Edward Snowden and how to philosophize with a hammer

To pose questions with a hammer, and listen to the sound it makes. That which would like to stay silent becomes audible. The idea is Nietzsche’s (Twilight of the Idols or How to Philosophize with a Hammer). The hammer is Edward Snowden revelations about the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance program. [For the full story see The NSA Files.] And that which would have preferred to stay silent?

  • The craven complicity of Western states with this U.S.-led network of surveillance.
  • The abject submission to U.S. intimidation of all but four of the world’s nation states which turned a blind eye to Snowden’s need for political asylum.
  • The insipid response of the corporate media to this scandal.
  • That there is no political morality left to feel outrage. News media are forced to go back to the 1960s to remind us of how it feels.
  • That if you are any kind of dissident in need of sanctuary or asylum you’re out of luck.
Spheres of influence

Spheres of influence

Any and all digital communication within this surveillance archipelago is monitored. Do not be fooled by reassurances that only metadata, not content, is monitored. (President Obama: ‘No one’s listening to your phone calls.’) It’s metadata they want. From metadata they know who we communicate with, when, where and how. The why? is less important. It is not your guilt or innocence they are interested in—that distinction is gone—it is the risk you pose: to themselves, the state itself.

See The NSA/GCHQ metadata reassurances are breathtakingly cynical

Think this doesn’t effect you? See A Guardian Guide to Your Metadata and think again.

And all in the name of an emotion—extreme fear or terror.

‘We need this to prevent terrorism’.

Not even U.S. Senators believe this. (Senators challenge NSA’s claim to have foiled ‘dozens’ of terror attacks) (NSA surveillance played little role in foiling terror plots, experts say)

No serious enemy of the American state is ignorant of this surveillance. They are not stupid enough to rely on digital communication (even in encrypted form). A simple hand-written letter defeats this billion dollar apparatus. In the Second World War carrier pigeons did the job. There are no limits to human ingenuity. The Romans used carrier eagles.

It’s for those democratic dissenters exercising their rights unaware that they are now susceptible to the highly flexible terrorist label. Explore this line of thought if you want to know why the Occupy Wall Street movement went quiet all of a sudden. The late Michael Hastings revealed how Homeland Security Kept Tabs on Occupy Wall Street (Rolling Stone). Well, he won’t be making anymore revelations. (See TREACHERY WORKS BOTH WAYS: THE LIFE OF EDWARD SNOWDEN AND THE DEATH OF MICHAEL HASTINGS).

See also: Mission Creep: When Everything Is Terrorism

It is also for the young, gullible and foolish. Those who rise to bait, entrapment and provocation. They are sacrificial offerings to keep the terrorism narrative alive. Explore this line of thought if you want to understand the why so many convicted of terrorist offenses are so incompetent and naive.

And all in the name of an emotion—extreme fear or terror.

While you weren’t paying attention the ‘war-on-terror’ dissolved the distinctions between:

  • War and peace. The war-on-terror is permanent.
  • Foreign and domestic battlefields. The WOT is fought everywhere. We are all Iraqis now. These surveillance techniques were first tried on them, specifically in Fallujah.
  • Terrorism and political dissent. ‘Terrorism’ is proving a remarkably flexible category. We are the enemy. Or, at least, the enemy is among us. We may not be under arrest , but we are all under suspicion. ‘If you see something, say something.’
  • Military and political leadership. The name of the game is risk and security and that’s common to both. Their security. Risk to them.
  • Sovereign countries. Once independent Western countries are now so many interconnected theaters in the war-on-terror under the sway of the United States.
  • Guilt and innocence. This distinction is gone. It has been replaced by degrees of risk—to this surveillance state.

All this is made audible by Michael Snowden’s hammer blow. And there is more to come. This is why the United States is out to silence him—and why so few in authority speak in his defence.


Edward Snowden is doomed, and now he knows it. The look on his face, especially his eyes, in Moscow tells us this. That 1,000 yard stare is into his future. If he is not ‘disappeared’ he will find himself ‘renditioned’ en route to solitary confinement for the rest of his days in the Florence Supermax. (‘A clean version of hell’.)

Snowden is just what he seems, a clean-cut American young man. A patriot. Someone who believes in what America stands for.

Only a true believer blows the whistle. You have to really care about the issues. If you don’t care, you don’t bother because you know ahead of time that the cost to your life is just too much.

No one loves whistleblowers until or unless they win support. Until then they’re just trouble-makers. That’s where Edward Snowden is now. Even the head of the United Nations felt obliged to stick the boot in.

If one out of ten whistleblowers ‘make it’ to the other side of purgatory that would be good going. The lives of the rest are ruined by stress, if not prematurely ended. Snowden knew all of this and overcome this fear. That’s what makes him courageous.

Obama sees no hypocrisy in praising Nelson Mandela for his ‘moral courage’ (as if we needed telling this) while overlooking that of Edward Snowden.

It is precisely because Edward Snowden is a true patriot that he is doomed. He made the fatal mistake of believing in what it said in America’s public relations brochure; that it is a democratic, pluralist society; a state regulated by checks and balances. His disclosures were intended to correct an imbalance. He was defending the Constitution ‘against all enemies’, knowing that enemies can be within as well as without.

But just as we judge someone by what he or she does rather than what they say they do, so too with nation-states. If the United States acts as if it is a form of radical, authoritarian nationalism, it’s probably because that’s just what it is. Edward Snowden is just discovering this.

It acts as if by God-given right, with impunity. It gets away with it not simply because of its superior military power, but also because it has leveraged 9/11 for maximum emotional effect. It nurses its pain as if it enjoys it and uses emotional memories of those tragic events as a license to kill, anyone, anywhere. It’s a form of emotional blackmail. The entire world is America’s emotional hostage and so remains silent.

It’s about time it stopped. No one should submit to any form of blackmail.

Finally, let’s consider the advice of William Hague, the foreign secretary of the United Kingdom, for whom the word ‘craven’ could have been invented, in response to Snowden’s revelations of mass surveillance:

‘If you are a law-abiding citizen of this country, going about your business and your personal life, you have nothing to fear.’

Well that would exclude just about every campaigner for human rights, for most of these are won from below, not bestowed from above, by challenging and often breaking existing laws. Anti-semitism took many legal forms in Nazi Germany. So did racism in the United States. The Suffragettes broke laws to win the vote for women. And so on.

The corollary of Hague’s advice is that if you’re an active citizen, pushing the legal envelope so as to achieve social change—you do have something to fear.


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