National boundaries or borders are imaginary lines drawn by politicians on the surface of the Earth. They are marked quite clearly on maps (though they rather often need changing, happily for cartographers) but are generally invisible in the real world. Drive up the I-91 to Canada, for example, and just past an interesting notice that announces you are exactly half way between the Equator and the North Pole, comes no more than a pair of buildings with "Stop" signs; to the left and the right of the road, nothing tells rabbits and other furry critters that they are supposed, to the North, to understand French as well as English and to obey orders from Ottawa instead of D.C.
Mind, there is one other indicator of change; "les detecteurs radars sont interdits." I hope I recall that correctly, and apologise to any Francophones if not. In Canada, since there is no Constitution that limits the power of government, they can write any laws the voting majority lets them get away with, and that particular prohibition removes one example of citizen privacy and self-defence. Here, speech is free. There, they can and do dictate the frequency of radio signals you and I are allowed to receive and amplify.
So humans (unlike rabbits) - unless we go to the considerable trouble of bypassing their checkpoints - have to prove that we are entitled to pass from Country A to Country B, or else we shall get turned back. That is one of the outrageous impositions on human liberty that comes directly from our foolish habit of allowing governments to exist. Actually, it gets worse.
I cross borders fairly often, so I've often stood in line waiting, waiting for the immigration and customs people to shepherd passengers through their gates, like sheep at a dip. Luggage is unloaded from aircraft rather slowly, but I almost never get through customs & immigration more quickly than the bags take to reach the carousel. So there one is, stranded in Limbo-Land; in these United States, kind of, but not quite.
Not until the INS officer (sometimes cheerful and welcoming, sometimes downright surly) stamps one's passport with a practised flourish, is one actually "in" the US of A. I think. And not until the chalk on one's bags has been checked at the customs door is one free, relatively speaking, of the risk of detention by this terrocrat or that.
"Terrocrat"? Yes, a new word, coined recently: a Terrorist Bureaucrat. You'll read it often, in this column, from here on - it's nicely crafted. Let me give you an example of what it means. You may recall seeing an account of it on TV.
There was this lady, somewhat rotund, a genuine US Resident, returning from a trip abroad and arriving before some customs agent. He took it into his terrocrat head that she was smuggling something, around her portly midriff.
So he had her stripped. No dice; nor any counterfeit or other currency, dope or other forbidden fruits. Not satisfied, the terrocrat had her X-rayed, and a suspicious zone was observed in her stomach area. They do that, because some entrepreneurs, eager to serve their customers with a supply of cocaine, have been known to swallow a baggy or two of the stuff and - er - recover it after, well, Passing Through.
She was further given a horrid-tasting laxative, and made to sit on a toilet under supervision until the grey area on the film was no longer visible. You guessed it: no coke. Not only was the lady 100% innocent, she hadn't even broken any of their stupid laws!
But, as you and I can well imagine, she was well and truly devastated. Like most people who don't like to think about it, she supposed that terrocrats don't really exist outside, say, Latin America. Now, she knows better. She was so upset psychologically that she was unable to perform her previous job and had to find one less demanding at lower pay. I did not hear whether she plans to sue, but I certainly hope she does. And that she wins; very, very big.
The arrogant invasion of privacy under the pretext of looking for forbidden substances is, alas, not limited to the borders; from time to time they take place even at schools. Eight and nine year old children are strip-searched for drugs, not necessarily with parental permission, in government schools; and woe (and surveillance!) betide the parent who with-holds such permission.
So by the time government-school graduates are old enough to travel through government border checkpoints, perhaps they are supposed to be used to it, and so to accept it as part of the price of living in a Free Society. Certainly, they are supposed to be so dumbed-down intellectually as to be both disinclined to question the authority that tells them to submit, and incapable of perceiving the supreme irony of the preceding sentence.
I'm not. So, since I'm obliged to await the attentions of the INS in long lines, I generally try to make conversation with my fellow non-travellers. Perhaps I'll show my travelling teddy-bear to one of them (if small enough.) Or more often (if larger) I'll innocently enquire why it is we are waiting.
The usual response is a blank look, as if I'm stupid or something! Then he will humour me, maybe, and explain that we have to have our passports stamped. Then I ask "Oh, I see. But, why?" Well, he might say, it's so nobody enters the US who isn't entitled to. "Oh, I see. But, what sort of people are not entitled to?" Oh, you know, he says, Communists and spies and people like that. "Oh, you mean they can tell that, just by chatting with you?" After a while he runs out of answers and realises, I hope, the utter absurdity of the whole shebang. Or of the customs, I might ask what it, too, is for. Well, to make sure we don't import drugs. "Oh, I see. Does that mean Americans can't grow or make their own?" - and so on. The effect is known, I think, as "cognitive dissonance."