Individual actions such as whistle blowing and/or being a hero or heroine often get high marks for difficulty. Certainly in the case of Edward Snowden. Is he a hero or a traitor?
Regardless, he is likely permanently going to end in a position which reminds one of (as Wikipedia tells us) “The Man Without a Country”, a short story by American writer Edward Everett Hale, first published in The Atlantic in December 1863. It is the story of American Army lieutenant Philip Nolan, who renounces his country during a trial for treason and is consequently sentenced to spend the rest of his days at sea without so much as a word of news about the United States.
In short, Snowden will never be able to return to the tribe of his origins! Quite a price, eh?
The power of institutions, particularly religious ones, to create foreordained loyalty is well established. In my March 13, 2013 piece about tribalism I quoted famed biologist E.O. Wilson’s April 12, 2012 article (based on his new book, “The Social Conquest of Earth”) in the Daily Beast,
Have you ever wondered why, in the ongoing presidential campaign, we so strongly hear the pipes calling us to arms? Why the religious among us bristle at any challenge to the creation story they believe? Or even why team sports evoke such intense loyalty, joy, and despair?
The answer is that everyone, no exception, must have a tribe, an alliance with which to jockey for power and territory, to demonize the enemy, to organize rallies and raise flags.
And so it has ever been. In ancient history and prehistory, tribes gave visceral comfort and pride from familiar fellowship, and a way to defend the group enthusiastically against rival groups. It gave people a name in addition to their own and social meaning in a chaotic world. It made the environment less disorienting and dangerous. Human nature has not changed. Modern groups are psychologically equivalent to the tribes of ancient history. As such, these groups are directly descended from the bands of primitive humans and pre-humans.
Actually, the Snowden affair offers a too rare chance for us to plumb the depths of US spying.
Several European nations are now up in arms about snooping bugs put by the US in the embassies of some of our allies. For example, Tom McMahon’s outstanding June 10, 2013 article, which Church and State featured, “21st Century electronic surveillance: a Tangle Can of Worms” raised the key question which may could easily lead us to total surveillance and hence to the nightmares of earlier fictional accounts. Tom’s pertinent question: Has fear trumped freedom?
How far to go for “security”? This ironically is a key question for those who need to embrace our main world religions.
And for readers of this site, I would suggest that those purporting to believe the fantasies of monotheistic religions are those willing to forsake reality and free will and reason for the promise of eternal life, so cynically eschewed by the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov”.
I guess we understand, despite the raging peccadillos (that puts about as mild and inane a label on their extreme felonies as possible) that the behavior of all major religions at some stage of their development was plainly evil and counterproductive to comity and the smooth course of human development.
Doubt it? Check out John Calvin’s “City of God” during the Protestant Reformation. After breaking with the Catholic Church in 1530, Calvin came to Geneva and in his Reformation per Wikipedia “introduced new forms of church government and liturgy, despite the opposition of several powerful families in the city who tried to curb his authority. During this period, Michael Servetus, a Spaniard known for his heretical views, arrived in Geneva. He was denounced by Calvin and executed by the city council.”
I was raised as a child in the Presbyterian Church. Take a look at its founder, John Knox (c. 1514 – 24 November 1572) which Wikipedia tells us “was a Scottish clergyman and a leader of the Protestant Reformation who is considered the founder of the Presbyterian denomination in Scotland.” A colleague of John Calvin, Knox openly called for the execution of Mary Queen of Scots for her Catholic views, which as you know was Tudor Queen Elizabeth’s path to power.
And so to today, where often anyone saying anything negative about Islam can be subject to the fury of its Jihadist elements, who create supplicants who feel impelled to do terrorist acts as in the Boston bombings.
A hundred years from now could there be a new reformation which would take some form of universal atheism or humanism? Such beliefs would clearly not eliminate murder or other acts of human folly, but at least such acts could occur unaccompanied by fantastical religious excuses!
As our astonishing technology evolves gaining us deeper and even more startling views of the vastness of our universe and the billions of those beyond, we will need to fashion new non-religious beliefs, which take appropriate awe of the unknowable, but hopefully not linked to the inane concept of everlasting personal survival of our own genes but rather dedicated to the wholeness and sustainable health of our tiny fragile planet.
Can the alleged perfidy of Mr. Snowden be reconciled into the whole security question? Likely not. But as technology makes instant communications among all on this planet more and more certain, the lifeboat theory of the late Garrett Hardin could become ever more pressingly apparent to all people of all tribes.
We are all in this tiny orb together and the question raised by Edward Snowden goes far beyond the simple invasion of national security or personal privacy or his title as hero or traitor.
We know that the addition since my birth in 1931 of over 5 billion humans of highly differing levels of education, religious beliefs, and cultural attitudes (now a total world population of 7 plus billion en route to 9 or 11 billion by century’s end) will likely not be accommodated without a frightening loss of life and the potential devastation of what we here in the USA enjoy today as decent, often luxurious, certainly in the USA mostly not devastating living conditions, so vividly depicted by Cormac McCarthy in his book “The Road”.
Or can that transition be less than horrific? If the electronic revolution by its transfer of information can inform and even partially heal this present international Tower of Babel of religious, ethnic and cultural differences, perhaps enough leaders around the world can convince their people to see the wisdom of trying to gain a survival beyond bare subsistence. In short, as we glimpse farther into the vastness of where we float in infinity, then a universal fear of falling could unite actions that could save humankind. Trilobites and other non human creatures of course have nothing to fear.
Interesting choices? Will we look back and thank Edward Snowden for pushing my take on this complex non linear envelope of reasoning and hence understanding?? Very doubtful. But this look at how we can gather information from everyone everywhere could start a vital dialogue.
And far more pressing and important, at least fully understanding the problems of overpopulation, the folly of trying to win the peace by waging war and the insanity of grabbing and consuming any and all precious planetary resources in the mad dash for something called “growth” in a finite world would be a promising start.
Hey, world leaders, it’s fun to be a cockeyed idealist like me. Come and join me!
Glenn Greenwald Schools CNN Host on NSA, Wikileaks, Controlled Media
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