Megan is offended by this rigid application of rules in a context in which they make no sense:
It's not that I particularly mind the loss of a travel size sleek 'n shine shampoo set. But I resent being treated to rule applications so blind that they zip past moronic and straight into The Kafka Zone. And I suspect that they are so moronically applied because we treat the TSA people like morons. How low does one's IQ have to be to indicate that one cannot comprehend the security purpose, and limits, of a Ziploc baggy? Whatever the cutoff, I am sure that this woman was above it. But hey, terrorism! So we create a bunch of silly rules, and then demand that our silly TSA people follow them blindly . . . and we all go merrily down the road to airport hell together.
Megan, we treat TSA screeners like morons because some of them are morons. Oh, not all of them, or even most. But, predictably, some of the people we hire for this (let's face it) really tedious job are going to be morons. Lest any screeners read this and offended, note the word "some." Some will be of ordinary intelligence; some may even be of above-average intelligence. But, predictably, some will be morons. I will say I know one airport screener, and, well, he's a pretty dull fellow. But the rest are probably smarter.
And so, rather than rely upon their discretion, intelligence, and judgment -- which, predictably, will be lacking in some cases -- we give them clear, rigid orders. Some of which, inevitably, will be stupid. But if you start letting them apply the rules in accordance with their understanding of the reason for each particular rule, well, somebody might make a stupid decision and some contraband might get through. Which could, theoretically, lead to trouble. (How much damage somebody could actually do with a pair of scissors in the post-9/11 world is a different issue.)
Moreover, if you allow screeners to apply their independent judgment, you will necessarily have a certain degree of disparity in how passengers are treated. Maybe one screener is smarter than another, more able to discern the purpose behind the Ziploc-bag rule. Maybe one is a jackbooted thug too dumb to land a job as a potbellied small-town Sheriff who applies every rule as rigidly as possible out of sheer sadistic glee. Maybe the guy next to him lacks the energy and just waves everybody by. But whatever the source of the differences, if you allow screeners latitude to exercise judgment, you will get differences.
In differences lie lawsuits. If it so happens that a tall, elfin, good-looking white female blogger is allowed to pass through security unhindered without the proper Ziploc bag, the Muslim fellow who got a different screener will inevitably complain when the screener insists on a proper baggie. Which will lead to a nasty discrimination lawsuit. Remember the flying Imams?
Also, in a purely practical sense, I don't want to be waiting in line behind the person who is rules-lawyering the TSA screener. For that matter, I don't want to be in the line when twenty people ahead of me are doing the rules-lawyering, many of them in a less sensible manner than Ms. McArdle.
Now, those who complain that our current regime is nothing more than "security theater" have a point. I think that the TSA should try to keep bombs, guns, and swords off of airplanes. If, in the post-9/11 world, somebody can hijack an airplane with box cutters or a pair of scissors, then we deserve to lose. But argue that with the idiots making the rules, not the idiots behind the x-ray machine. After all, as Megan observed, they don't have a choice.