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duty vs. intelligence?

January 28th, 2006

A few days ago my mom tells me that the evening news announced the airport was hiring screeners. So I went to the informational thing today and, I dunno.

A long, long time ago a naive Doom (hard to believe, I know, but I was 11) joined an organization called the Sea Cadets. I was wide eyed, earnest and all that crap. In the local unit I met another group of serious minded youngsters (how awful is it to be serious minded before puberty, let alone high school?) and we were going to be seals (I’m sure none of us even joined, no, wait, one joined the National Guard). We were the hardest core group of pubescents you’d ever seen. Looking back, I know how silly and pathetic we were. But we believed. It was about duty and sacrifice and Doing Your Part.

Predictably, it was a disaster. Asthma is one of the great fortunes of my life because my painful awakening did not come after giving my life to the US Government (because I was going to be an officer, and they’re fucked forever, instead of just for a few years after their enlistment ends). However, that dutiful, sacrificial boy was put to good use by several employers who happily worked my stupid ass into the ground for no reward whatsoever.

So today, I go to this thing. And part of me yearns to recapture that feeling, craving duty and certainty of purpose like a drug. But the rest of me is whacking that idiot over the head with a frying pan screaming that it’s just another form of self-righteousness. Which, without question, it is. And then there’s the knowledge that the good people rarely get put in charge (thank you, Scott Adams) so the very worst people have their say over the dutiful sorts.

After the opening spiel, well, immediately after that they ran a slideshow completely soaked with patriotism about 9/11 with “Imagine” and “Proud to Be An American” played back to back (which is about the most inappropriate combination of tunes I can think of, akin to Helen Reddy followed by Snoop Dogg) and after that I felt like I needed some insulin to counteract the sugar that had been forced into my bloodstream. So I went outside after the slideshow, because I was torn about the whole thing. My sensible side was screaming that I should run, run far away, but the duty junkie hadn’t been shut up yet. So I went back in to talk to the screeners they had doing quick interviews. At the end the guy asked if I had any questions and I asked him about the slideshow, using the word “cloying” to describe it. He seemed to think that was not an inaccurate assessment. He said that the TSA was a fine place for cynics as long as they could do their jobs (hello, duty, remember??).

I don’t think I’m going to follow through on it. I’m fairly sure the pool of dutiful people capable of taking a nuanced world at face value is really small and I won’t find many of them in gubmint service. Why is a sense of duty and a good work ethic so rarely combined with intelligence and discernment?

Oh, and to reinforce that, there were 20 or so screeners (the “elite”, which means cherrypicked to leave the droolers out of sight) there were about as many suits running around, most of whom looked like televangelists.


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