6-7-14 Hodgepodge

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Judging Edward Snowden, Part 2

Last week, I noted that Peter Schwartz and Amy Peikoff had commented on the possible motives for Edward Snowden's release of sensitive documents (including evidence of illegitimate government spying on American citizens) and his subsequent actions. This week, Schwartz answered his critics, starting with the following:

If Edward Snowden truly valued individual freedom, here is how he would have proceeded. He would recognize that America, when compared with the rest of the world, is a haven of liberty. He would understand that America has enemies and that the use of force against them, whether in the form of military attacks or covert surveillance, is a means of safeguarding our freedom. He would therefore clearly distinguish between the unjustified, wholesale spying on American citizens and the justified spying on foreign threats to us.

That is precisely what Snowden did not do. [bold added]
I have found this discussion instructive, not just regarding its immediate subject matter, but also more generally, with regard to making calls on difficult questions regarding the behavior of others.

Weekend Reading

"The need for tidiness and organization is often a need for control, and this is not necessarily a bad thing." -- Michael Hurd, in "OCD and the Perils of Risk Aversion" at The Delaware Coast Press

"[L]ying can be hazardous to your mental health." -- Michael Hurd, in "What Honesty Really Does for You" at The Delaware Wave

"[Michael] Rubin's case studies are replete with officials downplaying, whitewashing, and evading their adversaries' flagrant duplicity and brutality." -- Elan Journo, in Review of Dancing with the Devil at The Middle East Quarterly

In More Detail

In his review, Journo helpfully suggests that we learn from the diplomatic mistakes we made in our Cold War diplomacy with Russia and China -- and apply the lessons to our current failed dealings with state sponsors of terrorism.

A Rare, Documented Sasquatch Bill Watterson Sighting

A comic strip writer (and fan of Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson) recently managed to get a few installments of his strip drawn by the man himself. Here's the dialog from the strip that got the ball rolling:
Panel 1
[A man and a woman are seated next to each other at a bar. Caption: Newly-single Stephan tries picking up women.]
Stephan: Couldn't help noticing you're reading the comics page ... You know, I draw a comic strip.
: Oh yeah? Which one?

Panel 2
[The two characters stare at each other.]

Panel 3
Stephan: Ever heard of Calvin and Hobbes?

Panel 4
[The two are lying next to each other in bed.]
Stephan (thinking): That was wrong.
To see the above strip, and to read the incredible and amusing story behind the collaboration of Watterson with Stephan Pastis, go here. Pastis also provides links to the first three of the collaborative strips.

Last but Not Least

As I sometimes joke to my friends about my very limited writing time, as a father of a toddler and an infant:
Blogs? I barely follow my own!
I have even less time to monitor such things as site statistics, or I would have noticed some time ago that Gus Van Horn surpassed half a million unique visitors.

Thank you very much for your part in helping me reach this milestone.

-- CAV


Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, thanks for the link to the Pastis post. Back in the day when I lived in the US, I'd read Pearls Before Swine daily. The guy's a jackass, really, but a funny jackass. One wonders if perhaps Watterson's returning Pastis's email was a sly tribute to the strip's name...

Gus Van Horn said...

Glad you enjoyed it.

Steve D said...

Regarding Snowden; I guess his motives and consequences are entirely different beasts.

Gus Van Horn said...

I see the consequences as mixed, mostly bad. I could agree with you only if I thought Snowden was a staunch patriot who somehow really had no other recourse, but I don't, or if he is (as I think AT BEST) a bumbler whose heart is in the right place.

Gus Van Horn said...

Oh, but now I've heard a podcast by Leonard Peikoff on the subject. He makes a good case for Snowden being a hero.

Anonymous said...

So why is the entirety of the moral onus to be placed on Snowden? How is it that exposure of illegal and unconstitutional activities is a betrayal of the American people whatever ancillary damage may have occurred to legitimate intelligence gathering against foreign enemies that should have but has not been used in a strictly delimited way when;

1) the NSA had exceeded their constitutional, legislative and regulatory briefs, not just accidentally and incidentally, but deliberately, systematically, and on an ongoing basis,

2) the NSA had subverted the justice system, specifically, the 6th Amendment right of the accused to confront their accusers by passing on evidence to law enforcement that was acquired by means in direct contravention of the 4th Amendment and then requiring that law enforcement perjure themselves on that same evidentiary acquisition,

3) the NSA had lied to Congress who was attempting to exercise their oversight responsibilities in regard to the agency's unconstitutional overreach and,

4) the NSA was in fact breaking the law by monitoring members of Congress toward ends that they have yet to make clear but, given the history of such breaches by other Federal agencies, eg., J. Edgar Hoover, were most likely geared toward political intimidation.

The NSA could have obviated the entire moral argument if they had adhered to the law. They consciously, deliberately and as a matter of policy did not do so.

This leaves entirely aside the perverse behavior that has pervaded gov't action since 9-11 in mollycoddling our enemies in word and deed and instead targeting the individual rights of the citizens of the United States. I'm referring to the pernicious new "security" agencies such as ICE, TSA, DHS, etal., and their malovent initiatives in "meat space" in conjunction with the SigInt and CybInt activities of the NSA. In other words, this wasn't just an exercise in information gathering against the American citizenry but one which led to real-world abuses of the individual rights of American citizens.

So, given that the initial breach of constitutionality - the original rights violations were done by the NSA - any measures needed to curtail those rights violations and any ancillary damage thereby inflicted are the moral responsibility of the original malefactors.

We do not avoid carrying a defensive war to victory because some innocents might be harmed. The blood of those innocents is on the heads of the initators of force, not those defending against those inititations. Thus, any damage done to the legitimate mission of the NSA is morally borne by the NSA which contains the only people responsible for NOT staying true to the mission assigned.

They initiated force. They broke their oaths to protect and defend the Constitution long before Snowden violated his civil compact with them. Arguably, the NSA's breach of their Constitutional bounds voided Snowden's civil compact. (A contract that mandates complicity in or covering up of criminal activity is NOT enforceable in any court of objective law.) So let's treat the damage done to the NSA's legitimate programs in the appropriate context. It's collateral damage in a larger war of constituional self-defense. Let us also put the moral onus for it squarely where it belongs. And that is not on Edward Snowden's head.

c. andrew

Gus Van Horn said...


I am a little confused by your post.

There is a legitimate question of motive for Snowden here. On the extremes; Did the NSA's malefeasance excuse an anti-American, who, knowing about it, used it as excuse and cover for revealing other intelligence-gathering capabilities; or were the other compromises part and parcel, in a patriot's mind, of blowing the whistle on the nefarious activities of the NSA?

Asking such a question neither places the whole moral onus on Snowden, nor relieves any of the other players of moral judgement.


mtnrunner2 said...

I probably tend closer to Amy Peikoff's take on Snowden than Schwartz's.

Yes, the purpose of government is to protect our safety, and yes, spying on the bad guys is OK, but I don't think that's the issue here.

The issue is whether government overreached in trying to get the bad guys. To me, what the NSA did is like wiretapping every home in the US to create a library of audio tapes on us. If that's OK, then what are the limits? Why not film us all 24/7 through our device webcams? Why not install cameras in our homes? By our government's logic, they still have to go through a secret court to access the footage, so it's OK, right? No thanks.

And contra Schwartz, Snowden's political leanings are irrelevant. Isn't that a fallacy?

Gus Van Horn said...

Yes: What the NSA is doing is wrong. It both violates our individual rights and the law, as laid out in the Fourth Amendment.

Regarding the issue of judging Snowden, it is NOT a fallacy to consider his political leanings: At the extremes, we either have a hero who blew the whistle on a gross violation of rights, with some legitimate state secrets as being revealed as collateral damage, or we have a vilain who revealed state secrets, and tipped us off (intentionally or not) on government malfeasance. Moral men can appear to do evil (e.g., the popular conception of Francisco d'Anconia as a mere playboy) and evil men can do things that may well benefit us, but for which they do not deserve credit (e.g., the man who poisoned Tylenol, prompting companies across many industries to start using tamper-resistant packaging).

I have not thought enough about Snowden to make up my mind about his moral character either way, but he has indeed revealed a government program that must be stopped. I am glad to know about this, but I am not sure whether to be grateful to Snowden.

Steve D said...

‘it is NOT a fallacy to consider his political leanings’

I agree. His political leanings are a key consideration (but obviously not the only one).

'Moral men can appear to do evil and evil men can do things that may well benefit us...'

Yes; and moral men can do things by mistake which would be evil if they did them intentionally. People can and often do the right thing for the wrong reason (and vice versa). Confused people can do both and my guess is that Snowden may fall more or less fall into that category.

That really is my point. Motives are harder to assess than consequences. Think about it. We are all glad that Snowden revealed the NSA spying. Long after he did it, we are still debating why he did.

Gus Van Horn said...


I agree, and your last paragraph sums things up nicely.