Make no mistake, Edward Snowden is a referendum on the state of the state in America today. His case is the epitome of the eternal struggle between authoritarian and utilitarian statism. Since 9/11, the establishment has gone off the authoritarian deep end, giving the NSA an outrageous amount of power. The agency has the de facto right to carry out extrajudicial and illegal surveillance on nearly everyone, anywhere, at any time. Our Founding Fathers would be rather shocked to discover that not only have we traded liberty for security, but that in fact, only the illusion of security has been obtained in this devil’s bargain.
In this seemingly endless tug of war, my position falls squarely on the utilitarian, statist side. It’s easy to be tempted to laugh at libertarians for some of their positions, but they have some justifications in their derision for authoritarianism. The state is a unique tool that should be used for things not be easily replicated in the private sector: universal healthcare, infrastructure, law enforcement and defense are examples. However, as a utilitarian, I abhor the religion of statism. Instead, it is my belief that the state should be limited in service of the people, and that any right subjugated to it must necessarily be in direct service of the people, rather than some phantom of service to ‘American interests.’ Such interests are far more likely to be beneficial only to capital.
Listen to any conservative (including Hillary Clinton ) talk about Snowden, and at the core of their argument is the primacy of state power and the sanctity of secrecy. Conservative-minded people believe that the state is some sacrosanct entity to which absolute submission must be granted, and to which laws are merely ‘guidelines’ in the service of the perpetuation of the status quo. They believe that the CIA and the NSA (and the other acronyms too secretive to be easily recognized by the general populace) should have carte blanche to operate in any manner they see fit, to protect whatever interpretation of national security they chose to claim. They believe that the government is fully justified in breaking the law to preserve the power of government. Thus, The State becomes a proverbial Ouroboros, the serpent that chases after its own tail, devouring our rights and livelihoods (and the lives of countless innocents abroad) in the process.
In fact, Snowden has sacrificed far more for the people of America than President Barack Obama or President Clinton ever will. Snowden relinquished a comfortable job and a pleasant home in Hawaii. He was forced to flee into exile for nothing more than telling the truth about the laws that the government was breaking. He exposed the extent of its spying on Americans, as well as foreigners. He committed a sin of authoritarian statism, a blasphemy of the religion of The State, doing so because he ceded power back to the people in the form of knowledge. In that way, Snowden was a veritable Prometheus, gifting fire back to humanity. The other gods are not so keen to share in their power. As a result we have all witnessed the persecution of a man who should iinstead be hailed as a patriot of the highest order. Instead? The status quo, in an effort to protect its own power, maintains that Snowden must be persecuted. According to The State, Snowden must be made to pay, to be made an example of, so that others will never do as he has done.
Had he kept his concerns in the proper channels, they say, we would all be better off. If he allowed the FBI to come and arrest him, to subject him to prolonged investigation and personal destruction, the primacy of state power would be preserved. Now that he has blasphemed against the country, or so they say, only one remedy exists for him. Snowden must return and face a trial under the draconian espionage law that precludes any defense in the public interest. He must face a lifetime in prison for revealing to the people that their own government was engaged in illegal surveillance against them. In the case of Chelsea Manning, the government admits her leak caused no grave harm. Still, she was still given thirty-five years in prison for it. Her detractors retort that she could have gotten life instead. These people actually believe that a sentence of thirty-five years is a blessing and that a whistleblower should accept such a punitive sentence graciously.
Many things have changed since Snowden’s revelations. Although, in that they rely upon reinterpretation of an existing Reagan-era executive order, we much view such changes as tentative at best. Even former attorney general Eric Holder has admitted that Snowden acted in the public service. More work is necessary, and it is no mistake that the major stories of the day are now exclusively broken by citizen journalism and based on information obtained by illicit hacks of secure systems both governmental and private. Snowden is no Saint; but then again, he doesn’t pretend to be. He is by all indications (short of propaganda at least) an extremely intelligent young man who saw his own government acting in ways that degraded the privacy and rights of its own citizens. He realized that the extent of the current surveillance pales in comparison to where it would proceed if left unchecked, and knew full well that while cloaked in secrecy, such a necessary check would never occur.
He then acted, legal or not, in a manner to ensure that illegal and unconstitutional behavior was brought to light. The government was breaking a law, and so he broke another in order to reveal it. Our justice system, however, brings justice in name only and never works equally (if at all) against those with wealth and affluence. Clinton gave classified information in emails to her lawyers, without clearance to vet for deletion, and faced no consequences whatsoever. The reason she faces no consequences is that she would never dare to upset the balance of power. She merely moves to obfuscate official actions from the wary public eye, and obfuscation is in the interests of the status quo. As an authoritarian statist herself, Clinton has decried the actions of Snowden, and the status quo knows full well she will continue to serve their interests if she advances to higher positions of power. Hillary has the privilege of power, and thus is untouchable.
On the other hand, We the People have far fewer options and far fewer heroes. We must act swiftly to ensure that a pardon is granted to Edward Snowden, in order to preserve the ability of future whistleblowers to act. Perhaps there exists evidence of more egregious crimes and we expect our public officials to serve the people they have sworn to protect. God only knows our politicians are far more interested in saving their own asses.
Demand Snowden be pardoned. He stood up for us: now we MUST return the favor, before President Obama leaves office.