Trying to Run on the Wrong Juice

“God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended – civilizations are built up – excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.”

~ C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity

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The Art of Whistle Blowing

I had, up until this afternoon, kept silent regarding the actions of Edward Snowden, the now famous/infamous NSA whistleblower. The reason being, I was not at all surprised by the information disclosed via his leaks and I also questioned his motives and actions. Earlier today I decided to post a bit on Facebook suggesting that while whistleblowers do a great service by making citizens aware of certain “secret” wrongs, the way in which Snowden went about his whistle blowing was inappropriate and wrong. As I expected, I got a great deal of disagreement and argument in response, ranging from comments comparing the NSA to Nazi Germany to suggestions that Snowden had absolutely no alternative.

In the aftermath, I realized that much of the confusion lay both in what standards we’re using to hold entities and people accountable as well as the way in which a whistleblower, well, you know … tweets.

But before I really get going, let me qualify a couple of my thoughts. I have never worked for a government agency, and as a result do not know how much of “real life” agency work compares to what you see in movies. Because I don’t think it’s quite as dramatized as Hollywood makes it out to be, my suspicion is that there are likely other options available than the dramatic one, which as I see it, is the one that Snowden did in fact take. But then again, that’s just my suspicion. The other proviso is that while I believe that most of the men and women in leadership in our country are quite misguided and ill-informed, I do not believe most of them are evil and out to destroy the free, “American” way of life. And yes, some of them have really jumped off the deep end, but I’m assuming that’s because they have been fed a steady diet of the liberal kool-aid and incapable of thinking an independent thought. This means that I assume a basic “good”-ness in many of these bad, tyrannic people that we’re fed up with.

But on to the issue at hand.

First, on the topic of standards. As I see it, we can either judge both the NSA and Snowden according to the law of the land and the Constitution, or according to Biblical Law. If we judge the NSA according to the first (human law), then we should immediately see where we, and they, went wrong. As I pointed out in various comments, even though we the people granted our government the authority to provide some measure of surveillance and extra-protection, we weren’t okay with them going as far as they did. Granted, we were rather vague about how far they were allowed to go, so along came the NSA and their programs. Yes, it’s easy to see where they were stretching it, and we can all agree that our constitutional rights have been violated.

However, if we judge Snowden by the same law, I’m finding it much more difficult to give him a clean bill of health, regardless of whether or not he had several good excuses. Americans have often had an affinity for the independent, libertarian flair, and I think that’s where many of us are getting tripped up. As such, many who lean libertarian have jumped out in defense of Snowden, even going so far as to proclaim him a hero. But in doing so, they seem to forget that we do have a government that does operate appropriate and necessary security measures. There is a certain amount of surveillance that is well and good (we can argue what the limit is some other time). As a result, there are such things as “classified documents,” and such documents deserve to remain classified, regardless of certain corruptions that are occurring through other surveillance measures. This is where I take great issue with Snowden. If his motives were the restricted liberties of the American people, then why didn’t he just take what applies to the American people? Why leak documents detailing US surveillance programs in China, where we already have a strained relationship? Oh, and then run for cover in China? I can grant a healthy reason to fear for his life, but running for safety to a country like China doesn’t look above board, nor does it look like he’s got the American people’s best interests at heart. All this to say – by breaking his oath of secrecy (which still applies even if there is corruption and over-surveillance), Snowden appears to be guilty of releasing sensitive material that might actually have Americans’ best interests at heart. He got to pick the material to run with; I’m not seeing a solitary desire and motive to free the American people of this oppression. I’m seeing some desire … and more.

Additionally, if we’re judging both parties according to Biblical Law, I’m not seeing adequate reason for Snowden to take authority in his own hands and deal with classified information as he sees fit. There’s certainly criminal activity that occurred in the NSA, and that was sanctioned by our government, but restricting the liberties of the American people isn’t so offensive that Christians should see it as revolt-worthy. Sure… freedom-loving, Constitution-toting Americans can get fired up about their liberties getting trampled, but we’re still supposed to, as Christians, respect those in authority over us. I don’t believe that the tyranny that is being perpetrated through government surveillance merits throwing all the normal rules out the window and acting in such an anarchistic fashion.

Now, I have repeatedly said that if there is information that hasn’t been offered up regarding Snowden’s change of heart and willingness to blow the whistle on the NSA that would help me see his situation in a better light, then I’m more than happy to hear and change my views of him. And this hits on my second point, regarding the way in which a fellow blows the whistle – as I see it, Snowden is a man who used unjust means to deal with what could be argued a greater injustice. And using unjust means to deal with injustice is not justice. I want the NSA and our tyrannical government to be held accountable. But I also want those who would use unjust means to bring them to “justice” also held accountable. As Christians, there is a right way and a wrong way of going about bringing justice. The right way does not include betrayal and leaking legitimately classified material. There was another way, and Snowden does not seem to have taken it.

My guess is that much more will come to light over the next weeks regarding both the NSA and Edward Snowden, but this much I can say for certain: our government has failed in providing Americans with greater security, and in its meager attempts to do so has trampled all over our privacy and liberty. I am as outraged as the next person about this. But I didn’t have to work for the NSA or read leaked, classified documents to figure this out. I used my God-given brain and saw the writing all over the walls. I’m eager to bring about justice in our land and take down those leaders who condone such surveillance methods, and will likely use the information that Snowden has illegally publicized as fuel for the fire. But the fire for justice has already been lit. And my fight for justice doesn’t include condoning the behavior of those who use unjust means to right our country’s wrongs.

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Quote-worthy Material

From Peggy Noonan:

  • “The U.S. surveillance state as outlined and explained by Edward Snowden is not worth the price. Its size, scope and intrusiveness, its ability to target and monitor American citizens, its essential unaccountability—all these things are extreme.”
  • “It is a great irony, and history will marvel at it, that the president most committed to expanding the centrality, power, prerogatives and controls of the federal government is also the president who, through lack of care, arrogance, and an absence of any sense of prudential political boundaries, has done the most in our time to damage trust in government.”

From Niall Ferguson:

  • Toward the end of “Democracy in America” he warned against the government becoming “an immense tutelary power . . . absolute, detailed, regular . . . cover[ing] [society’s] surface with a network of small, complicated, painstaking, uniform rules through which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot clear a way.”
  • “Tocqueville also foresaw exactly how this regulatory state would suffocate the spirit of free enterprise: ‘It rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes, and finally reduces [the] nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.'”
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