Thursday, November 18, 2010

JUNK SCIENCE. Back in my increasingly distant youth, I often heard it said that the domestic interventionist policies of Theodore Roosevelt (now widely denounced as a socialist) only really caught fire with the American public when Upton Sinclair's The Jungle nauseated them sufficiently with its descriptions of unhygienic food handling that they were willing to accept the statist Pure Food and Drug Act.

Sinclair's novel also revealed savage inequities in the treatment of working people, and the author hoped this would touch readers' consciences; but the travails of a bunch of sweaty and possibly communist immigrants did not interest Americans of the middle class nearly as much as the possibilty that they might find shit in their vittles.

Now there is a great tsimmis over new and more invasive airport security measures. Dave Weigel says that Republicans, who were in power during the creation of the TSA, have always been kinda sorta against the agency -- or at least "a rump of congressional Republicans" were, presumably not including those whose districts profited from the newly beefed-up airport security industry. And Lord knows there were always plenty of prominent conservatives demanding to know why real Americans had to take off their shoes when all the Gummint had to do was start profiling Arabs.

But now the spectacle of little girls being patted down by screeners has freshly inflamed America's outrage, and citizens worried about having their junk touched are newly energized in opposition to this intrusive behavior.

Good for them. It's always nice to see people recognize that they have civil liberties, however late in life it happens. It's just too bad that drug war casualties, indefinite detainees, victims of criminally overzealous prosecutors, and other unfortunates whose rights are routinely trampled will never find themselves anywhere near the front of the complaint line now headed by middle-aged outrageaholics who suspect TSA employees are leering at them.

Americans usually can't be bothered about violations of civil liberties because they think they only happen to other people. The only way to convince them otherwise, it seems, is to hit them in or around the gut. What they lack in empathy they make up for in queasiness. The problem with using the ick factor as a spur to heightened consciousness, though, is that it doesn't get us high enough.

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