The Duty of Loyalty

Kirsten Powers has written a terrific piece in The Daily Beast on the mendacity and perversity of the supposed “authorities” righteously pontificating on the supposed treachery and betrayal of Edward Snowden for revealing the secret surveillance programmes being conducted by the State. But, in fact, Mr. Snowden has placed the onus on them to prove their good faith.

That is, perhaps, what they most hate about Edward Snowden and his actions.

In her essay, “The Sickening Snowden Backlash”, Ms. Powers quotes, as an example, David Brooks from the New York Times. So, I hyper-jumped over to Mr. Brooks article to check out his reasons for belittling Mr. Snowden rather than addressing the problem Mr. Snowden raised. Mr. Snowden, according to Mr. Brooks, has a duty of loyalty which he violated. It’s a pathetic piece that falls apart completely on one sticking point — loyalty to what?

Here’s Mr. Brooks rationale in his piece called “The Solitary Leaker“,

“For society to function well, there have to be basic levels of trust and cooperation, a respect for institutions and deference to common procedures. By deciding to unilaterally leak secret N.S.A. documents, Snowden has betrayed all of these things.”

You might notice something that struck me as odd. Mr. Brooks avoids the question of what type of society is owed the duty of loyalty. According to his logic, any type of society, which could just as well be Orwell’s totalitarian nightmare, or a monarchist or fascist state, is owed the duty of loyalty. According to Brooks, Mr. Snowden committed the great sin against this kind of groupthink and the mass mind. He was too “individualistic”.

The duty of loyalty to authoritative institutions — loyalty simply for its own sake — (which, apparently, includes unquestioning loyalty to the authority of conservative opinion and ideology) is a very reactionary attitude. Individuals apparently exist to serve authoritative institutions, not institutions to serve the free development of individuals. It is a perverse inversion of democratic values. We aren’t far from fascism in such a pernicious interpretation of the relationship between social institutions and the individual. Mass surveillance inevitably reduces the individual to a mere particle in the mass in which “individualistic” action apparently becomes deviant and criminal.

I’m afraid that it is, in fact, Mr. Brooks who lacks that integrity of perception and personality that he seems to find wanting in Mr. Snowden. His entire piece falls apart for the simple reason that he does not specify what type of society the individual owes the duty of loyalty.


3 responses to “The Duty of Loyalty”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    As a general rule, the only proper test for the validity of any social institution (science, politics, art, religion, university, government, etc) is whether they serve the purposes of life, health, well-being in the broadest possible sense. If after weighing them in the scales of justice in those terms, they are found wanting in that respect, they should be transformed or, if incapable of being transformed, they should be dissolved. Revolution being the usual solvent. Otherwise, they will remain repressive, inhibitory, dead hands on life’s development, and obstacles to its innate energies, creativity, and expression which they are supposed to facilitate, not mutilate.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Uneasy lies the head: A very interesting article in The Guardian by Nafeez Ahmed which delves in the broader context of the NSA PRISM scandal. And the implications are not very pretty. There appears to be a major discrepancy between the publicly stated parameters and boundaries of these “homeland operations” and their actual and intended operations.

    The hollowing out of political rights seems to be the end purpose of many of these programmes. Free speech is permitted, as long as it is blunted and made impotent, ineffectual in amending institutional powers and without significant influence in shaping social and political events. Nietzsche’s “Be true to the Earth!” or “Become what you are!” have, surprisingly, “subversive” or revolutionary implications judging by what are presently considered “security threats” by the states involved — the so-called “Five Eyes”.

    Interestingly, the “Five Eyes” all belong to the Anglosphere — a kind of OPEC of secret information. The proud boasts to others about the sacred traditions of Anglo-Saxon liberty seem pretty empty and hollow these days.

  3. LittleBigMan says :

    From Kristen Powers:

    “Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) told MSNBC Wednesday, “I don’t see how [Snowden’s leaks] compromises the security of this country whatsoever.””

    Exactly. Boehner, Feinstein, and others have made a big deal out of Snowden’s — actually not very harmful — revelations. He just confirmed for all of us what we all kind of knew. What I am gathering from all this hoopla is that all these people know Snowden knows a lot more than he has revealed so far. So, it seems to me they say he has committed treason and all this non-sense in anticipation of what he might reveal in the future. In a sense, it seems to me, Snowden revealed just as much to spark a public debate and perhaps even a change in the way intelligence gathering has become intrusive. But if the governments go after him mercilessly, I think he will reveal much more.

    From David Brooks:

    “If you live a life unshaped by the mediating institutions of civil society.”

    Yeah, right. That is to say “If you haven’t been thoroughly brainwashed like the rest of us.”

    David Brooks is an epitome of “The Last Man;” a favorite guest of Judy Woodruff.

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