I got into an internet argument the other day. Yes, I know, fighting on the internet is like competing in the Special Olympics. But this wasn’t an argument about which is the best rock band of all time or why your SportsBall(tm) team is stupid. I was arguing against the TSA. I didn’t win, I didn’t lose. I presented somewhat well, I managed not to be too much of a jerk, and I made my case as well as I could. But there were still plenty who weren’t interested in hearing it, they insisted that we need the TSA and that this all keeps us safe, and don’t I remember 9/11? Of course I do. I even remember what I was wearing. And it was a Tuesday.
Anyway, I was on Facebook having this argument. I know, on Facebook, even worse. From the profile pictures, it was clear that I was arguing with mostly people in their late teens and early twenties. There were a few in there my age, who I figured would know better, but had the appalling attitude that we needed to “man up” and accept our gropings. Either way, when I got home that night and started going over the whole thing in my head, something occurred to me. In 2001, I was 27 years old. Someone who is 25 now would have been 14. Someone who is 18 now would have been seven. That got me to thinking.
When I was about 12, we were shown old news footage in History class about the Berlin wall. I stared in horror at the people making a beeline for the barbed wire as the guards opened fire. Even in that grainy, gray footage, I could see the contorted face of the woman being dangled from a window as she tried to leap to safety on the western side of the wall. I was terrified. I watched the people walking past the guards with their heads bowed, clutching their children’s hands, afraid to look up. That night, I laid in my narrow bed, staring at the ceiling and wondering what I would do if I were there. Would I try to escape? Would I go for the fence, even if it meant death? On the bus to school the next day, I brought it up and my friend scoffed and rolled her eyes. “It’ll never happen here, dummy, this is America.” And sure enough, in class the next day, we discussed why what happened to those people in Berlin could never happen here, and it was because we were a free country and we had the Constitution, which protected us from such things.
Aside from 9-11, there were some 15 skyjackings in my lifetime. There were bombings. I can still see the scattered bits of Pan Am 103 spread over Lockerbie, Scotland as if I were watching the news footage right now . And yet, we never had to endure then what we do now before boarding a plane. We were given the benefit of the doubt that we were not all criminals and terrorists because this is a free country and we are all innocent until proven guilty. And as I tried to argue this in that internet thread, people responded to me as if I were nuts. They reacted to me like I was some old coot screeching about how music nowadays is a bunch of noise and these damn teenagers need to get haircuts. When I got home that night, I started putting the pieces together about those people, and their ages, and something very upsetting occurred to me: To them, this is perfectly normal. To someone who was seven at the birth of the TSA, there has never been a time when going to the airport didn’t mean a strange adult’s hand down their pants. To someone who was a little older and may not have flown until they were teenagers, same thing. To them, this is perfectly normal and they’ve never had it any other way.
I suppose it’s similar to how those who are born blind don’t lament their lack of sight. They never had it, they don’t know what they’re missing, they’ve gotten along okay, and that’s that. Yes, things are harder for them than they would be if they could see. But since they’ve never known our sighted easy, their blind difficult is just their normal. Even if I were to passionately explain sight to someone born blind, I would never be able to make them understand what’s so great about it. They would be unaware of color, of perspective and depth. That ‘I’m crushing your skull’ gag? They’ll never try it. Seeing a movie? Forget it. And I could go on and on about why sight is so wonderful and so important. But to someone who’s never had it, they’re not going to see what the big deal is.
So then I thought about those stern-faced kids in the old news footage from Berlin. Those who were five years old when the wall went up would just stop noticing it after a while. Especially if they had parents who urged them not to look, to hurry past and don’t ask questions. And once those kids turned 20 and became parents, that wall had been there for fifteen years and to their babies, the wall was always there. And when those babies were twenty and became parents, that wall was still there, and to their babies, it was always there. For three generations, going to the market under the stare of armed guards was perfectly normal. Rolls of barbed wire were everywhere like trees would be. And that big wall split the country and no one asked what was on the other side. Until one day, when that last group of babies was eight years old, people took to the wall with hammers and trucks and tore it down. And thousands of people laughed and cried and danced and kissed on the rubble. The Scorpions were on the radio 24-7, and the world rejoiced as the bells of freedom rang in Berlin. And I sat in my parent’s basement and watched with the casual detachment of a fifteen year old. I had forgotten about those sad gray people in the old footage and was smugly assured that such things didn’t happen here in America.
I realized that in my anti-TSA ranting in that internet thread, I was arguing to that first set of kids who were there when the wall went up. I was arguing about why their normal was wrong and why things were better before. I was urging them to look, don’t hurry past, do ask questions. And they didn’t understand why this stranger was so agitated about something that seemed normal to them. I realized I was explaining sight to those who were born blind. While it sounded convenient, they were doing fine under their burden. What good is it to wave my hands and scream about the loss of freedom to those who have never had what I’ve experienced? To them, it’s normal to get groped at the airport. It’s normal to have cameras on every corner and in every building and in their own hand, 24-7. It’s normal to tell the world every time they have a bowel movement, and to have the entire school see photos of them nearly naked. They don’t feel the weight of the noose on their necks because they’ve never lived without it. I’ve come screaming into the Orwellian construct that we need to escape while there’s still time, and they can’t understand why I would want to. In here, we’re safe from terrorists.
So, perhaps I should give it up. My generation will get old and die, and the one after us is already growing up with this as their normal. And so will their children. And each new measure that is implemented, each loss of their freedom is met with a shrug of the shoulders and a bowed head. And the loonies like me who screamed for it to stop get lost in the dust, and the old way is forgotten.
But hey….Kanye West and Kim Kardashian are dating now. The press is calling them ‘Kimye’.
My toe can’t reach the trigger.