OK, I need to complain a bit here.
Yesterday I went to Best Buy to get a new digital camera. I already knew which one I wanted, so I found a sales guy, pointed to the display unit, and said, "I'd like one of these."
"Sure," he replied. He found the keys, unlocked the cabinet, pulled out a box, and said, "I'll meet you at register four."
"Eh?" I asked. "Can't I just carry it?"
"No, the policy is that I have to carry it."
"What a stupid policy," I grumbled, "treating all of your customers as if they're thieves."
Then when making the purchase with a credit card, the cashier demanded to see my ID. "Why?" I asked.
"To verify your identity."
I walked out of the store, with my camera, but not in a good mood at all. I spend a lot of money at Best Buy and I don't appreciate the assumption that I'm there to steal something. Furthermore, asking for ID during a credit card purchase is just dumb. Credit card companies really don't care who you are. Once the authorization is received, the transaction has already been processed, which includes a serious amount of "transaction authentication" to detect and reduce fraud. This is far more reliable than some clerk comparing names or -- worse -- signatures. And how come it never seems to dawn on the policy-making folk at these stores that online purchases don't require ID?
How did we get into this mess of distrust by default? My thinking followed this process:
- First I blamed the September 11th terrorists. You bastards, if you hadn't done what you did, then Americans wouldn't be so afraid of strangers and so quick to assume that anyone who doesn't "look right" is a rapacious murderer.
- No, it isn't the terrorists. It's the media. Owned by money-grubbing conglomerates with their lips pressed firmly against the wrinkled white flesh of the other Washington's (that's D.C.) buttocks, the media assists the politicians in their drive to keep America terrified. For when the people are terrified, they can be controlled, and even have their civil liberties illegally stripped away without nary a peep.
- Finally, I realized: it's our own fault. We as free citizens have the solemn responsibility not to allow ourselves to be manipulated by those who would benefit from our sheepishness. While we citizens have no control over the media (this is a good thing) and little control over our current government (this is a bad thing), we have complete control over how we react to the tactics of both -- as well as the tactics of those who would do us physical harm.
America is paralyzed by fear, and this fear has caused us to regard with great suspicion those whom we necessarily interact with every day. The only way to move beyond this is to refuse to allow yourself to be manipulated. While you can't just refuse to show your ID if you want to buy something with a credit card or get on an airplane tomorrow, you can begin having conversations with your friends and neighbors -- help people understand that only when we all rise against the backlash will there be change. And chat up a stranger, too. In my travels around the world I've met hundreds of folks; I'm convinced that the overwhelming majority of people are kind and decent and simply looking for someone to listen to their stories. Be a listener -- it's amazing what you can learn. And little by little, we can undo the paralysis that defines life in the 21st century.