Falcone's Crossroads

Where This Meets That


Slate Magazine technology columnist Farhad Manjoo has written a great article on Edward Snowden and the NSA scandal.  You can read that HERE before proceeding below.

Edward SnowdenThe New Yorker‘s Jeffrey Toobin, meanwhile, is one Manjoo indirectly warns about, declaring that Snowden “is neither [a hero nor a whistleblower]. He is, rather, a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison.”

Last I checked, grandiosity and narcissism are not crimes.  Toobin does have a point, however, in saying that Snowden’s leak likely is a crime.

But who cares?

How can Americans not be universally outraged at an increasingly hubristic government that believes its own right to privacy is greater than that of its governed?

Toobin says, “The question, of course, is whether the government can function when all of its employees (and contractors) can take it upon themselves to sabotage the programs they don’t like.”  The thing is, beyond his apparent ignorance that “the government’s” employees are our employees – yours and mine – his logic is better applied to the integrity of Liberty.

Liberty can only work when it is applied universally and protected for all.  American Liberty has steadily declined in recent decades and has fallen to shambles since the 9/11 attacks.  The tragedy is that we as a nation are so damn terrified that we have let it happen. The faceless enemy “Terror” has already won through the weapon of big government.  It’s almost like David defeating the Philistines by turning Goliath against them instead of killing him outright.

The even greater tragedy is that we aren’t even legally permitted to know just how deep government abuse goes.  And none of this should surprise anyone, because it’s precisely what the Bush administration rammed through with the USA PATRIOT Act in the aftermath of 9/11, when no legislator with higher political ambitions would’ve dared risk appearing unpatriotic by voting against it.

Neither party is clean.  Republicans can’t throw stones, because they whole-heartedly endorsed the gross consolidation of executive power under Bush.  Democrats, likewise, must measure their responses, since they too endorsed it and are now seeing its politically sticky fruits all over the hands of their own man.

No, let us not buy into the politics of the NSA revelations.  This is not a “right vs. left” or “Republican vs. Democrat” debate.  This must be a battle of a free people versus an entire government rank with foul ambitions.

As a result, this might be a rare instance where we see both parties unite on something: political self-preservation.  But the irony is that Washington will be forced to justify why it needs more secrecy to better battle enemies it made squarely through its own secret machinations in the first place.  Its solution to repair broken trust, in other words, is to seek even more trust, which is really to seek even greater public tolerance for its deceit.

Obama said last Friday, “You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” and concluded, “We’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”  Contrast Obama’s statement with that of founding father Benjamin Franklin’s, that, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Obama discussing NSA SurveillanceMany today pooh-pooh the validity of our founders’ worldviews, given the vast technological leaps of the modern world, but at real issue is not the dangers of technology but the nature of Mankind. Our nation was founded on the belief that people are born with fundamental Rights, intrinsic to their very humanity.

Some argue that the Constitution can handle temporary shelving and cite examples from Lincoln’s presidency, arguing that his dictatorial tactics were necessary to end the Civil War.  That position seems sound enough, given enough hindsight and that the Constitution snapped back into place when the dust settled on an ash gray South.  But at the time, that wasn’t at all clear.

Ahhh, says the defender of free-range “war-time” government, but even though it wasn’t clear that all would return to normal, it still did, thus proving the elasticity of a healthy, living Constitution.  We just need to give today’s presidents similar flexibility to wage today’s wars!

But today’s wars are radically different and present no clear end.  As I’ve said repeatedly before, the “war on drugs” is an outright war on Liberty itself, and the “war on terror” is much the same.  Terrorism isn’t an enemy; it’s a strategy, a tactic, an abstraction, and one from which our own hands bear stains.  I could plunge into our forefathers’ distribution of small-pox blankets among Native American populations or our firebombing of Tokyo during World War II, but after all, if a war is worthy to wage at all, then it is worthy to wage at all costs.  The debate here is not the best way to wage war but to preserve Liberty.

Perhaps no war is even worth being waged if not for Liberty, and we have so far seemed content to sacrifice Liberty to collateral damage in today’s abstract wars.  We have trusted the government to remove weighty ideological “planks” in order to “help the ship float higher,” but it’s obvious that eventually, when enough planks are scrapped, the ship sinks.

Tell me, who in the world can we better trust to pick ourselves up than ourselves?  Consider the parallel scandal brewing about the IRS targeting certain groups for political intimidation, and it becomes clear that elements of the government are effectively using the “boat’s scrapped planks” to beat down its own passengers.

There is a wise quote attributed to writer George Orwell that notes, “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”  Timely quote, for Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984 is now flying off the shelves of booksellers.  I bet Edward Snowden is familiar with it; I just hope he’s ready for the rats.


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This entry was posted on June 13, 2013 by in Philosophers' Row and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , .
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