Sunday, February 21, 2016

Truth; whole, half or none at all

Today I finished reading the latest Lapham's Quarterly edition, Spies.  Coincidentally, I watched a movie called The Fifth Estate last night. 

Spies was interesting in its recounting of how espionage can be said to predate the birth of Christ.  Any number of essays concerning the use of spies during a variety of Chinese Dynasties, as well as the days of the Greek city states, and the Roman Empire are included.  Even during the so called Dark Ages, methods to discern one's enemy's thoughts and actions, especially as related to war and religion, are documented.  It seems that gaining the upper hand on one's rivals, personal, business and national, is as old as organized communities and governments. 

Strangely, and despite the seeming necessity of employing such people, spies are not viewed as especially laudable people.  One long dead ruler discounted the use of spies deducing that the most effective of infiltrators is one who resembles in looks and thought those he is asked to betray, and that someone willing to betray one's own people is just as likely to betray those paying him to do so, if the money is better or the opportunity more advantageous.  There is also an interesting essay which expresses the opinion of some that betraying one's country is far less an indicator of integrity as betraying one's friends or family, the idea being that personal loyalty is more valuable than loyalty to country and king.

The Fifth Estate was about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a man regarded as both defender of truth, and traitor.  The movie depicted the beginnings of WikiLeaks, its minor accomplishments in bringing to light human rights abuses, bribery and corruption in various governments, war crimes committed by those purportedly on the "right" side of the conflict, and any number of secrets, whose existence is justified by those in power as a way to protect national interests and citizens' safety.  It ends with the cataclysmic release of the United States war logs from Afghanistan, and the disclosure of 250,000 diplomatic cables, names and dates not redacted as had been done when released by the world's biggest newspapers.  It also details the falling out between Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who eventually disables the launch platform for WikiLeaks, temporarily delaying the release of those cables.  Assange considers Berg a traitor to the cause; a traitor to the traitor in some eyes.   

I found it interesting to realize that journalism can be described as a form of espionage, except that those who bring the secrets of governments into the light frequently do so out of love for their country, as opposed to discovering secrets of one's enemies to help destroy them.  In the movie, Assange is portrayed as a seeker of truth, and a harbinger of an information war between those who keep secrets and those of us who are kept in the dark but also as an egomaniac who put his concept of truth, and his opinion of what should be public knowledge above the real life consequences for those whom his disclosures would injure, even when those people are merely cogs in the machine.

It is an interesting debate; how far should one go when revealing secrets.  Is the cost of truth beyond calculation, or is there a line that even whistle blowers should not cross?  And, when we decide to draw that line anywhere short of the truth, what does that say to those who have abused the public trust and engaged in activities, such as illegal interventions in other governments, assassinations without trial of those we call our enemies, and war time atrocities that are justified as collateral damage.  When is justice served, or is justice denied the price we pay for our willingness to feel safe. 

How ironic is it that there is such a ground swell of dissatisfaction with our political process, hence the popularity of Trump on the right and Sanders on the left, yet when it comes to allowing those we elect to engage in activities conveniently labeled as "counter terrorism", we generally turn a blind eye.   "If you have nothing to hide, then NSA tapping of your phone and emails is OK", we say to ourselves.  "Only criminals should fear the forced opening of that I-phone by the FBI".  We rail against government intervention in our lives, yet sleepily parrot the justifications as used by those very same people who routinely violate our privacy in the name of national security.

At last count, I believe the House has tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act over 60 times, not to mention all the hearings and meetings that have been held at taxpayer expense to justify their obsession with this law.  It has been the rallying cry for the GOP ever since its passage in 2010; the ultimate in government intrusion into our lives.  Too bad that not even 1/100 of interest and outrage has been expressed, on either side of the aisle, in analyzing and critiquing the Patriot Act which has legalized directly as well as tacitly a myriad of violations of the American citizenry. 

Based on the rhetoric I have heard so far, I envision even more violations in the name of protecting our borders, and keeping out our enemies, most emanating from the GOP presidential candidates.   Let's hope we are better able to distinguish the whole truth from 2% and skim, especially if we are going to continue to allow those we elect to trade our privacy for our safety.


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