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Unthinkable Airline Security

by Richard O. Hammer
November 14, 2010

Invasive scanning being instituted by the US federal government has stimulated a wave of protests. The stories that I have seen complain about what government is doing, but give little coverage to what an alternative might look like. Here I suggest an alternative. Then I tell why we should not expect to see advocacy for this alternative in mainstream media. The alternative is unthinkable for those media.

First let me concur with those who emphasize danger to airline flights. US policy has stirred up many willing suicide bombers. New technology allows bombs to be packed into underwear. There is a problem.

But what we do not see suggested in mainstream media is that a solution to this problem might be found through private and local means. If the biggest government in the land does not impose its solution to the problem then the problem will fall to others. If it falls to the airline companies, as I would prefer, then the airline companies will do something. They do not want to have their flights hijacked or bombed. Furthermore customers will generally be willing to help. Customers do not want to be on flights which are hijacked or bombed.

But beyond that I can only speculate in general terms about security measures airlines would take. I suppose they would be inventive and flexible to extents that helped their businesses. I suppose they would rely more upon certificates of trust. Indeed a private industry might grow to vouch for trustworthiness of travelers. There would be demand for such an industry if the federal government withdrew its measures of airline security.

A system of security must make decisions about whom to trust and whom to scrutinize. Unfortunately every security system may err, whether the system is private or government. I would not claim that a private system could be free of security errors, any more than an advocate for the state system would claim that the government-centralized system could eliminate all errors.

But the benefit in private and competitive security arrangements would be that consumers would retain a power of choice. Airline companies, responding to market pressures, would adopt a range of security practices which satisfied various segments of the marketplace of flying customers. But when the decisions of whom to trust and whom to scrutinize are made by a single all powerful government then the decisions become poisoned with political influence. Central government decisions are bound to be inconsiderate of the needs of individual travelers.

A related point should not be forgotten. When the US government takes responsibility for airline security this creates a target for enemies of that government. The perception seems to be that a terrorist could injure the interests of the US government by destroying a privately owned aircraft and killing its load of private passengers. But this perception is enhanced by the US government taking the challenge! In the alternate scheme of private security a murderer who destroyed an aircraft would succeed in damaging only the interests of one private airline company and its customers; there would be less motivation for enemies of the US government to attack the travels of people within the US.

But why do I call the alternative of private flight security "unthinkable" to mainstream media? I refer to the connections within established channels of communication. I suppose the human brain is capable of thinking a thought only if the appropriate network of connections between neurons has already been established. Some thoughts are literally unthinkable to us if we have never had reason to construct the neural paths which would implement those thoughts, according to my amateur's view of neurology.

Similarly the mainstream media generally have little reason to scout out and report upon private security arrangements. On the contrary, mainstream media have most of their receptors in centers of state power, in capital cities. That is where reporters can most reliably find front-page stories.

The penumbra of media which grow around the state do not sense and generally have little incentive to report that everywhere throughout life people are solving problems every day. Although these mundane solutions can be seen everywhere by one who has learned to look for them, usually these solutions are rather drab. Stories about such solutions would not get coverage in the competitive scramble for publication in mainstream front pages. Therefore mainstream media organizations have quite naturally developed no ability to sense and report (to think!) of private security arrangements.


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