What has surprised me about the Edward Snowden affair is how quickly bloggers decided to attack or defend Snowden. We’ve come to expect the mainstream outlets to be partisan, and of course some blogs are nakedly partisan, too, but even normally moderate (and former co-blogger Ramona) posted a message on Facebook asking anyone to unfriend her if they were going to post anything in support of Snowden.
Juan Cole and Amy Goodman are all in for Snowden, just as they were for Assange, while Bob Cesca, Kevin Drum and Andrew Sullivan are doing their best to cast doubt on both Glenn Greenwald’s reporting and Snowden’s motives. Some claim that Snowden can’t possibly have had the access that he claimed. Some are hinting that he’s going to defect to China.
No one seemed to say, “Well this is unusual, let’s see what this Snowden character does next.” Somehow, they have already looked into his soul, or their own souls, and decided.
As with Assange, I find it a lot harder to make up my mind. I’m fairly certain that the government is trying to monitor everything, and unlike my other former coblogger Michael Wolraich, I do give a damn about my privacy. Complaints about Snowden’s lack of formal education, or assertions from talking heads that he must be a narcissist (like them), don’t strike me as thoughtful or relevant. Calling him out as a Ron Paul supporter doesn’t automatically turn me against him. Calling him a traitor ignores the history of whistleblowing.
On the other hand, Snowden could have simply stayed anonymous – or joined Anonymous – to make these revelations. Making the announcements from Hong Kong seems to be a strange choice. Leaving his cute girlfriend and cushy job seems hard to explain. Mother Jones interviews a psychology prof in, What Really Drives a Whistleblower Like Edward Snowden?:
Why is suspicion and distrust the natural reaction? Because a lot rests on whether Snowden is telling the truth, yes, but also because most of us (perhaps nearly everyone but whistleblowers themselves) have trouble understanding exactly what motivates a whistleblower. As University of Maryland political psychology professor C. Frederick Alford notes, humans are tribal beings, and even though society considers whistleblowers brave in theory, in practice there tends to be a sense of discomfort with those who break from the tribe. …
Most of us grow up to realize that what people say and what people do are two things. … Whistleblowers are shocked in a way that the rest of us aren’t, and that leads them to act. In a sense, they hardly have a choice. This is what most of them said to me; I don’t know what Snowden will say in 5 or 10 years. But the ones I spoke with who had blown the whistle maybe 5, 10 years ago, many of them said they wouldn’t do it again, and many of them said they would. All of them said they didn’t have a choice. They couldn’t live with themselves anymore without doing something.