Thursday, July 4, 2013

Is Edward Snowden Celebrating the Fourth of July?

The Egyptians will either be celebrating the third of July as the day democracy really began or they'll look back to the grim date as the moment things devolved into dictatorship and worse.  Meanwhile, somewhere in Quito, Ecuador, American expatriates are dreaming of inviting Edward for dinner.  I imagine he's wondering if he'll have to become a Luddite after he moves there and experiences an internet speed with a "mañana" attitude and a world where, as the NY Times observes, people still think the BlackBerry is really cool. . . that would certainly represent the worst punishment, not to mention a waste of amazing talent.  
On this day traditionally devoted to freedom from tyranny, I have only the freedom of my own mind in which to indulge.  No money--my credit card will crack in half if I use it again--and no turning back the clock and adding days to my life, which, now that I'm in my fifties, seems for the very first time limited.
Here is a Fourth of July dream:  Edward J. Snowden is sitting in a well-hidden office with a window overlooking a field upon which bunny rabbits hop.  He is smiling and writing computer programs.  Or he is smiling and reading other people's computer programs.  He is still highly paid, in fact, he's taken quite a pay increase, and he's working for Obama's people.  But the deal is, the guy who's sitting behind some tarp at the Moscow airport and who has been surgically or cosmetically altered so that he's a dead ringer for Espionage Ed--this guy has to endure a couple of perp walks and a trial, a televised trial, naturally.  He'll be well paid.  It will be the beginning of his acting career, even though he can't put it on his C.V.  The money will buy him freedom to do summer stock and a few commercials til he hits the big time. 
The real Edward, meanwhile, will go into a witness protection program, or get surgically and chemically altered to resemble somebody else.  Maybe they'll change his height or his race, too.  Certainly his name.  And a new star will rise in the N.S.A., and he'll cut some deal too, a deal involving transparency.  Both sides will understand that they are and are not talking about the same thing, that spying on everything but the thought I am thinking right now is currently the norm, and pretty soon that'll be gone, too.  
But not if Ed has anything to do with it.  I watch the video, below, and I think of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  That Edward Snowden speaks with honesty and a strong sense of justice remains obvious.  That those who abuse power will hate him for his best qualities is  inevitable.  I can imagine Obama trying to pull a Prince Hal, throwing out Snowden as if he were Falstaff.  But Snowden is no Falstaff.  Snowden holds the mirror up to the N.S.A. and the Obama administration.  What they see is Caliban.  Small wonder they hate him.
Anyone trying to change the ways of the world is naïve but we are all the better for Snowden's effort if he is successful.
As you fire up the barbecue and shoot off the fireworks, think about what the "nation" in "national security" means these days.  In--or should I say until the end of--the 19th century, a "nation state" seemed like an innovation, a good one, a way of consolidating power and establishing a healthy economy.  In the U.S. the Puritan notion of the city upon a hill, ultimately America as the example to the world, worked fine when folks were running scared:  "We better be good, we better look good, because God is watching us."  Once the idea that America as a chosen nation, exceptional in its politics and people, began to emerge, the sense of entitlement . . . that frontier is ours to push, and it's our destiny to push it, because we are bringing them Christinity, or democracy, or our big fat Western egos, then the nation state was already on the way out, an aggressive rather than a creative force.  We walk a tightrope between protector and patronizer, and technology knows no nation.  In a global world, some new, undreamed of form or forms of government will develop.  
Happy Fourth of July, if we can still celebrate, and Edward, you are, at the moment, our national fireworks.


  1. ...very well said.

  2. Thanks! I hope he's safe, wherever he is. I watch this video and think what Howard Zinn would write, if he were alive . . . want to send Ed Snowden a pep talk with a few lines from Kipling: "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you . . ."

  3. You're an idiot when it comes to Snowden. Of course your a teacher, all of you live in fantasyland and think the world should be one happy place. Wake up!!! Every country spies on one another.

  4. i hope somebody kicks that fucker, Snowden's ass!!!

    1. P.S. Anonymous: think of this. Somebody at the NSA knows who you are and knows who I am. Is that their right? Do you want them to pick through your emails, your blog posts, your birthday messages to friends, your health records, your memberships, your bank account, your relationships history, the most embarrassing website you ever visited. . . . do you think they have a right to all that?

  5. Dear Anonymous and Anonymous: I'd be interested in hearing more from you. Why do you think I'm an idiot? I'd be interested in your reasons. And I'd be interested in knowing why you think I live in Fantasyland, and what you mean by fantasyland. I'm well aware that every email, every facebook post, every internet payment, and everything I do electronically is recorded by somebody and that somewhere in Cyberland there's a file on me with more in it than I know about myself. Snowden knows that too, and I believe that his awareness of how that material is abused means a great deal. What do you think of the video I've posted of him above? Why do you think the kind of spying the U.S. is doing right now is the same kind of spying that we and other nations have done in the past? Back in Puritan times when John Winthrop gave a sermon to people who were about to arrive on the shores of Massachusetts he told them that they would be like "a city upon a hill" and that the eyes of the world would be upon them. So America became not just the nation to watch--the exception, the example, the shining city of technology and hope and optimism, but also the watchers of everybody else--the nation that feels it has a right to watch all other nations. Do you believe in that? Do you believe America has that right?