Friday, February 18, 2011

TSA Rituals

We Americans like to think of ourselves as pragmatic, rational, and free of superstitions. But after my recent trips through TSA checkpoints, I've come to believe otherwise. Seldom have I seen such ample evidence of superstitious behavior, rituals fueled by fear. Think of it like this:

How many of us arrive at the airport early? Anxious about travel, we appear to believe that extra time in an uncomfortable gate waiting area might somehow pay a cosmic debt that could otherwise result in flight delays or missed connections. We stand in line, sometimes for quite a long while, to ensure our safe admission to the desired and much-protected inner sanctum. We carry in our hands a small white slip of endorsement as evidence of our merit, and surrender it when requested by the gatekeepers of security. We remove our shoes in hopes of being deemed worthy of entry. We offer up our possessions on the conveyor belt of inquisition, and place all our valuables in gray tubs of scrutiny. We disrobe to the bare essentials before passing through the gate of surveillance, and submit ourselves to rituals of probing and scanning. We share in the communal retrieval of goods, and together bow in gratitude for the privilege of passing through (and to tie our shoes).

All of this, while most of us realize that new & improved "safety measures" have in fact not added any measurable security to our air travel. It would appear that instead, we find comfort in the ritualized appearance of safety, and are willing to pay our dues for the emotional comfort we find in these rites.