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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Edward Snowden Civilization and Self Defense

The Tower Magazine, with its 4th issue (July 2013) has some truly informative articles, one of which is titled “The Gezi Diaries: Can we still call Turkey Civilized?”  ( Sadly, the headlines we read, too often mask the prejudice of the writer or editor.

Setting aside my own jaundiced view of Turkey, the title betrays a fundamental error. ‘Civilization’ is a structural concept that defines the material as well as the conceptual construct of a people at a given time and place.  ‘Civilized’, on the other hand, is a process; therefore, it is an ongoing project. When our forefathers (and foremothers) listened with enthusiasm to the latest works of Herr Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), most of them lived short, miserable lives; they died prematurely of hunger, disease or exhaustion; their rights were severely limited and their obligations many and onerous.  Beethoven’s contemporary supporters assumed they lived at the peak of human civilization. 

My point is not a petty one.  Civilization is a process and a dialogue.  Western Civilization is a Jewish process. I will explain!  At the centre of the Jewish faith is a concept that the ends can never justify the means. In practical terms, no democratic state would survive if it did not do things that were against its core values, unless those core values are authoritarian or totalitarian in the first place.  It is why the article referred to above asks a misleading question.

Turkish history is authoritarian, even during its so called ‘democratic’ phase.  Our Western democracy has often exhibited authoritarian tendencies in response to a perceived threat to what we were comfortable with.  Change can only be for the better if are able to accept it, which is why change can take time and is an ongoing process. A vindictive and damaged society will often resort to means that justify the end result.  If the ends do not justify the means then we do not convict a person without proof and the greater the consequences the more onerous is the burden of proof required for conviction.  At least that is the theory.

We often ask how it is possible that so many people, identifying themselves as Jewish, express beliefs that are antisemitic. In fact, if the ends do not justify the means then as a pure concept, devoid of any quid pro quo, the Jewish State is an oxymoron, Judaism must be permanently evolving and Gandhi was right to say that resistance during the Shoah was wrong – that we should have embraced our executioners with love.

I do see things a little bit different.  I agree that we are evolving. But we are essentially barbarians. All of us are.  Behind that civil façade we can still become accustomed to self protection and bestiality.  Our neurological responses can be sensitised or desensitised.  Daniel Kahneman wrote an interesting (but difficult) book called “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” In it he writes about a self-reinforcing pattern of cognitive, emotional and physical responses that are both diverse and integrated. He called this pattern ‘associative coherence’.   This associative coherence creates a context for future action and all it takes is the association of words in a group to an image or a word for us to respond emotionally rather than intellectually.

If, we are still evolving, then it is right that we protect the values we cherish.  Sometimes we will not like the methods used for the protection of society. That is how we debate change in a democratic society.

I believe I understand why Edward Snowden leaked documents he was obliged to keep secret.

To quote Wikipedia he “leaked details of top-secret US and British government mass surveillance programs to the press.”  The Guardian of London “published a series of exposés based on Snowden's disclosures in June 2013”.  Snowden revealed information about a variety of classified intelligence data interception programs, both US and British.

“Snowden's leaks are said to rank among the most significant breaches in the history of the NSA.”

He justified the leaks by stating that “... I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded."

Society is a contract between the state, its institutions and laws, and the people.  Our civilization is built on the creative tension that surrounds and infuses every part of that contract.  If I commit an illegal act or wish harm on a person or group within society then does the state have the right to spy on me?   Is it ‘fair’ to spy on me to protect others at the cost of sacrificing my rights? If the answer is yes, at what point does the balance in that contract between us tip against me and become ‘unfair’. There should be unambiguous legal guidelines to what is permitted but are our laws sufficiently robust in a world of existential enemies capable of and willing to commit acts of mass carnage? 

Snowden obviously believed that the balance had tipped dangerously against the people.  The front page of Left wing British newspaper, The Guardian (of June 10, 2013) read as follows:  “The Whistle-blower.  I can’t allow the US government to destroy privacy and basic liberties.”

I leave you with the following summation by my associate, Murray Kahl.

Edward Snowden, patriot or traitor?
Israeli & Global News
02 July 2013

Edward Snowden's security leaks are profound and dangerous. They created a division of emotions within the readers as they exposed unwanted surveillance on the US population beyond anything ever imagined, perhaps by George Orwell in his novel 1984.

Americans are faced with the price of security versus legislated freedoms and the answers are not clear. Nevertheless, the issues involved were presented by the government in an either/or choice that needs clarification.

There are freedoms and restrictions within any democracy that do not need legislation as they are intrinsic to all groups of civilized people and are called mores. Others not as important are labeled folkways. It is impossible to define all and they must be explained on an individual basis, sometimes in court.

The issue is how much freedom are we willing to sacrifice for security? Is it absolute or to be determined by elected representatives and should it be the subject of a national referendum?

Snowden raised another problem, which is the right of an American citizen to be the ultimate arbiter of his rights? He claimed his actions were honorable and in the best interests of the US, as he stated, we do not have the "constitutional government we were promised."

Of course he is entitled to his opinion yet that is not the problem. The problem is whether he was justified in stealing state secrets and divulging them to other countries, knowing the damaging effect this would have on US international relations? These actions cannot be resolved with exposing wiretapping in the US and is a separate issue that casts doubt on his motives. He also runs the risk of entrapment by another country that might shelter him and all his undisclosed secrets.

This issue could be resolved by Snowden voluntarily returning to the US with the understanding that he will be tried for espionage, with an agreement that sensitive classified matters will not be discussed in open court.

The fairness of such a trial would be available to those he describes as an "angry public," and he would receive a fair trial.

End of quote.

We are living in an era that has been witness to individuals hijacking an airplane, weighing some 400 tons and filled with people, crashing it into a skyscraper filled with people, resulting in the deaths of thousands of those people.   I do not believe that any one person has the right to decide what may or may not be done on my behalf to keep me safe from the repetition of further atrocities. The Saudi and Egyptian nationals responsible for this act of mass murder are representative of a small but significant minority who will always find ample justification for their heinous crimes. There are lots more where they came from.  The ends do not justify the means but we do not live in a world that respects our right to life and therefore we are bound by self protection to fight for our right to survive. It is how we fight that war that will define our civilization.  Edward Snowden represents one of the players in that war.  People who have secrets fear not being able to control them.  His treason was meant to be his stand for freedom, but to me he has taken up a position alongside of our enemy.

1 comment:

  1. Just a tip: Maybe link to the articles you mention and name the author.

    In my opinion you have taken the headline out of context and you misrepresent the author's intentions.