Monday, June 2, 2014

Greenwald v. Kinsley

Greenwald v. Kinsley
P. Schultz
June 2, 2014

            Below is a link to Michael Kinsley’s review of Glenn Greenwald’s book, No Place to Hide, which is about Edward Snowden’s adventure as a “leaker par excellence.” Of course, Greenwald sees Snowden’s activities as quite useful and even honorable in the current environment in the United States, which Greenwald characterizes as repressive in the extreme.

“Greenwald writes about ‘the implicit bargain that is offered to citizens: Pose no challenge and you have nothing to worry about. Mind your own business, and support or at least tolerate what we do, and you’ll be fine. Put differently, you must refrain from provoking the authority that wields surveillance powers if you wish to be deemed free of wrongdoing. This is a deal that invites passivity, obedience and conformity.’”

            For Kinsley, this is just poppycock and Greenwald himself illustrates why this is the case:

“Greenwald doesn’t seem to realize that every piece of evidence he musters demonstrating that people agree with him undermines his own argument that “the authorities” brook no dissent. No one is stopping people from criticizing the government or supporting Greenwald in any way. Nobody is preventing the nation’s leading newspaper from publishing a regular column in its own pages dissenting from company or government orthodoxy.

            But Kinsley seems to miss or perhaps he wants to miss the character of what he labels “repressive tolerance,” a concept he identifies with Herbert Marcuse and attributes to Greenwald. Kinsley fails to recognize that Greenwald and his likes, and the apparent tolerance of his and their views, are absolutely essential to a regime of “repressive tolerance.” Without dissenters like Greenwald, how could the regime demonstrate its alleged “tolerance?”

            But where does the “repressiveness” come in? Precisely in reviews like Kinsley’s review, which is an attempt to marginalize Greenwald, as this is how a regime of “repressive tolerance” works. The dissenters are allowed to speak, even encouraged to speak, but then they are marginalized in this way and that. This is the meaning of David Gregory’s attempt to criminalize Greenwald’s activities, an attempt that Gregory thought was subtle. Consider the following:

Greenwald’s notion of what constitutes suppression of dissent by the established media is an invitation to appear on “Meet the Press.” On the show, he is shocked to be asked by the host David Gregory, “To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, ... why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?” Greenwald was so stunned that “it took a minute to process that he had actually asked” such a patently outrageous question.

And what was so outrageous? Well, for starters, Greenwald says, the “to the extent” formulation could be used to justify any baseless insinuation, like “To the extent that Mr. Gregory has murdered his neighbors. ...” But Greenwald does not deny that he has “aided and abetted Snowden.” So this particular question was not baseless. 

            I agree that Greenwald should not have been surprised by Gregory’s attempt to marginalize him in this way. But Kinsley misses the crux of this little drama, which is that Gregory felt free to raise a question with Greenwald he would never raise with, say, President Bush or Obama or even the head of the NSA. Can you imagine the outrage if a reporter had asked Bush or Obama whether they should be charged with “a crime” or with “high crimes and misdemeanors” given the illegality or secretiveness of the NSA spying activities? “To the extent that you lied to the nation about WMDs in Iraq, President Bush, why shouldn’t you be charged?” Oh boy, wouldn’t the outcry be fun to hear? 

            What Gregory and Kinsley are doing is marginalizing Greenwald and Snowden, which is the essence of “repressive tolerance.” It is the equivalent of Socrates’ banning of the poets from his best political order in book 10 of the Republic. Only the “banning” is disguised in such sentences as these from Kinsley’s review:

But in “No Place to Hide,” Greenwald seems like a self-righteous sourpuss, convinced that every issue is “straightforward,” and if you don’t agree with him, you’re part of something he calls “the authorities,” who control everything for their own nefarious but never explained purposes.

And, the proof of the pudding, so to speak, is that after having read Kinsley’s review of Greenwald’s book, if you take it seriously, there is no reason to read the book. You can dismiss as the work of “a self-righteous sourpuss,” even overlooking perhaps that Kinsley is as self-righteous in his review as Greenwald is said to be in his book! Why is it easy to overlook Kinsley’s self-righteousness? Well, because his is in the service of the established order. To wit: 

The question is who decides. It seems clear, at least to me, that the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences. In a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government.

NB: Without anything approaching an argument, Kinsley asserts that the U.S. is still a “democracy,” where, allegedly, decisions made by the government are in fact made by a majority of “the people.” BUT THIS IS THE ISSUE! Or, at the very least, it should be the issue. And how can it be asserted that a government which is secretly spying on its citizens, and even lying about doing so, be considered “democratic?” It is quite incredible, literally, to argue that a government that secretly undertakes activities and lies about them to its citizens is “democratic” insofar as in a democracy, it is the people who are suppose to determine the government’s policies. 

            But you would never know this from Kinsley’s review. And it is only once this issue is obfuscated that Greenwald and Snowden and their actions can be assessed solely from the point of view of “national security.” If this issue is not blurred, however, then Greenwald’s and Snowden’s actions can and should be assessed from a political point of view. Were Snowden’s actions – and Greenwald’s – in the service of “democracy” or not? And if they were in the service of “democracy,” rule by the people, shouldn’t the cost in terms of “national security” be assessed in light of this? 

            This is the essence of “repressive tolerance,” viz., the most important political questions are replaced with other, less important questions, allowing the powers that be to govern independently of and even contrary to the wishes of the people. And those who point to this situation are deemed “marginal” at best, “criminal” at worst, because after all we all know, or should know, that crimes against the state are far worse than crimes against the people and their right to self rule. In fact, it is the essence of “repressive tolerance” to teach the people that those who wield power are incapable of criminal behavior and that, therefore, their actions must be accepted or, at the very least, tolerated because they were done with the best of intentions.

No comments:

Post a Comment