(Article changed on July 22, 2013 at 14:36)
Edward Snowden is an American hero in real time. He is much more than just a story or an icon. Although mightily inconvenienced by the machinations of a government that appears to believe it possesses the authority to supersede the will of its democratic electorate, Edward Snowden is, at this moment, alive, well, and (relatively) free. It is imperative that he remain so.
It is understandably challenging for many of us, as we go about the routine of our everyday lives, to discern and empathize with the limitations and stresses that must be inherent in the existence of a stranded traveler in a foreign land, his liberty sustained only by the ironic particularity of his host country's willingness to abide by its own laws.
But despite its presentation in the media, Edward Snowden's dilemma is not a spectator sport. In a media-saturated culture where every atrocity and outrage is subject to the fickle felicities of ratings and reader/viewer interest, we must resist the perceptual slide into permitting Edward Snowden's monumentally consequential predicament to become just another story on the media menu. Many of the items available to consumers on this menu are fatally tainted with unlabeled and unacknowledged elements that function to promote complacency, reinforce perceptions of the incontrovertible legitimacy of all governmental authority, and engineer the unconscious acquiescence of the American public to the characterizations and plotlines of the authoritarian narrative. Many of them additionally create and promote a cynical perception of reality - from the mundane to the truly significant - as spectacle and entertainment.
NPR recently made its contribution to the let's pretend/just imagine/guided imagery journalistic genre with a segment featuring spy-thriller author James Baldacci giving his take on an appropriate fictional/screenwriter version of the Edward Snowden situation, titled "What Edward Snowden the Movie Would Look Like."
(By the way, have you visited cia.gov lately? Next time you do, don't forget to check out the Entertainment Industry Liaison page ...)
Baldacci's for-public-consumption version of Edward Snowden features a young man who has alienated everyone. He has no friends or supporters, and he is beginning to be filled with self-doubt: Did I really do the right thing? Baldacci's Snowden asks himself. Is it possible that I've actually committed treason? And of course, the movie version has a correct ending: Snowden is brought home - by his friends at the NSA - to stand trial. (Seriously. Who could make up Baldacci making up this stuff?)
This defeated, regretful fictional Snowden couldn't have been more propagandistically-effective if he actually had been created by someone working for the CeeingEyeA. (Not mentioning any names here - just saying ...) He is the precise opposite of the actual Edward Snowden who maintains himself in philosophical serenity, inviolable in his assurance regarding the path that he has chosen - an assurance that happens to be both well-grounded and quite contagious. Americans of conscience recognize and identify with a new kind of American hero whose authenticity invalidates the stereotypes that purveyors of patriotic correctness have long relied upon. Comparing the framed version of Baldacci's floundering fictional character with the unassailable reality, it straightaway becomes evident that something is very wrong with this picture - not with Edward Snowden.
We should, however, beware of underestimating the influence of habitual thinking. Baldacci's framing makes so much sense - in the most uncreative sense - because its glide path along the deeply-rutted courses of mindless acquiescence, to which we all are susceptible to some degree, points us toward the illusion of inevitability. It suggests to us, through an appeal to carefully-crafted archetypes embedded into our national consciousness, that anyone who challenges the American government is a traitor, and that a traitor to America cannot avoid American justice. This is precisely the kind of thinking that a propaganda campaign against a government whistleblower would seek to inculcate into the general population. And it is precisely the kind of thinking that Americans of conscience must learn to resist and to call out.
But Baldacci's flaccid fictions represent only one point on a wide-ranging spectrum of guided public perception that is maintained by those who have mastered its potential for perpetuating their tenure in effectively unchallenged positions of power. Before we allow our thinking to become (even more) corrupted by the evangelistic propagators of establishmentarian fundamentalism, we would do well to stop and consider who these people actually are. They are those who we invited into the hallowed houses and halls of public service for the purposes of upholding and defending the Constitution and acting as stewards, within the law, of the business of American democracy. What they have embarked upon instead is the perpetration of an internal, covert, incremental, and ongoing coup d'etat for the purpose of ousting the rightful title-holders to the powers and privileges of this nation: the American people. They are trespassers and would-be usurpers, at best - and at worst, traitors. We do not owe them the lives and souls of our American heroes. What we owe them are tickets back to whatever hellholes they emerged from - not in first-class, but in disgrace.
To reiterate: Edward Snowden's situation is not a spectator sport.
When he chose to travel to Hong Kong and reveal his identity as the truth-teller whose revelations exposed the true extent of NSA surveillance, Edward Snowden risked everything. He did this not solely for the purpose of being able to live with his own conscience: he acted in service to his country, for us, his countrymen. And we have responded to his courageous and visionary act. We have signed petitions. We have written articles and posted comments in his support. We have publicly declared our solidarity with him. But there is something more that we can and must do for Edward Snowden. We must be with him in spirit, in heart, in mind, in real time. And we must maintain within ourselves our best wishes and highest aspirations for his well-being and his future. We owe him that.