Monday, December 5, 2011

In Dealing With The TSA, It's Time To Look To The Amish

In Amish society, those who have sinned against the community and its values are excommunicated and then shunned. Shunning is the practice of social avoidance or rejection. The offending person is avoided socially and members of the Amish community have nothing to do with this person. The goal of shunning is to show the person the error of their ways in hopes that they will reform, seek repentence, and become a member of the community again.

From on the practice of shunning and the thinking behind it:
As this Amishman explains, shunning is done out of concern for the deviant member. Shunning is also done to protect the body of the church. Shunning in some ways is a fence that keeps the wolves away from the flock. Amish often point out that an individual can’t sit on the fence. Were Amish to accept any practice or belief that came along, the body of the church would be in danger of being corrupted and members led astray spiritually.
How is shunning practiced in reality? With the Amish community of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, there is a recognition that all social contact with the shunned person is not feasible:
Actually, shunning does not mean total avoidance. Restricted interaction is permitted. For instance, spouses may continue to live together but they may not engage in sexual intercourse.

Also, shunned members may attend family gatherings. However, on such occasions they are required to sit at a separate table to symbolize their exclusion.

Usually, active members can not engage in business transactions with shunned members. However, if such a transaction is unavoidable, a third party must handle the exchange of money.
The word shun comes from the Middle English shunnen and the Old English scunian meaning to abhor. To abhor is quite appropriate.

How does this relate to the Transportation Security Administration, its agents, security officers, and employees? Hardly a week goes by without another story of an elderly person humiliated, an attractive woman felt up, an amputee belittled, a parent made to feel helpless, a child molested, privacy invaded, or some other event evidencing stupidity, malice, and abuse by a TSA security officer all in the name of "security".

Everytime it occurs, you get a spokesperson for TSA saying procedures were followed or that no abuse occured. Or now that TSA security officers are allowed to be unionized, a spokesman for the union who insists "the TSA are comprised of workers just like you." There is also "Blogger Bob" on the TSA Blog who rivals Baghdad Bob in his propensity for denial.

Admittedly, there are good TSA officers and bad TSA officers. There are those who abuse their authority as well as passengers and those who don't. That said, so long as the TSA officers who perform their job in a just and nonabusive manner countenance those who don't, then they all will be tarred with the same brush and deservedly so. As the quote attributed to the British statesman Edmund Burke goes, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

What made me think of the practice of shunning and the TSA was seeing a TSA security officer in uniform one day at a local Walmart. This sighting was just after another of their egregious acts was reported in the news. I wondered at the time what would be the best way to make my displeasure known about the behavior of TSA agents as they go about their security kabuki dance.

While a violent or confrontational response to their abusive behavior might feel good for all of a minute, it would be counter-productive as you would have the full weight of the government and the law come down upon you. Moreover, it might even engender sympathy towards TSA.

Likewise, forcing delays on busy travel days by requesting a pat-down would fail because it requires enough people to make the request for it to work, it requires one to actually be flying, and it would cause resentment among those delayed along with some amount of sympathy towards TSA.

Shunning has many advantages and one major disadvantage. First, it is non-violent. Not speaking to or associating with a person is not against the law and you can't be forced to do it. It is an act of omission rather than an act of commission.

Second, it can be practiced by anyone regardless of whether they are a traveler or not.

Third, social avoidance and social ostraticism are very powerful forces.

Fourth, shunning hits the TSA employee outside of the workplace. While they may be mentally prepared to deal with confrontation on the job as well as having their agency's resources behind them, being avoided socially while off the job is unexpected.

Fifth, their agency and the government can do nothing to stop it.

Finally, my guess is that TSA employees will begin to have a bunker mentality which may well cause them to either quit or become more outlandish in their abuse. The more outlandish the abuse, the greater the pressure for the agency to be abolished or, at the least, be reined in by Congress.

The major downside is that shunning requires the buy-in of the public. Unlike the Amish community where those who don't shun the outcast are themselves subject to excommunication and shunning, there is nothing to force you to shun the TSA employee. It is a voluntary action with no adverse consequences if one doesn't shun the TSA employee. Frankly, the only way that shunning will work is if enough people are angry enough to do it and to continue doing it.

I am not saying that shunning will work but that it has the potential to work. I plan on doing it and would call on all those who are outraged by the continued assault on our civil liberties by the TSA and its agents to say enough is enough and to social ostracize those who are a part of that agency.


  1. Good idea! I wish I could shun them at the airport too... sigh

  2. Believe me, this is a system that has worked in the past. My sister lives in a small town in Maine (was that redundant?) where one of the local constables behaved badly on numerous occasions. The Chief of Police did nothing because the constable was a cousin on his wife's side of the family. The townspeople had the option of hiring an attorney and suing the town but they didn't have the money to do that and it just wasn't done in Maine anyway (mostly because nobody has the money to do that...). So they agreed to shun the offending constable. It took about three months and he was transferred to another town. Problem mostly solved in that he will probably continue to behave badly, but somewhere else. Better: problem removed?

    In a small town, everyone knows who the bad guy is. The trick with the TSA is to find out and publish the names of the employees, with their home addresses and phone numbers. That in itself will have the effect of putting them on notice.

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