Speech as Action

We know that the cognitive component of emotions is important. How we perceive and evaluate a situation or a person does much to shaping the emotion(s) we experience.

We tend to think that these evaluations are spontaneous and beyond our control. For many of us they are. For Buddhists they are not. For them ideas and the words we utter are actions and something to be monitored and controlled. This is Right View and Right Speech of the Noble Eightfold Path.

There is so much mindless chatter these days that it can be difficult to grasp that speech can be a form of action. But this hasn’t always been so.

These things are easier to see at a distance, especially when individuals are accused of heresy or treason. Saying the wrong thing in this situation can cost you your life, for you have all the resources of the State stacked against you.

So it was for Jeanne d’Arc, burned at the stake on May 30th, 1431—when she was but 19—following a rigged trial. Remarkably, a faithful transcript of the trial survived. See Medieval Sourcebook: The Trial of Joan of Arc. See how a 19 year old girl stood up to the powers against her and you’ll understand why her memory lives on.

So it was for Thomas More, beheaded following his trial for treason on July 6, 1535. He was found guilty under this section of the Treason Act passed the previous year:

If any person or persons, after the first day of February next coming, do maliciously wish, will or desire, by words or writing, or by craft imagine, invent, practise, or attempt any bodily harm to be done or committed to the king’s most royal person, the queen’s, or their heirs apparent, or to deprive them or any of them of their dignity, title, or name of their royal estates…
That then every such person and persons so offending… shall have and suffer such pains of death and other penalties, as is limited and accustomed in cases of high treason. (my emphasis)

More’s final words on the scaffold were recorded as: ‘The King’s good servant, but God’s First.’

So it was for all the victims of the various inquisitions of the Roman Catholic Church over the ages, hell-bent on rooting out heresy. So it is for the victims of our own inquisitions, right now.

All of this brings me to this week’s revelations from Edward Snowden regarding PRISM and Boundless Informant, surveillance operations run by the United States’ National Security Agency, to obtain private phone and internet data from ordinary citizens, in the US and elsewhere, using servers of Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Verizon,  and other internet brands. (For more, see The NSA Files).

This data is sifted using algorithms to establish subversive thought, terror-related words, suspicious patterns and networks. It will be something along the lines of these maps in Visual Complexity. If they can do this with pigeons, what can they devise for humans?

Had a foreign power taken control of the United States, passed the Patriot Act and ancillary legislation, suspended habeas corpus, claimed the right to kill, kidnap, imprison and torture people (including Americans) from all parts of the world, to say nothing of the bankrupting of the country, and now mass surveillance of every move Americans make—there would be outrage and  resistance (as there would be in any country).

The United States federal government is not doing this alone. It is working closely with other States, including those of Canada and the United Kingdom. This effects and involves most of us.

Against America’s surveillance State, stands Edward Snowdon, seemingly alone. Here he is in his own words. These words pose awkward questions for America’s narrator, President Obama. Snowdon’s words are actions.

One thought on “Speech as Action

  1. George says:

    Thanks for posting this video. First time I’ve watched all 12 minutes as opposed to the sound bites in news broadcasts. Two things strike me about this video:

    1. Snowden describes himself as “just an ordinary guy.” If that’s true, he’s certainly raised the bar for the rest of us ordinary guys. He is extremely articulate about his topic—the result, I suspect, of deep reflection on his core job duties over many years. He reminds me of Ralph Nader, another whistleblower, who made a career of pulling back the curtain to expose “the wizard” at the controls. May Snowden enjoy a similarly long and illustrious career exposing the inherent threat of Big Data, Big Brother to us all!

    2. In the mouth of an actor, his words would likely generate considerable emotion in viewers. I remember feeling outraged by characters in movies like Three Days of the Condor, The Falcon and The Snowman, JFK, Missing, and others that depict a government using what Snowden describes as the “archietecture of oppression” against its own citizens. But these movies seem to present an alternative, rooted in democratic traditions (e.g. power of the press), to the tide of tyranny depicted in these movies. But Snowden seems rather emotionless in asserting that “nothing will change” but, instead, only worsen—“turnkey tyranny” is inevitable he suggests.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s