by Butler Shaffer
My recent book, The Wizards of Ozymandias, was dedicated “To the memory and spirit of Sophie and Hans Scholl and the White Rose, who reminded us what it means to be civilized.” These young people – most in their teens or early twenties – lived in Nazi Germany and, fearing for the future of their country, took it upon themselves to write – and publicly distribute – leaflets critical of the government. They apparently operated from the premise that what transpired in their country was any of their business. They were soon found out, arrested on February 18, 1943, found guilty of “treason” on February 22, by the People’s Court, and summarily beheaded that same day.
Modern-day voices of fascism, American style, have been urging the same kind of “due process” for such individuals as Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and now Edward Snowden, who have had the “arrogance” – in the words of a few of their critics – to do what members of the White Rose did in the early 1940s: to make public the wrongdoings of the American government including such intelligence agencies as the NSA. Political, legal, and media hacks have been stumbling over one another to get in front of network cameras to denounce these men, and to demand the same kind of swift punishment as was meted out to the Scholls and other White Rose members. This vicious reaction has been so void of intellectual reflection as to lead some of the babblers to insist that Assange be tried for “treason,” overlooking the technical detail that Assange is not even an American, but an Australian! But in an age of a presumed worldwide American empire, such a matter can be overlooked, along with all the other moral, legal, and constitutional niceties that have been dumped into the memory hole.
The bankruptcy that is driving this campaign against truth-telling is shown by some of the content of the attacks on the accused: “Mr. Snowden doesn’t even have a high-school diploma!” Well, what more needs to be said? The unstated presumption, here, is that this man hadn’t even completed his government-school conditioning in the unquestioned power of the state. Had he graduated from high-school and gone on to college and graduate school, his conditioning in the statist mindset might have been completed. He might even have received a PhD or JD degree that would have allowed him to ascend to the upper heights of the establishment pyramid, from whence – like his accusers – he would not risk his position amongst other elitists.
If his lack of a diploma is not enough to condemn this young man, consider this: he had contributed $500 to the Ron Paul political campaign! Now the entire libertarian movement can be smeared as “traitorous.” It is those who continue to ask questions about the legitimacy – or even the legality – of governmental behavior that undermine authority. If individuals are troubled by what the state is doing, they should confine their complaints to government officials! Speak truth to power, but never to the powerless! “Truth,” as Mark Twain reminded us, “is the most valuable thing we have. Let us economize it.” If you object to the corruption of the Mafia, take the matter up with your godfather! If you are critical of the corruption, violence, looting, wars, and other actions of the government, write a letter to your congressman – who has helped to create these conditions – and ask him to do something about it. Had the Scholls and other White Rose members addressed their complaints to the Gestapo, all problems would have been corrected, right? Right?
Messrs. Manning, Assange, and Snowden apparently took literally the message that has been plastered on public buildings, subways, airports, and billboards: “if you see something, say something.” What the “something” is, and to whom your report is to be made, are never indicated, but the reaction of the hacks is clear: don’t have that “something” be critical of the state or its owners!
Perhaps the most lackwitted condemnation of Mr. Snowden is found in the last resort to which all statists eventually come: the public opinion poll. More Americans condemn this man than support him. The Barrabas factor; turning to the well-conditioned mob, whose members probably did graduate from high-school, for the final verdict, has long served the interests of state power. Even now, idolaters of state power are hoping that the rest of us will remain firm in our conditioning, and join in their lynch-mob frenzy.
My judgments of other people have always rested on the nature of their actions, their demonstrations of character, and never on pedigree (however certified). Those whose behavior is grounded in respect for the inviolability of the life and property of others, who live peaceably with their neighbors, and who do not presume to use force to accomplish their purposes; impress me more than do people who can, without a break in meter, recite all the socially-correct bromides about peace, love, respect for others; but then resort to governmental coercion to resolve problems before them.
Those establishment defenders who condemn the Bradley Mannings, Julian Assanges, and Edward Snowdens, have yet to present an indictment that extends beyond the fact that these courageous men have spoken truths that embarrass the institutional power structure. Such consequences may be disruptive of the special interests of the establishment, but how ordinary people are harmed in the process is never explained. Snowden has revealed how the government has insisted on having access to every private piece of information regarding every American. If this is true, and if it serves any valid purpose of the state to have such power, how can it be wrong for Americans to be made aware of this fact? If the state is entitled to know everything about us, why aren’t we entitled to know all the details of state action?
The hacks’ thoughtless reaction to these revelations is the familiar one: it will help our enemies. But who are the “enemies” who might benefit from knowing the details of the state’s surveillance, wiretapping, e-mail snooping, DNA and medical records, and other attributes of “Big Brother”? In this regard, the hacks have unwittingly confirmed the insights of that noted 1950’s social philosopher, Pogo Possum when he advised that “we have met the enemy, and they is us.” You and I are the foe most feared by those who keep their power over us through our state-induced fears, ignorance, and belief in their necessity.
As Western Civilization is swept into the dust-bin of history, it is crucial for us to ask: what will replace it? What values, moral principles, economic understanding, and social practices will prevail in the future? You will not hear these questions asked by any of the establishment hacks – who will confine themselves to refashioning statism in a “new and improved” package. The hacks are as bankrupt as the dying culture to whose withering tentacles of power they so desperately cling. They will continue to entertain us with trivia from the lives of the political sinners, but will not explore either the causes of, or the alternatives to, what brought down our freer and more prosperous culture. They will not engage in such depths of inquiry for one reason: their minds do not work in any transcendent, principled manner. It is power, and power alone, that both impresses and motivates them.
As more soldiers die from suicide than from combat; as other soldiers earn medals while killing hundreds or even thousands of Afghan and Pakistani civilians with drones they control from facilities outside Las Vegas; as the police-state continues to metastasize; as the looting of the citizenry continues to benefit corporate-state interests who pay little, if any, taxes; and as the general material, spiritual, and socially-supportive nature of a decent society continues its decline, it is evident that all of mankind – including Americans – will need to engage in some highly-focused, principled, long-term thinking if we (i.e., ourselves, children and grandchildren, and species) are to survive this collective madness.
Manning, Assange, and Snowden have challenged each of us: will we, as the hacks and their owners continue to insist, do as we have been trained to do, namely, mind our own business and do as we are told by those in authority? Or shall we, like these courageous men – and the White Rose members before them – have the individualized “arrogance” to believe that the fate of mankind is our business, and that we have a responsibility to act, with focused and peaceful energy, to help extricate ourselves from the collective arrogance of power that is destroying us?