Fayetteville, AR –-(Ammoland.com)- We live in an era that has adopted security theater as a psychological crutch to sustain the illusion that life is not quite so fragile as reality keeps telling us. To get on an airliner, we have to show acceptable papers, submit our luggage to radiation and our bodies to groping—much like prisoners on suicide watch, deprived of our shoes and belts—to gain the privilege of being packed into shrinking seats to breathe whatever exhalations the children nearby wish to share.
Getting the idea that I don’t like commercial flying? A piece of news that I’ve run across recently reveals that perhaps I’ve gone about things the wrong way. It turns out that all the impositions that I named are not necessary after all. If I were a sixty-six year old woman, I could simply slip on board. Or so it is in the case of one Marilyn Hartman, a homeless woman who recently managed to get to London without the burdens of tickets and travel documents, capping years of such achievements.
One attempt was to get to Hawai’i, and she explained it to police by saying that she thought she had cancer and wanted to go someplace warm to die. She did not have cancer, and that incident is offered as evidence that she is mentally ill by Joe Eskenazi of The Guardian, though in the depths of winter, her reasoning doesn’t sound all that insane to me.
Eskenazi claims that “Marilyn Jean Hartman hasn’t really revealed serious weaknesses in airport security.” His focus is on the treatment of the mentally ill in this country. But hold on a minute. Yes, she’s an older white woman who doesn’t look menacing, though that hasn’t always been a protection against abuses by the TSA. Still, Eskenazi is missing a point here when he claims that Hartman hasn’t provided us a lesson on the limits of security.
Is Hartman mentally ill? Speaking as an ordinary person using the term in plain English, rather than the specialized sense of psychological experts, I’d say yes. She believes that she has been targeted by “a vast Illuminati network dedicated to a decades-long mission” against her. According to her, Barack Obama has known about this for a quarter of a century—that goes back to before he was even a state senator, for those keeping score—but did nothing to help her.
Since I’m not sending a bill to an insurance company or sitting in official judgment, I’ll draw what I think is the obvious conclusion here. What lessons can we learn?
Eskenazi sees this as an example of how we fail to take care of the mentally ill in this country, and I agree with him, but as a gun-rights supporter—and as someone who likes to come at topics from odd angles—I have a different take. Regarding how we deal with someone like Hartman, what if we were to choose to give her something useful to do? Claims to the contrary, she has spent years testing the weaknesses of our airline security. Give her a job. She’s demonstrated practical expertise that many in the TSA lack.
But more than that, she illustrates that our efforts at security theater are misplaced. People intent on doing harm—and people whose minds work differently from the norm—will find ways around the measures that we impose on the rest of us. Whether we’re talking about controls on drugs, guns, or travel, the theatrical measures that we take to create the appearance of safety only affect the people who generally aren’t doing wrong. We aren’t being kept safe when our enforcement agencies go after the methods used in yesterday’s crimes.
What does work is to focus on the things that motivate people to harm others. In other words, address the causes, not the symptoms. That’s good advice when we’re talking about treating mental illness, rather than dealing with the aftermath in the rare cases when a disturbed person commits violence, and it’s good advice when terrorism is the subject.
But busywork is easier in these circumstances than real solutions, and that’s why we so often are bogged down in debates over gestures of the theater.
About Greg Camp
Greg Camp has taught English composition and literature since 1998 and is the author of six books, including a western, The Willing Spirit, and Each One, Teach One, with Ranjit Singh on gun politics in America. His books can be found on Amazon. He tweets @gregcampnc