Primitive Superstitions

I recently returned to the U.S. from a vacation to Mexico and my mal-experience with the Transportation Security Administration afforded me an opportunity to reflect on one of the many absurd things most Americans accept without question.

Passing through Sanford Airport near Orlando, FL, I was selected for the "Full Monty" by TSA. Late for a connecting flight and rather short on patience, the extended pat down (which included the Chief Groper running his fingers along the inside of my front waistband) seemed to accentuate my hearing. I actually overheard someone say that they felt safer for all the intrusiveness. Since I love analogies, I came up with one that I believe captures the delusional nature of this view.

Consider if one is looking for a needle in haystacks, and haystacks are passing through one's presence on an hourly basis. Would anyone grab a random handful of each haystack that passed by and expect to find said needle by examining in minute detail each piece of hay in that handful?

Of course not. Yet most air travelers think an invasive search of a 45-year-old man traveling with his wife and kids, or running a rod down the skin-tight top between the breasts of a pretty 16-year-old blond girl with a tan and painted nails (all 20 of them – I counted) makes them safer. I might join the march in the streets protesting this idiocy, but of course I'd be the only one on parade. My fellow citizens might even be provoked by my lack of support for our nation's hardworking security people.

We all hear and read how we all will somehow benefit as the government takes over more and more elements of our lives. The notion that the government is best equipped to control everything from product safety to national defense and from environmental protection to education seems to be almost universally accepted. Part of the unanimity of this view may stem from our major news organs' almost total reliance on government officials and politicians for their stories, but I could be wrong. Maybe it's not just that they're lazy sloths.

Well over a thousand years ago Mayans performed a serious ritual in the Ball Court at Chichen-Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula. They endeavored to put a heavy rubber ball through a stone ring without using their hands, an act associated with protecting the Sun as their astronomer-priests told of its passage through a dangerous part of the universe. As I understood our Mayan tour guide, their people took this process very seriously, probably no less so than the TSA grope-master who "protected" my flight by the laying on of hands (on me, that is, while his female counterpart "sanctified" that pretty teenager). All that was missing from my experience were the scary mask and magic totems. On second thought, maybe magic wands were in use after all, and the guy's face was, I suppose, a little scary.

At the end of my Mexican stay (before my undesired, intimate episode with that strange TSA man) I stood in line at Cancun's airport and waited for my checked baggage to be laboriously hand-searched (no doubt an FAA requirement for planes headed to U.S. airports) while those lucky Canadians on a direct flight to Edmonton walked straight to their check-in without the lines and the hassles. (The government in Ottawa apparently spends less time aggravating people in other lands…gee, how lucky are we in the U.S. to have our officials in Washington DC create new adventures for us continuously.)

Consider today's obvious similarities to the rituals and superstitions of people who lived long ago. From newspaper publishers and Harvard Ph.D.'s to Mrs. Grundy living next door, people we share this country with haven't changed much over the centuries, have they? They're still sacrificing much of their harvest to the Gods (well, the warrior/priests take it and we assume pass it along) and performing human sacrifices (lots and lots of them in Iraq and Afghanistan these days) to insure our group's continued success. So must it be – our warrior/priests in Washington DC's big stone temples tell us so.

August 12, 2005

David Calderwood [send him mail] a businessman, artist, and author of the novel Revolutionary Language, selected January 2000 Freedom Book of the Month at