April 04, 2014

Call Me "Irresponsible" -- Please

The lamentable circumstances surrounding the ongoing sterilization and neutering of the Snowden documents compel me to return to some fundamental principles of singular importance. One notion has attained what is now uncontroversial popularity even among those who severely criticize the manner in which Lord Greenwald & Friends have chosen to dole out what might have been significantly more disruptive disclosures had they been handled in a very different way.

In a thorough, detailed and richly-deserved trouncing of Lord Greenwald's incoherent, narcissistic, grandiose posturings (which never respond to actual criticisms in a manner understandable to a functioning human being, but are solely designed to browbeat and bully his critics into silence and submission), and a post which deserves your attention (as do many of the comments), Chris Floyd writes:
I feel that, on balance, the method of dissemination [utilized by Lord Greenwald & Friends] has not been as effective as other approaches might have been. (I have never advocated a "total dump" of the data, by the way; in fact, I don't know anyone who has.)
Other Greenwald critics have offered the same observation. They're wrong: I emphatically called for a TOTAL DUMP of ALL the Snowden documents. I went much farther: I imagined a dozen, or a hundred, Snowdens appearing, each laden with a huge trove of documents -- ALL of which are DUMPED on the internet. With this opportunity for additional explanation, I repeat that call. I reiterate and amplify my argument not primarily in connection with the Snowden documents -- that ship departed on its ill-fated voyage long ago, and will eventually find its resting place in the unreachable depths of the silent ocean -- but with a hopeful eye cast in the direction of future whistleblowers.

"Oh, Arthur! How dreadful you are! How criminally reckless! Don't you care at all about innocent lives that might be endangered? Has every spark of decency in your soul been extinguished? How can you be so irresponsible?"

But you see, I reject every standard and every assumption that leads to negative judgments of this kind. I am painfully aware that almost everyone disagrees with me. I don't give a damn. A brief response to those who condemn me would consist simply of an ostensive proof: "Look! The world we have is the world that conforms to your standards and follows your rules. It is a world of brutality, violence, exploitation, cruelty and death. So how's that working out for you?"

I made my call for a total dump in the first article I wrote about the Snowden affair, on June 11, 2013. In rereading that post today, and although I recognize it is unforgivably bad form to say so, I was startled at how accurately I captured a large part of the central problem, and how prescient my words turned out to be. Indulge me for a moment, and consider the opening of that first essay on this subject, keeping in mind what has happened in what is now almost a year since I wrote it:
An immense and unexpected sadness now suffuses the last part of my life. I did not anticipate, when we are ruled by a Death State which grows more brazenly callous in its murderous practices by the day, that those who challenge authority and seek to push back against the ascendance of brutality and oppression would willingly adopt critical aspects of the monsters' manner of destroying us. Whatever radicals and revolutionaries may be found among us, they are, with extraordinarily rare exceptions, always intent on minding their p's and q's, and never, ever soiling their cuffs with even a smidgen of dirt or dust. Even when we speak of peaceful revolution founded in civil disobedience, if you think that an unfailingly polite, neat, and manicured revolution is a contradiction in terms, you're correct. A well-mannered revolution is one doomed to fail. In the current circumstances, polite, rules-abiding challenges to authority have been rendered irrelevant and utterly without meaning.

If you wish to challenge authority in any serious manner, you must be prepared to provoke an unholy, chaotic, extremely messy scene, one punctuated with howls of outrage by those in power, where everyone is mortified, humiliated and riven with panic -- including you. Anything short of that is merely a very small speed bump on power's journey to ever-increasing destruction and death.
The manner of disclosure adopted by Lord Greenwald & Friends, a model of a polite, rules-abiding challenge to authority, has stopped exactly nothing. To the contrary, the primary effect of the disclosures has been to normalize increasingly pervasive, all-encompassing surveillance, and even to make it "legal." The title of my first article was, "In Praise of Mess, Chaos and Panic" -- qualities which Greenwald & Friends obviously detest. That's only to be expected: it's impossible to become celebrated, powerful and wealthy if your goal is the fundamental disruption -- and ultimately, the dissolution -- of the very system that bestows fame, power and money.

In the earlier article, I explained why I call the United States a "Death State": "More and more, oppression and brutalization have become the bywords of domestic policy as well [as foreign policy]. Today, the United States as a political entity is a corporatist-authoritarian-militarist monstrosity: its major products are suffering, torture, barbarism and death on a huge scale." It is a measure of how far we've gone through the looking glass that "dissenters" appear to believe sincerely that they can challenge a Death State by adopting its methods. But when you adopt its methods -- as, for example, by internalizing its standards for disclosure and non-disclosure -- you voluntarily render your dissent "irrelevant and utterly without meaning" insofar as fundamental change is concerned. But the dissenters' acquiescence in this charade offers an additional, invaluable asset to the State: they offer the appearance of serious dissent, while ensuring that the challenge is ultimately inconsequential. In this way, people continue to delude themselves that "reform" is all that is needed, and that the system itself can be saved. This is precisely the pattern followed by Lord Greenwald & Friends.

I do not think that the monstrous Death State can be "saved" in any respect at all. It is a system that is corrupt and evil at its foundation, and in every one of its branches. My dearest hope is that circumstances force its dissolution and/or fundamental reconfiguration over an extended period of time, which might serve to minimize the pain and suffering involved (which would still be enormous, but certainly not greater than the suffering and death which is sure to come if the Death State continues on its current path). It is true that there are isolated, specific issues where injustice and deprivation can and should be ameliorated, if possible. Marriage equality is one such example -- but opening up the military to gays, lesbians and transgendered persons is most certainly not. Marriage equality bestows economic and other advantages on all the population equally. It is beyond indecent to insist that everyone should be entitled to join the Death State's military arm, and thus to become first-hand murderers themselves. Never has a push for "equality" been so ill-conceived, when there is no longer any legitimate reason for anyone to join the military at all.

And the manner of disclosure chosen by Greenwald & Friends is most decidedly not lessening the crimes of the Surveillance State. As noted above (and detailed in several of my articles, such as this one), the final effect of the Snowden leak will only be the normalization and legalization of surveillance on a vast scale.

Let us briefly consider some of the major objections raised to the apparently horrifying prospect of a "total dump." We've heard that disclosure of certain documents would empower other governments to engage in surveillance in ways that the U.S. government does. This objection rests on assumptions, and one notable omission, that seriously undermine it. I assume an adult realizes that every government engages in spying and surveillance to some extent; the major and most powerful governments engage in very broad spying and surveillance. How believable is it that the U.S. government utilizes methods of surveillance that are totally unknown to other States? Did Lord Greenwald do a survey of other governments, asking them if they know about Project Nostradamus (described sufficiently so they know what he's talking about in general terms, but shorn of specifics that would allow them to duplicate it)? That seems unlikely. So how does Greenwald or anyone else know what other States are already aware of, and what would be genuine news to them? Even if we assume that certain surveillance methods will take many people by surprise, the disclosure of those methods will enable those who would resist to develop far more effective means of combatting them and rendering them ineffective. For some reason, that possibility never seems to make it into the equation. So Lord Greenwald & Co. declare this area a no-go. The State is delighted. (I completely discount the outraged statements from heads of state and similarly placed individuals in response to the "revelation" that they themselves have been spied on. When such spying is disclosed in a major news story, of course Merkel will fume and stamp her feet; the charades of politics demand no less. Does anyone -- anyone over the age of ten, that is -- seriously believe that this came as news to her? I'm a nobody, and I assume the government knows everything about me if it wants to. If Merkel and every other foreign political leader hasn't made the same assumption, they're idiots.)

We've also heard that a total dump would reveal the names of individuals who have been surveilled who are completely innocent of wrongdoing, and that such disclosure might reveal details of their lives that they legitimately wish to keep private. But such individuals, or at least some of them, might very much want to know that they've been spied upon, and they might be perfectly willing to accept any temporary inconvenience or even serious embarrassment. Equally important is the point that, if these all-knowing, all-seeing journalists can appreciate how outrageous and unjust it is that innocent people are spied on, then so can the general public. It seems much more likely to me that there would be an outpouring of public sympathy and understanding for those innocent people who have had their lives invaded by the State. Or is it the case that only the very special journalists are able to appreciate issues of this kind? The very special journalists certainly seem to believe that themselves. That's why they're so special.

Or we hear that a total dump would endanger "innocent" people of a different kind: those individuals who work for the Death State, including those engaged in covert operations, including spies themselves. In that first essay a year ago, I parsed some statements from Snowden and Greenwald, trying to figure out who specifically they believed would be harmed by certain disclosures. I pointed out that it certainly sounded as if they were talking about U.S. spies, among others. Later statements confirmed that this was indeed what they meant. And recall that Snowden recently said: "I love my country, and I believe that spying serves a vital purpose and must continue." I termed this "highly objectionable." One reader (of severely impaired mental acuity) thought that I found Snowden's declaration, "I love my country," to be the problem. While I do find such statements offensive (and "objectionable"), I regard them as empty political bloviating; it's a revealing, and enormously depressing, indication of the trajectory of the Snowden Follies that Snowden and Greenwald sound more and more like politicians with each day that passes. But my objection was to the second part: "I believe that spying serves a vital purpose and must continue." I thought of highlighting that part of the sentence in my original post, but decided against it. I thought readers could figure out which part was the more significant. I always underestimate the stupidity of certain readers.

We are talking about those individuals who have chosen to work for the Death State in some of its most deadly and illegitimate branches: in covert operations and in spying. If you believe that "spying serves a vital purpose," you will believe that spies are "innocent," and perhaps even noble. And Snowden "loves" the Death State, for he does not see it as a Death State. I would never expect such a person, or his carefully selected journalists, to mount a serious challenge to the Death State, for they cannot even take the accurate measure of the enemy with which they contend. They do not even see it as an enemy in the way I do, and in the way the facts compel one to see it. (I will address in a separate essay what a journalist should have done in my view, when offered the opportunity to receive the Snowden documents. It is a subject which requires a detailed discussion. For our purposes here, I need only note that to accept the documents -- and to accede to the conditions that Snowden apparently imposed -- requires that the journalist(s) in question be completely comfortable with the exercise of power and, in this particular case, a great degree of power.)

This brings us to the heart of the matter. Just as I view the State as monstrous and illegitimate, so too I view any and all spying and surveillance activities as entirely illegitimate and almost completely without merit of any kind. I've been over this ground many times. For the detailed argument as to why "intelligence" generally is an elaborate (and very profitable) fraud, you can start here and here. The links provide much more background. Always remember that "intelligence" is almost always wrong. I said that spying and surveillance are "almost completely without merit of any kind" only because there are very rare instances where the "intelligence" stumbles upon a small piece of information that is correct. And as rare as it is, even correct information will be disregarded when it runs counter to a policy that the government has already embraced.

You can go through every other objection to disclosure that has been offered and make counterarguments of the kind indicated above with regard to these particular claims. None of the objections is credible or convincing; in every case, a case for disclosure can be made that is at least as compelling, and usually it is far more compelling. Most importantly, since I reject the entire elaborate edifice of the State and surveillance in general, I reject at its root the notion that the State has secrets worthy of protection. The State has no secrets whatsoever that deserve protection from disclosure. None.

So I am brought back to what I wrote at the conclusion of that article from almost a year ago:
The entire edifice of "secrecy," especially with regard to national security, is a vicious lie from start to finish. Put it all out there. If full disclosure endangers those who work for the Death State, the problem -- and the responsibility -- is with those who choose to directly advance the Death State's goals. It is decidedly not with the leaker, or with the journalists.


I want mess. I want chaos. I want to see the ruling class in unrelenting, hysterical panic. My fantasy is that a dozen, or a hundred, Edward Snowdens appear, each laden with huge piles of documents. And all those documents are dumped on the internet -- but in a fully mindful and discriminating manner, and with a specific purpose in mind. The Death State's ruling class is intent on destruction, brutality, oppression and murder and, as they tell us repeatedly, their work is far from done. The purpose of unmasking all the secrets that the ruling class is so desperate to keep, of shoveling all of it directly into the blazing, unforgiving sunlight in a fully unfiltered way, is to stop them. ...

Stop them. Your life -- and the lives of many others -- depend on it.
This is emphatically not the view of Lord Greenwald & Friends. They are "serious," "respectable," and "responsible." I am none of those things, and I thank God for it every day.


ADDENDUM: One of the best passages answering the charge of "irresponsibility" in a political context remains the following from Hannah Arendt. I have offered it several times before; I discuss this passage (and another one, as well) at length in "Against Voting." Arendt's essay is titled, "Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship," and it appears in Responsibility and Judgment.

In writing about Nazi Germany, Arendt addresses the question: "in what way were those few different who in all walks of life did not collaborate and refused to participate in public life, though they could not and did not rise in rebellion?" This is part of her answer:
The answer to the ... question is relatively simple: the nonparticipants, called irresponsible by the majority, were the only ones who dared judge by themselves, and they were capable of doing so not because they disposed of a better system of values or because the old standards of right and wrong were still firmly planted in their mind and conscience. On the contrary, all our experiences tell us that it was precisely the members of respectable society, who had not been touched by the intellectual and moral upheaval in the early stages of the Nazi period, who were the first to yield. They simply exchanged one system of values against another. I therefore would suggest that the nonparticipants were those whose consciences did not function in this, as it were, automatic way—as though we dispose of a set of learned or innate rules which we then apply to the particular case as it arises, so that every new experience or situation is already prejudged and we need only act out whatever we learned or possessed beforehand. Their criterion, I think, was a different one: they asked themselves to what extent they would still be able to live in peace with themselves after having committed certain deeds; and they decided that it would be better to do nothing, not because the world would then be changed for the better, but simply because only on this condition could they go on living with themselves at all. Hence, they also chose to die when they were forced to participate. To put it crudely, they refused to murder, not so much because they still held fast to the command “Thou shalt not kill,” but because they were unwilling to live together with a murderer—themselves. The precondition for this kind of judging is not a highly developed intelligence or sophistication in moral matters, but rather the disposition to live together explicitly with oneself, to have intercourse with oneself, that is, to be engaged in that silent dialogue between me and myself which, since Socrates and Plato, we usually call thinking. This kind of thinking, though at the root of all philosophical thought, is not technical and does not concern theoretical problems. The dividing line between those who want to think and therefore have to judge by themselves, and those who do not, strikes across all social and cultural or educational differences. In this respect, the total moral collapse of respectable society during the Hitler regime may teach us that under such circumstances those who cherish values and hold fast to moral norms and standards are not reliable: we now know that moral norms and standards can be changed overnight, and that all that then will be left is the mere habit of holding fast to something. Much more reliable will be the doubters and skeptics, not because skepticism is good or doubting wholesome, but because they are used to examine things and to make up their own minds. Best of all will be those who know only one thing for certain: that whatever else happens, as long as we live we shall have to live together with ourselves.