Imagine that you are walking down the street. You’ve just finished listening to some of the finest jazz, and now you are faced with a dilemma – you are lost. To get home, you have a choice of taking one of two routes.
On one route, you see a group of guys with rap apparel on, shouting obscenities and quoting random gangsta rap songs. On the other route, you see a bunch of Abercrombie and Fitch type girls with high-pitched voices and poodles.
Now, this is where the dilemma becomes messy: Which route would you take? If you selected the first, then you are a brave soul who must be commended.
In any case, most people would take the second route. Now the question is why. Particularly, why would I choose the second route over the first?
Luckily, the answer is quite simple, and it has a great deal to do with pre-judging. Before extrapolating any reasonable conclusion from the example above, I would assume that the people on the first route are more dangerous than the girls on the second route.
There are several ways that a person might react to this sort of way of making decisions. One might say that it is completely irrational. One might be inclined to argue that it is prejudicial and deserves no part in the decision-making process. But a crucial assumption that is held by both contentions is that, in the case above, being reasonable is the best way to respond.
Of course, in many situations being reasonable is important and is the best method. However, simply because one course of action is right in some cases, it does not imply that it is right in all cases. Unfortunately, this commonplace idea has not yet been fully embraced, and it has led to heated debates in the academic, political and social arenas.
One such topic regards the issue of selective security screening to combat the terrorist threat. In this particular context, the issue has centered on whether it is appropriate to selectively search people who look or act a certain way. For instance, when going through airport security, an Arab male would have a higher chance of being searched (or questioned) than an elderly white woman.
One might suggest that this is constitutionally unfair, philosophically irrational and morally wrong. Yet, in the context of terrorism, it seems utterly appropriate to discriminate as such. In his blog entry “Stereotyping Defined,” Ninos Malek writes, “We live in a world of scarcity, that economizing on information can be efficient, and that sometimes the reason stereotypes exist is because, well, they’re true.”
Thus, the point of discriminating as such is not to be mean-spirited or evil. It is simply a more efficient way to combat the rise of terrorism in this context.
That is, since a certain type of person is generally linked to terrorist acts, it is more efficient in combating terrorism to focus on the type of person that fits the script.
Gary Becker, a prominent economist at the University of Chicago, adds that “universal security measures at airports or other sensitive points are not enough. Although civil libertarians criticize “profiling” of travelers and others, and government officials deny they engage in it, profiling is a necessary part of any reasonably effective security system.”
Becker’s point is essential to the argument made in this article. That is, under the pretext of terrorism, it seems to be inevitable that our intelligence use some sort of “profiling” to effectively combat the terrorist threat. However, this does not have to be implemented in a cruel and unusual way.
Those who are searched should be searched with dignity and respect. And hopefully, those searched will understand that profiling is more about reasonable protection than prejudice and unfairness.