21st Century Posterboy

edward snowden nsa spy

Edward Snowden is all over the news this week, and it’s biggest breath of fresh air in American politics since Occupy Wall Street. OWS was a giant success, if you judge it, not by what it could have been, but by what it did to existing political conversation. Prior to it, we on the Left were so fatigued defending Obama – the inadequate stimulus, the Wall Street coddling, the better-than-nothing-we-think-so-anyway healthcare plan – that any dissent was seen as crypto-support for the Tea Party jackasses.

Discourse in the US about government secrecy often boggles the mind. Why does the Left shrug when Obama orders a drone strike in Yemen? Does the Right really expect us to take it seriously when it talks about executive branch overreach? Snowden is no cure-all, but his sudden celebrity is a step in the right direction.

He’s the perfect posterboy for a new political frontier partly because he has that pasty, Mormon-esque handsomeness of young office guys: a heartthrob of the Google cafeteria. More importantly, he brought the message home. Bradley Manning took bigger risks to blow the lid off more explosive secrets, but the center of power he was indicting was squarely inside the Pentagon, and the people who suffered from its abuse were “merely” Iraqis and Afghanis. Snowden revealed that they’re kicking us right where it hurts: in our beloved smart phones.

More sensational is his background: an okay student who lasted just long enough in the Army to learn that, guess what, a lot of our trained killers are racists! How does this average dude get entrusted with info about top-level security systems? And what kind of security apparatus needs a guy with a G.E.D. to maintain it?

Answer: Our kind of security apparatus. Despite the incentives to reduce human labor costs in the technology workforce – and that sector’s vast “success” at that, which is the real reason we’re permanently in the economic shithouse – we still need some tech workers. If the iconic dissenter in the Vietnam War was the grunt who returned home and threw his medal at the Pentagon, then his counterpart in the War on Terror is the I.T. specialist who sent us a link, then threw himself at the mercy of Chinese authorities. Like Sal from Dog Day Afternoon, but with a better haircut:

I’ve long figured that Big Brother is probably listening. He just doesn’t care what you believe, or who your weed dealer is. We all talk out of both sides of our mouths when it comes to secrecy. We believe in privacy, but if a bomb goes off during rush hour this afternoon, we’re all going to chant, “Why didn’t you invade our privacy more systematically?” This week that system with which Big Brother invades our privacy is a little more public, and that’s a good thing.

Typists of the world! To the barricades! Virtually!


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