Edward Snowden Had No Way Out
Edward Snowden had no way out.
Born and raised in New York City, Nick studies philosophy at Trinity College Dublin, specializing in Mathematical Logic and in the crossroads of free will, determinism, and personhood. His particular interests are: Logic, Philosophy, Motorsports, Kurt Vonnegut, Bertrand Russell, 20th Century American Literature, The Automotive Industry, and Debate.
Pictured: A legal contradiction
A law which makes it criminal to reveal classified information about criminal behavior is a contradiction.
As it stands, we excuse police officers who break the law to stop crimes, but we condemn whistleblowers who... break the law to stop crimes. I think it should be the other way around. I think so because the type of law that Edward Snowden broke by exposing NSA surveillance programs and the type of law that the NYPD broke through Stop and Frisk are fundamentally different.
There is a fundamental difference, in terms of both law and of morality, between Edward Snowden's disobeying orders by exposing classified information and the NYPD's breaking the law by violating the 4th and 14th Amendment rights of stopped and frisked citizens.
To restate: that difference, properly identified, is the common issue running through the right take on the ruling against New York City's Stop and Frisk policy, and the ongoing debate over the morality and legality of Edward Snowden's and Bradley Manning's whistle-blowing and document leaking.
Law is not itself simply a set of orders. There is a difference between following the law and following orders. In fact, whether or not a judge rules that NYC's Stop and Frisk policy is illegal is irrelevant to the fact of whether it is or is not consistent with citizens' constitution rights. Judges can be wrong too.
Also, if the law decides that Edward Snowden is legally culpable for exposing illegal behavior on the part of the NSA, then it is contradicting itself.
It is the defining characteristic of overpowered governments that in their society he who wants to follow the law still cannot.
How is the law contradicting itself in the Snowden case? It is written into the law that it is criminal to be an accessory to others' illegal behavior and not to bring it to light. If, for example, I witness a murder and do not report it, I am criminally liable. So, being as generous as possible, we are forced to conclude that Snowden would have been breaking the law if he did expose the NSA programs and also if he hadn't. In other words, Snowden had no legal, much less moral, way out. If that isn't tyrannical, what is?
The salient feature of the issue surrounding whether Edward Snowden should be criminally liable for exposing classified information is whether that information was legally allowed to be classified in the first place.
If you accept the formulation that:
Premise 1) warrantless snooping on citizens is, justified as a means to an end or not, specifically contradictory to the mandate in the Fourth Amendment to The Constitution (and elsewhere) against searching and questioning citizens without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, and that...
Premise 2) there is, by design, no way to observe and expose those secrets without taking an oath to secrecy of classified information, then you must accept that...
Conclusion 1) there was no legal way for the government to classify the NSA progams that contravene the Constitution...
Conclusion 2) nor is there any moral case for prosecuting an individual who had the choice between breaking one law and breaking another law, which other law was in the first place illegal.
Woodward and Bernstein did not illegally whistleblow on Nixon's formally secret snooping program (the goings-on of The Secret Service are, obviously, formally secretive), they legally made public his illegal actions.
The heart of the issue is what to do when those who create and enforce the law do so in a way that is itself against the law. What do we do when somebody breaks the law to expose law breaking? All that really needs to be considered to think about this clearly is where authority derives from.
In the case of The United States, that authority, if legally valid, must come from the people. I need not point out that the people cannot grant authority that they don't know they are granting.
So, what we have is a case of a government which presumes people are guilty until proven innocent (and really even then), that puts individuals into situations in which they cannot act according to the law, and that takes authority from authority. I hope that I never again have to hear anyone's take on this issue be: "What's the big deal?"
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com
Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.
- Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
- Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
- Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
A study on flies may hold the key to future addiction treatments.
- A new study suggests that drinking alcohol can affect how memories are stored away as good or bad.
- This may have drastic implications for how addiction is caused and how people recall intoxication.
- The findings may one day lead to a new form of treatment for those suffering from addiction.
Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.
Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.
Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.
The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.
It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.
In their findings the authors state:
"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence
to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like
violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students
do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones,
speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment
to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on
controversial issues is "always acceptable."
With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
- Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
- Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
- We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
- If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.
There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:
"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.
This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.