Ten days ago I took my board exam to rectify my professional qualifications for the second time. Which is to say, in my case, that I’ve been out of medical training for 20 years. This is standard stuff in medicine. The test requires a few things, like an active state license, evidence of continuing education and ‘quality improvement’ activities, and a significant sum of money (no surprise there).
Having committed my life to the practice of medicine I have undergone various certifications, from college entrance exams and college tests to the Medical College Admissions Test; from the various exams of medical school to the National Board Exams taken during medical school. All of it followed by residency and my specialty board exam. My career has required that I put forth effort, that I have good character (or at least appear to), that I avoid encounters with the law and illicit substances. The profession of medicine asks me to patiently demonstrate that I was, and remain, a good citizen and a competent physician.
Of course, over the years times have changed. Board exams once involved a vast room of nervous doctors with #2 pencils, frantically shading ovals, as nervous as they were in medical school. Now, the testing is done in high tech testing centers.
Let me review that experience, in light of the things I have already done to demonstrate my reliability. When I checked into the center, I provided ID. (Yes, we are a nation where we have to show papers; ghastly isn’t it?) There was a brief crisis when my name on my ID was written slightly different from my name on the list of test takers. (You thought I’d say testes, didn’t you?) I had to put both palms on a scanner to record the pattern of veins in my hand, so that if I went to the restroom, a highly sophisticated clone of myself wouldn’t come and finish the test for me.
Next, I was directed to put everything into a locker. The book I carried to study, my jacket, my watch, the silver cross I wear around my neck, my wallet, phone and anything in my pockets. Following this, I had to evert (yes, evert) my pockets to prove that I was not carrying anything I might use to cheat. I was given a dry erase marker and board and told not to erase anything I wrote on it. (If I needed more space, another would be provided.) Finally, before entering the test, I was asked, ‘is there anything in your mouth?’ I opened my mouth like a prisoner to verify my honorable status. On the way into the testing area, I was instructed, ‘so you’ll know, we’re videotaping your entire test.’
The staff were kind and polite. They were doing just following orders. (Where have we heard that before?) The testing center is obviously a lucrative business. I get that. And my certification is part and parcel of my work. I did as I was told, though not without a little internal grumbling; not at the test but at the procedure. It’s the kind of muttering I engage in when I go through TSA checkpoints.
But what troubles me is this. My scrutiny was pretty remarkable, for the purpose of taking a test. But Aaron Alexis’ scrutiny apparently fell tragically short; and that was so that he could have a secret clearance and work in an extremely important Naval facility. What we don’t know, and won’t know until tragedy strikes again, is how many others like him are out there. Federal employees, state employees, local government workers, future Obamacare workers, poll-workers, welfare-workers, who may or may not do violence but may just as easily engage in criminal abuse of their authority or misuse of vital records. Or who may already have done so, despite their ‘security clearance.’ Certain members of the IRS, NSA, DEA, ATF and others come to mind in passing.
This is an imperfect world. And in it dwell many good people. Alongside them dwell both the insane and the wicked. Our techniques to differentiate the groups will always fall short of perfection unless we actually desire a government with even more draconian rules.
But as we all take off our shoes, open our mouths, evert our pockets and show our ID’s, I think it’s about time we stopped pretending that the absence of a government job or ID makes us more dangerous than those who have them.
And more to the point, that possession of a government ID, or even a government security clearance, doesn’t necessarily make a person inherently safer, better or more trustworthy than the masses who pay their salaries.