metaphysics, the spoken or sung word has more authority than the written word.  Voice accords presence – a myth that remains compelling, even though we are supposed to know better: we believe that no one can steal a voice, that no two voices are exactly alike, that finding a voice will set a body free, and that anyone can sing.  This conviction that having a voice means having an identity is a cultural myth, just as sex is human nature but also a myth.  … Voice is a system equal to sexuality – as punishing, as pleasure-giving; as elective, and ineluctable.”  (Wayne Koestenbaum, The Queen's Throat: Opera, Homosexuality, and the Mystery of Desire, p. 155)

"A valid meaning is here attached to the word sovereignty, just as to the term entity.  Both do not at all imply that a political entity must necessarily determine every aspect of a person's life or that a centralized system should destroy every other organization or corporation.  It may be that economic considerations can be stronger than anything desired by a government which is ostensibly indifferent toward economics.  Likewise, religious convictions can easily determine the politics of an allegedly neutral state.  What always matters is only the possibility of conflict."  (Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, trans. George Schwab, p. 39)






In the above video we see the effects of recent policy - surely a "reasonable" search, no? - whereby the entire game is based upon the semblance of security.  The state doesn't even try anymore, because it doesn't need to.  This particular quiet outrage, via TSA, is just the latest in the governance of human beings - and those who would defend might say that perhaps some people are just too uptight about their bodies.  And indeed there are a lot of people, men mainly, whose opposition to having their bodies scanned or testicles fondled is expressed in decidedly queer-unfriendly way.  But my own response to this is, Why do we immediately place the onus onto the citizen to accommodate policy?  "Oh, Citizen, you're just too repressed!  Don't be so hung up on bodily privacy!"  This, to me, is specious on the same order as US mimicry of feminist discourse to "justify" the bombing of Afghanistan.  Of course, the state can do whatever it can get away with, but it is worth attending to the outcry, even if it appears to be mired in politics of the body and of sexual feelings (including feelings of revulsion), and even if it is sometimes articulated along Tea Party lines.  To speak out, though, requires reclaiming a certain sense of the voice, and thus requires establishing a certain (public) baseline for one's own physicality, and for one's own sexuality ...

4 comments:

edo said...

This is an issue about which I feel very ambivalent. Personally, when forced to choose, I would take frisking over a full body scan, but I also understand why many people would feel violated by such a procedure. I'm just left wondering what other options the TSA has. Based on an article in today's Times, the Israeli procedures at El Al sound like they're even more invasive.

But maybe the issue here isn't so much the policy as the execution. How much accountability do TSA agents face if an instance of abuse occurs? What procedures are in place to make sure a pat down is executed professionally?

edo said...

I've read a bit more about this incident. TSA's official story, posted on its blog, is different from that of the fellow who posted the video on an important point: the boy is claimed to having set off the metal detector.

Presuming that is true, I'd give the TSA officers some rope here. If you have a mandate to pat down anyone who sets off the detector, then that has to apply even in the most unlikely cases.

It sounds like the father might have volunteered the shirt removal as well.

Zach Campbell said...

I understand the rationale for the policy, and I do feel for the workers who have to perform the procedure (and no doubt many of them oppose the policy themselves) but where does one draw the line? If there are a couple of bombs in large, crowded public parks, do all parks become subject to armed guard and random frisking? If this policy were performed only on a particular ethnic group or gender, its criticism would doubtless insist that the policy was an unconstitutional affront to privacy - except that if it is (de jure) applied to "everyone," then it's as though "everyone" gets over it. And the news stations report not on the policy itself but on the threat of "troublemakers" who might make the whole policy - and holiday travels - worse for "everyone." It's a distasteful bit of governance, and incompetently "spun" to boot.

(Some on the far right, who criticize this policy - and I'm sympathetic to the fact if not all the particulars of their criticism! - have whined about how the PC police have made it so that anyone who appears Muslim gets away scott free, since people are scared of "profiling" ... but I should say that the one person I saw getting a scan of some kind as I departed from Dulles was a woman in hijab.)

edo said...

But isn't the TSA stuck? What do else are they going to do besides search everyone? It's the lesser of two evils (And a public place is a different case. It requires a far more massive deployment of manpower, a deployment that I imagine is generally much more difficult to coordinate and maintain because of it). And contrary to what some have said, alternative forms of interrogation, like the Israeli one-on-one method, are no less invasive to individual privacy. They're probably more so in the peculiar sense that the Israelis actually profile people, and maintain files on individuals they deem a high risk, while the TSA is under pressure to avoid such profiling at all.

I mean we all have to accept it, yes, but I don't see the way around this...

I also haven't noticed the "media" spinning this particular item to focus on potential troublemakers. At least not the mainstream of our media. On the contrary, most of the coverage, say, from ABC news, which I'm somewhat familiar with because my parents watch it nightly, seems to have been focused on conveying the outrage of the traveling public more broadly.

It is true that they haven't focused on the specific statutes of TSA policy, which would be helpful, but they have given voice to critics of the policy and entertained the question of adopting alternative methods... albeit ones which I personally can't support anymore enthusiastically based on what I know...

It's vexing, but I guess I'm just not comfortable shaking my fist at these folks. I'm similarly uncomfortable hating on the State Department and on Julian Assange alike. They both should have their advocates...