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What the Snowden case teaches us about free will and policy reform

If the Edward Snowden story doesn’t hit a few notes for you, high and low, it should.



The Glenn Greenwald interview was angular, insightful, if not downright polemic. The Guardian expertly coordinated social media feeds that offered up probing questions to the subject, and context was abundant. The ensuing debate between Greenwald and David Gregory on what makes for responsible reporting added another layer of critical discourse into the mix. It’s been a first for investigative journalism, it seems.



But nevermind all that for a moment.



This story isn’t really about corporate corruption, wayward government agencies, egomaniacal storyseekers, lost sons or technological milestones.



It’s about free will.



Snowden represents a new archetype. A global archetype. A young man, groomed by the system, whose conscience inevitably kicked in. He asked a different type of question.



What kind of world do we really want to live in?



Snowden isn’t quite like the Julian Assanges or the Thomas Drakes or the William Binneys or the John Kiriakous of the world. He represents a very different kind of problem: Time.



Assange is biding his in an Ecuadorean safe haven, while Drake and Binney do the rounds at public speaking events, and Kiriakou, a family man, does his time in a white collar box with few amenities. Snowden’s time is one of many dimensions deeper — he doesn’t have much of it to use personally (to say he’s on the lam is putting it mildly), but his actions represent something so profound, they could change the course of history irrevocably.



Are Snowden’s actions ‘right’? Who’s to say. Pundits on both sides will likely remain in moral gridlock while extradition attempts accelerate and the once-idle fingers of diplomats point impetuously at foreign embassies, sucking in the drama of the politik. And then there’s you, the accidental observer.



What Snowden has done is awaken the institution in an unprecedented way. More importantly, he has brought to light an idea that all of us must embrace, which is that knowledge is sacred, and it is our fundamental right to know what governs and guides us, even if we don’t agree or don’t like what those scenarios look like.



As for institutions like Booz Allen Hamilton or the NSA, the age of reckoning is near. Judging from the hundreds of thousands of comments flowing around these news stories syndicated across numerous social media platforms, and hundreds of thousands more who are rioting in the streets in the Middle East, Europe and South America, along with a groundswell of coalitions determined to protect the first and fourth American amendments, the People are coming to their senses.



Yet we’ve been misguided about our own sensemaking. It shouldn’t have to come to this.



See, up until now, we, the People, haven’t really been paying attention. The PRISM and Verizon debacles are just two of many that have been outed or documented over the last forty years. Since the advent of the Internet, at least twenty-seven policies have been either proposed or put into action that directly impede on our civil liberties.



Why is that? Have we really allowed this to happen?



Sensemaking – if we can reduce this notion to its core – is one of policy. Policy drives decisions. Decisions need to be informed. If the People don’t know what makes their world go ‘round, the folks on the Hill sure won’t. Globalized governments can’t.



As Bertrand Russell famously said: “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”



So goes the daisy chain of stupid, ignorant and/or harmful decisions, decisions that not only pull apart the social fabric of our country and others around the globe, but create unnecessary animosity and distrust between institutions, their stakeholders and the People who support them. We can’t blame the situation on lobbying, either. That’s a copout. We are, indelibly, the People, and we, without due argument, are

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responsible for our own fate.



And if Edward Snowden felt more secure in analyzing private information, in understanding the why, maybe he wouldn’t have done what he did. But he did, and we might be better off for it. Someday.



Right now, we – you, me, ‘us’ – have some serious choices to make. The first few should be about how each of us can get more involved, how, as individuals and communities, we can participate in rebuilding our future. How we can evolve this well storied, wonderfully fucked up political system of ours.



After all, activism wasn’t created by institutions, it was enabled by them to test the sovereignty of the human spirit. The fight isn’t staged through picket lines and mobbing in the streets, it happens right in the spaces where crucial decisions are being made, or held in stasis. This is where knowledge, the freedom to choose, and a more equitable distribution of information create massive shifts in our collective conscience, and impose the rules we wish upon our governing bodies to help guide through more altruistic means.


So let’s do this.


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