The illusion of safety appears to be much more important than the reality of it.  Take the massive airport security systems which inconvenience millions of people but are blithely accepted as the price we have  to pay for security in the air.  It does not matter that a minuscule percentage of people are caught by it, there are many ways to circumvent it, and there are other as effective or more effective security measures (ask the Israelis). It has most often led to embarrassment, harassment and an invasion of privacy. The Transportation Security Administration occasionally reveals that is has stopped some number of terrorist plots in order to reassure us that what we endure is worth it.  Of course it also confirms the need for us to continue to pay (monetarily and otherwise) for their services.

It is this willingness to accept these intrusions into our lives that makes the flap over what Edward Snowden has revealed about the NSA so upsetting to proponents of the security state.  If it becomes widespread that people begin to question the intrusions into our lives that 9/11 and the Patriot Act have created, will the revelation of the potential abuses Congress has authorized, the President, the intelligence community and military have executed, and the people have accepted bring down the security state? The massive security infrastructure, the unconstitutionality and the sheer overwhelming cost of the security state can be questioned once someone recognizes it for what it is: security theater. I am not saying that there haven’t been true security threats stopped by the security state, but that this is the most expensive and inefficient way to do it.  It calls for us to do more damage to more people’s constitutional rights than the terrorists could ever do.  Despite the security state the Tsarnov brothers could get through to bomb the Boston Marathon. Our methods have led to an increase in the very hatred abroad that makes us less secure.

Obama has tried to justify it by saying no American phones were listened to.  Even if that were true the fact that we are willing to do to others what we are unwilling to do to ourselves is not the moral high ground. An argument that only innocent foreigners were the collateral damage in our drone attacks against potential terrorists can only be accepted  if we are willing to admit that reassuring our fears outweighs murder. Look at the difference between the idealistic senator Obama who opposed these policies and the president Obama who not only allows them to continue but expands the policies he once condemned. Look at the difference between first time presidential Obama who promised a more moral America in foreign affairs and the pragmatic president who has become George H.W. Bush lite.

These chickens also come home to roost in our domestic policy. The paranoia and fear for our own safety allows a jury and Florida law to excuse Trayvon Martin’s murder because people identified with George Zimmerman’s paranoia and fear.  This same paranoia condones the clearly unconstitutional “stop and frisk” policies of the police and leads the mayor to defend it. It leads to a war on drugs which is targeting black young men and destroying black family possibilities.  None of these is solving the problem they were created to solve. Too often non white and poor people are the victims of these policies.  These policies  have of course created industries, institutions and people who now have a vested interest in their continuation.  That’s how capitalism works. It is going to take a while to slow this train down so that it can take new tracks, but other models exist. We need to realize that these methods are not only wasteful, destructive and inefficient but are changing us and our country into something we don’t want to be.  Perhaps then we can listen to the voices calling for new ways that will replace security theater with actual security.

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