Wednesday, November 17, 2010

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Leave it to a libertarian to test authoritarian limits. For all of their online heckling, most liberals wouldn't dream of confronting police state mechanisms. They admire state power, especially with a mule president in place. Say what you will about John "Johnny Edge" Tyner, at least he put his principles on the line. When was the last time an "antiwar" liberal directly challenged Obama's murderous drone strikes?

I've never understood liberal hatred of libertarians. Yes, there's that tribal thing where if you're not a Democrat, you are an Enemy of The People. But classical liberalism dovetails with many libertarian beliefs, and if you strip away partisan colors, there is much in modern libertarian thought that self-described liberals would, or should, agree with. Looking at the present scene, however, that ain't happening.

When I flew out of Boston's Logan Airport recently, I was a bit stunned by the TSA's militarist approach. I've flown more this year than I have in a decade, but I haven't seen anything like Logan. Having the 9/11 Twin Tower planes leave its tarmac did a serious number on Logan's head. The TSA woman barking orders at travelers took me back to boot camp. When my turn came, she briskly pointed me to the body scanner. Unlike Mr. Edge, I went passively along, assuming the classic arrest position, hands clasped behind my head. "Arms higher!" I was told. I smirked, shook my groggy head and complied.

Welcome to prisoner nation.

More and more travelers, pilots among them, are reportedly fed up with tightening airport procedures. Three cheers, but how does this translate into action? Americans are so atomized that our concerns and fears barely reach the level of consumer complaints. The idea of an organized, dare I say it, collective resistance to the widening police state seems more a science fiction/video game narrative than an actual political possibility. So we grumble and shuffle along, obedient, cowed. Personal films play in our heads as we try to avoid as much contact with other people as possible.

I watched this unfold during a long layover at Chicago's O'Hare. Most airports show just how fucked Americans are, but O'Hare is the main stage. A gigantic place filled with every conceivable archetype you can imagine, and some you've never considered. O'Hare would be a nightmare on hallucinogens, and hydroponic weed would make everything too precise to handle. Booze is your best bet here, and I drained a couple of eight-dollar brews to soften O'Hare's psychic assault.

Listening to Joy Division on my iPod helped as well, Ian Curtis' dark voice and lyrics putting the parade in perspective. It's easy to mock the masses, especially when they're trudging past you for several unbroken hours. And while there were those I judged based solely on appearance, I felt mostly sadness for our present condition (sadder still for the janitors; I know that pain). We seem so lost, distracted, powerless, trying to maintain some kind of dignity amid larger, faceless forces. Little wonder that at the food court, the longest lines belonged to McDonald's. Sugar, fat and sodium help dull the pain. I went for another Heineken. Whatever works.

Grand Street long ago published a translation of a French essay about crowds. I forget its title and author, but I can paraphrase its opening: Considering the countless humans bustling in the same space, it's a miracle that more violence doesn't break out. That still holds true (NFL games and Terror Wars notwithstanding), and I hope it remains so for the time being. Let's try to keep psychotic behavior in the movies where it belongs.