Posts Tagged ‘profiling’

Kicking Off

2 January 2009

Dear J-

In the news today:  folks kicked off an airplane because they wondered, aloud, where the safest place would be to sit.  Oh, and the traditional Muslim garb undoubtedly added to it; had it been a group of, say, Chinese folks wondering if the overwing seats are best, and debating the tradeoffs (proximity to exit rows and increased structure to accommodate lift forces versus the possibility of an engine ingesting something it disagrees with) people might smile and nod, wondering what their technical background is that fed the discussion.  Put a headscarf on, though, and suddenly it’s the equivalent of fire in a crowded theater:  you can’t say that here.

I must have missed the class where it was okay to prejudge based on appearance in extenuating circumstances.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating; profiling is a slippery slope we cannot afford.  We choose the intellectually lazy path of assuming guilt without proof, justifying it as keeping us safe when I thought we were all past this freakish paranoia by now.  So what is the best answer?  I can tell you what it is not:  engendering more fear, more resentment, more fodder for fundamentalists to point out the hypocrisy in our freedoms.

Mike

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Trust Who

19 November 2008

Dear J-

There’s a thread on the dpreview.com discussion forum — if you’re looking for a fight, there’s always a good bone to be picked there — regarding Japanese tourists and their photographic habits. Suffice it to say that the original poster has responded only once to the hand grenade he threw, and the original post started off with a phrase to the effect of “I don’t consider myself racist but …” and you can get the gist from that. There’s no surer way to ensure that the next words coming out will be offensive in some way; it’s the grown-up equivalent of saying “it’s just a joke.”

While it’s easy to dismiss it as an isolated, ugly incident on an Internet discussion forum, it’s symptomatic of a deeper unease and willingness to generalize. Disagree with the viewpoint and you’re swatted with cries that it’s just the truth, you left-leaning politcally-correct liberal. It’s fascinating to watch the tortured logic at work, applying generalization to people because of the actions of a few has never been a cogent argument; the importance of individuality is somehow less valid when applying it to anyone else. It’s intellectually lazy to say that, say, all Swedes are great hockey players on the basis of a few (Foppa, Lidstrom, even Sundin) and yet we have no problems applying that to far more important issues. I know I’m guilty of it — have been, am, and probably will be, though I promise to try harder.

So you think it’s just a little thing, limited to a few people and then you learn things like, oh, the government has interned all the Japanese — 1942 — or, 2008-style, has started to keep dossiers on people of Arabic descent. It’s like something out of a bad novel: it’s only immoral, it’s only illegal if you get caught with your hand in the jar. Think of the benefits! We choose to abridge our freedoms and fail to realize everything we give up now is not guaranteed to come back. The justification — the reasons given for our trade will always be valid. World’s not safe enough. Can’t trust them. When do we realize that it-can’t-happen-here already has?

Mike