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apropos of wet snowden

02.24.2015

Edward Snowden is in Russia, which is an irony of ironies–something Dostoevsky might have had a sardonic laugh over (while also sadly anticipating). If only Russia had a whistleblower we could shelter! How great would that be? We would, wouldn’t we, and we wouldn’t spend one second reflecting on our own treatment of Snowden.

One of the incomprehensible parts for me is something I don’t think Dostoevsky ever dealt with, nor Kafka; Orwell sort of, in Animal Farm, and Kundera partially in nearly all his books. This is the part of volition.

What is most difficult to understand is who would possibly spend all this energy on something so ridiculous, so trivial, or else not at all of their design or in their personal interest? Why do the actors, in this case the government, do what they do? Even on an institutional (bureaucratic) scale, where the volition of one is subsumed in the ‘task’ and the operation is seen through by the volition of many, someone still has to initiate the program or the set of guidelines for a minion to follow.

I have this sensation sometimes watching the recent Bond films (not the old ones, for some reason, perhaps because they’re more concerned with sex and style than some special-effects-aided idea of verisimilitude): who would possibly expend this much energy toward a goal so meaningless? (And let’s be clear, something like the NSA’s blanket data collection is meaningless, in the sense that there is no inherent value, and any value you’d be able to ascribe could only ever be retroactive–which is also what makes the Bradley (Chelsea) Manning case so absurd, the evidence is essentially imaginary). Why does Bond keep chasing these people? Why do these people keep spending their entire lives and bank accounts trying to get at something so trivial? Hollywood’s answer is probably the most accurate: because they enjoy it. They make up patriotic or anti-patriotic reasons to tell themselves and then continue to do what they enjoy.

I’ve always thought of our politicians (the vast majority of them, anyway) as children. They are the type of people who, when they first tasted the power of authority or, similarly, popularity, never got over it (kind of like drug addicts or those with first-love syndrome). They simply followed this pleasure for power positions from one step to the next until they were close to the top. This first exposure was likely in high school, via a student body government or some such program, or perhaps in college. Thus do they continue to act by the moral and social parameters of their teenage years. This is why glad-handing and lying are acceptable to them–their morality is at the level of a child, looking only for approval, unencumbered by adult responsibility.

Evidence of this is everywhere: in the juvenile type of speech they use, in their childish actions (whining, tantrums, decoration of offices), in their evident educational level, and in the scandals that occur almost weekly (related to sex, bribery, mendacity, petty crimes of all sorts). We are not surprised by this, which itself is surprising. The fact that we let children run a good portion of our lives, that the authority we have invested in them, as an employer would invest his employees, has been turned around to rather demand things from us, those who pay their wages and should constitutionally determine their role. Then again, why did we allow this when we were in high school?

Yet, even if we assume these nefarious government programs were supported and executed by essentially juvenile actors, there would still need to be someone to design the plan. Who are these people? The ones we call ‘smart’ and ‘evil’? The Koch brothers? The Dick Cheney’s? Or are there more of them? And why, when someone who is so obviously not childish comes into power (our 44th President, for example), does he simply fall in line. One answer could be that these programs have grown so incredibly massive that they, again (not to harp on drug addiction), are akin to an addiction–you know you can compromise to live with it, but no longer really know if you can live without it. Obama has, unfortunately for everyone, allowed himself into this mindset, having originally promised he would do the exact opposite.

It’s going to take a mighty large revolt in this country to get things back to relative normal. We are, as a whole, overly concerned with two things: money and national security. These are our two biggest issues (followed closely by environmental degradation). In reality, it is only the people with money who are concerned with security, both because they are paranoid they’ll lose their money if security is breached, and because many of them make money off security. For the rest of us, we continue to support a trend we have little or no reason to support. We do this out of ignorance, or persuasion (via advertisements and propaganda), or because we’ve been lied to and (at least initially) believe it. You are more likely to be killed by a congressman than in a terrorist attack, and you will never, no matter how hard you try, make as much money as those at the top.

Which brings us back, again, to volition. Where is ours? Us, the people, the ones getting spied on and suckered into paying for it. The recent documentary by Laura Poitras,”Citizen Four”, which just won the Oscar, and which you can watch here, is a fascinating real-time look at just how normal, regular people can make big, world-changing decisions (talk about revenge of the nerds–I’m now down to label those movies as Science Fiction–Anonymous should stop wearing guy Fawkes and start wearing Anthony Edwards). Unlike the active volition of those at the top, Snowden’s was a much simpler reaction against those very policies. If only we can get, and keep, a few more like him.

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