Saturday, November 14, 2015

The violence of airports

Airports are not innocent. That's a misunderstanding. They change everything.

Airports are supposed to be the symbols of freedom. After all, they are the gate to the heavens, a heaven that transports us to far-away utopian places. Islands, conferences, families. They stand for mobility, networking, vacations, human contact across continents, the wonders of the universe. But this is a lie. While airports pretend to provide us with vehicles to advance our personal freedom, they corrode everything of value. They destroy the fabric of civilisation, although saying that implies that there is such a fabric and that this fabric, whatever that is, is something valuable. Maybe that's the mistake, right there.

First, airports increase the ecological footprint of a well-meaning ecologically conscious person by a factor of a billion. Even if you don't eat meat, if you don't drive a car, and if you share your energy-neutral home with five other eco hipsters, one flight makes all these efforts futile. You become an eco-monster. A fucking pig. Worse, you become an eco-monster while thinking that you are really not. Flying around the world in a metal box for some weird reason while turning tons of ancient hydrocarbons into greenhouse gases is not a forgivable sin. It's more like an elephant running through a maze of really delicate flowers.

Second,  while pretending that they help you achieve freedom, they take it away, if only temporarily. They force you to stand in line, to undress, to take out toothpaste and put it in bags, to raise your arms while a machine scans your body, to take off your shoes, to confirm your identity over and over again, to walk through a labyrinthe of stinking duty-free perfume, to sit on cheerless plastic seats, to park in rows, to dry your hands after peeing in urinals. This is not freedom. This is tyranny.

Third, and, to be clear, this is the main point. The third is always the main point. Airports don't connect people. They separate. The airport are the dots on the map that mark the transition from one culture to another. It used to be lines, but now we have dots. I can pass through these dots, unhindered, mostly, because I have the right face, the right nationality, the right passport. For me, the world is without borders. The last time I really felt a border was in 1989 at a train station between East and West Germany. After that, borders ceased to exist for me.

But of course that's because I'm a Chosen One. For the record, I'm not proud of this. It's a historical accident. Airports are not. They are built with purpose, by a violent and inhumane system. Airports intentionally separate the Chosen Ones from the rest of the world. They let us through, more or less unimpeded, after just a few hours of standing in various lines. We can go, wherever we want to go. Others are blocked entirely. Airports are selective filters that impede migration and free movement. Like mountains. Like oceans. Except that airports are manmade. They keep randomly selected people in a randomly selected part of the world, usually a part where people are desperately unhappy. And the cruel thing is that we should have known it all along. Just look at the damn things. Do airports look like the harbingers of progress and freedom? Or do they look like giant monsters that eat the chickens and feel good about it?

This is the violence of airports. They facilitate the destruction of the world and the destruction of our sense of freedom. And they draw lines where no lines exist. Random, arbitrary lines. Lines that kill. Airport are political places. Here is it where processes happen that do not seem to have any place at all. Globalisation, commercialisation, secularisation, mass stupidity, disengagement, boredom, racism. Here is it where terrorism happens, a violent reaction against the violence of airports. A child lashing out against the stupidity of adulthood. And here is it where airport hiking happens. Airport hiking, the benign, peaceful protest against basically everything that's wrong in the world.