On whistle blowers, porn surfers and guilty pleasure hamburger enthusiasts…

By Damon Krane
July 10, 2013
Blog Post

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The Funny or Die NSA surveillance parody with porn star Sasha Grey is definitely worth watching. Not only is it funny, but it’s a skillful attempt to bring this issue home to the millions of Americans far more likely to be worried about Big Brother peeking into their porn-fed wank extravaganzas than about The Man spying on their nonexistent subversive political activities.

And certainly more people should be outraged — not only by the NSA spying scandal but by the entirety of the Obama Administration’s sweeping assault on civil liberties…

And certainly Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian and Edward Snowden in particular all deserve mad props for going so far as doing the right thing…

Still, I think there are also some necessary caveats to all of this.

In a June 16 column on the new generation of American whistle blowers to which Snowden belongs, The Guardian’s Gary Younge wrote something that really stuck with me. In comparing Snowden and Bradley Manning to an Iraq War veteran named Darrell Anderson, who apparently became a decent person and deserted, Younge writes

“Anderson’s trajectory, from uncritical patriotism to conscious disaffection and finally to conscientious dissent, is a familiar one among a generation of Americans who came of political age after 9/11. Over time, efforts to balance the myth of American freedom on which they were raised, with the reality of American power that they have been called on to monitor or operate, causes a profound dislocation in their world view. LIKE A MEAT EATER IN AN ABATTOIR, THEY ARE FORCED TO CONFRONT THE BRUTALITY OF THE WORLD THEY ARE IMPLICATED IN [my emphasis] and recoil at their role in it – occasionally in dramatic fashion.”

That’s a damn good analogy. But it begs the question: Is there really any excuse for being that naive? Everybody knows there’s a slaughterhouse behind their hamburger, they just prefer not to think about it because it would spoil the meal. So perhaps it’s not naivete at all, then, but a matter of willful ignorance.

Thus I have to wonder if people like Snowden and Manning (as undeniably brave as they turned out to be) had been willing to reap the rewards of their privilege as young, intelligent, technologically savvy, white men useful to American imperialism just so long as they didn’t really have to get their own hands that dirty. Snowden, after all, was reportedly pulling down a 6 figure salary before his conscience got the better of him.

I’m not out to tear down any of these guys. Not only are the things they’ve helped bring to light far more important than their own characters (although it’s fascinating to see how mainstream pundits — and particularly David Brooks — have fixated on GED recipient Snowden’s “dropout” status), but it’s also lucky for the rest of us that Manning and Snowden didn’t become better people sooner. If they had, they never would have received the security clearance needed to leak such information. And while the rest of us enjoy the ironic benefits of their late blooming consciences, these guys are no doubt paying a steep price.

But it’s the rest of us I’m most concerned with — at least those of us who have the luxury to ignore the slaughterhouses we know very well exist. Tim Wise addressed the subject particularly well in a June 19 blog post. It’s well worth reading in its entirety, but here is the conclusion:

“Maybe it is time to remind ourselves that the only things worse than what this government and its various law enforcement agencies do in secret, are the things they’ve been doing blatantly, openly, but only to some for a long time now.

“This nation’s government has killed hundreds of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan, openly, in front of the world.

“This nation’s sanctions on Iraq in the ’90s contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands more, by the admission of Secretary of State Albright. All of it, out in the open. No secrets.

“This nation stood by and even helped propagate massacre after massacre — an attempted genocide even — in Guatemala throughout the 1980s; and not only did we not hide that we were doing it, President Reagan openly praised the architects of the slaughter while proclaiming they were committed to social justice.

“We incarcerate 2.5 million people — and have roughly 7 million people under the control of the justice system in all — openly, and increasingly for non-violent offenses: more than any nation on Earth.

“We have the highest child poverty rate in the developed world, and there is nothing secret about it. Our leaders don’t even care about covering it up. In fact, an awful lot of them just don’t care. At all.

“These are the crimes of empire. These and a lot more. And it didn’t take Edward Snowden to tell you about them. They’ve been hiding in plain sight for a long time.”

So, ultimately, I guess my point is this. All of us (or at least most who’ve bothered to read this far) are way beyond ever being a Bradley Manning or an Edward Snowden. We already know too much. And if the state doesn’t already know that about us, it can find out more easily then ever. So, clearly, we have very different roles to play than these guys. But I have to wonder: despite passing some minimal bar of awareness, how much do we still choose to avoid seriously thinking about because such consideration might force us to put down whatever metaphorical hamburger we’re enjoying?

I know that’s not the whole issue, but it’s surely part of it.

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