The problem with Edward Snowden

by Chris Zappone

My problem with Edward Snowden is the stunning contrast of his judgment.

On the one hand he is an articulate, some would say, fearless critic of unapproved, secret mass surveillance. He worked within US intelligence circles and saw unchecked excesses and acted alone to try to remedy them. Clearly, Snowden is a bright, well-motivated guy.

But when you read his defense of his appearance on the Putin show, there is not even a mention of the East-West crisis over Ukraine. I can understand Snowden’s omission so as to not cross his Russian hosts, or his unwillingness to allow his cause to be muddled by the thorny consideration of the real world politics.

But to not even acknowledge the biggest crisis in Russia-US relations playing out seems a glaring omission. Is he kept in a bubble in Russia? Does he want us to trust him on all things NSA, but to pretend, along with him, that there isn’t a whole lotta US-Russia context that has to be viewed alongside his actions – even if there is no direct connection?

Setting aside the possibility that he is being controlled by Russians, something else may account for the jarring gap of his awareness.

It may be that Edward Snowden is just a typical American-style libertarian. In this view, it is simply the individual versus the state- no matter what the state is. Really, the only political unit that matters is the individual. There is no Ukraine issue because there is no Ukraine, in this view. There is simply the state and the individual (and guess who the bad guy is?).

I think many editors at the Guardian and non-American well-wishers of Snowden would find this element of the Snowden profile foreign. Because this is the strain in America that scoffs at gun laws and considers national access to healthcare not a right but an insidious threat. In this view of the world, not only is government, in the words of Ronald Reagan, the problem but society doesn’t really exist.

In this way, any struggles between the US and Russia are irrelevant.

This is a strain of American libertarianism has accelerated since the time of Nixon — not without huge financial benefits for big corporations. Big commercial interests thrive in places where there is no concept of society, or of common good. Bear in mind, Snowden’s US experience would have coincided with the highwater mark of US corporate power.

I believe it’s hard for people outside the US to understand how this libertarian mentality has contributed to the decay within the US in recent years.But supposing that what we see is what we get with Snowden, his behavior is very much a cousin to the deadbeat rancher Cliven Bundy who has made headlines in the US because he simply doesn’t believe he should have to pay grazing fees on federally owned (that is, owned by the citizens of the US) land.  After all, it’s only the government he’s trying to rip off.

And so, it’s very possible for Snowden that any issue between Russia and it’s neighbors or Russia and the US, simply does not, or cannot come into focus because Russia and the US are the same; they’re both governments. So they are always bad. And libertarianism, well, that’s a radical philosophy that has simple solutions for any issue. So simple in fact, that an American privacy advocate could delude himself into thinking that by aiding Russia, he is somehow helping the people at home.

Meanwhile, what hangs in the balance is the world order that was left in place at the end of the Cold War. And in the US, roads crumble, public school kids get stupider, corporations act and the legislators follow behind them, all because of the pat political philosophy that the individual is right, the government is guilty and no amount of explaining or justifying will change this. Snowden was taking down $100,000+ a year while his fellow Americans struggled to keep stay employed and keep their kids fed, but, well, hey, that’s their individual problem. Welcome, world, to American libertarianism in action.