Public Things: Democracy in Disrepair

Public Things: Democracy in Disrepair

Public Things: Democracy in Disrepair

Public Things: Democracy in Disrepair


I almost always opt out of the security line in the airport. When I am faced with entering the newer, more radiative machines, metal boxes in which passengers must “assume the position,” hands on head, legs spread apart, I refuse to do it. For some reason, this machine and the required posture offend me, and I prefer, though I still detest, the personal search that takes the place of the machine when one opts out. My first choice is the other sort of screening machine, the older-style metal detector that is like a doorway you walk through. But those are fewer and fewer these days and harder to access. So I am often forced to opt out. the curious thing about opting out at the airport security line is that—unlike almost every other domain of opting out in the United States today (private schools, private water sourcing, gated communities)—one cannot opt out at airport security without announcing it. One must say aloud the words “I opt out.” That performative speech act is required. So, of course, I try to refuse that, too. I approach the line, maneuvering to land in the queue to the old-fashioned doorwaystyle screening machine that I prefer. But in spite of my efforts, I am often directed to the newer, boxlike one.

When the guard motions me to step forward, toward the scanning machine, I pause, and say:

No, I am not going through that.

The guard says: what do you mean?

I won’t go through that machine.

He says: Oh. Are you opting out?

No, I am willing to go through security (I point to the other machine). Just not through this machine.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.