After thinking a bit on a brief exchange on twitter with Joshua Foust, on how the Snowden leaks seem to be part of a movement against the whole intelligence community, I thought I’d dash out a few musings.
So I think it’s fair to say that most of the leaks in the past month or three have been aimed not at exposing domestic intelligence collections overreach but at exposing the intelligence collections efforts of the NSA, GCHQ, and CSEC in general. The impetus seems to be a generalised hostility towards the intelligence services, and perhaps against the entire governments that employ them.
At the forefront of this seems to be a bunch of tech-savvy left-libertarians with what I’d characterise as very unsophisticated views as to what the government can and should be doing. In some cases I may go so far as to draw a parallel with the Tea Party movement, albeit with the caveats that the Tea Party still seem to be exponentially more stupid and powerful.
However, I think there’s something else going on. That is, I think there is a whole generation of young, cosmopolitan, generally left-wing types who have just had something very important taken from them.
Specifically: they’ve just lost their innocence.
Let me explain. We — because I’m basically part of this demographic — live major parts of our lives online, we upload vast quantities of information to social media networks, and we rely heavily upon those networks for our self-expression. We view these networks as the main forum for counter-culture and dissent, for the development and expression of unconventional sexual and gender identities, and for developing personal relationships with exciting people and things. Many of us have entertained the view, not always invalid, that social media offer a world unsullied by the interlocking dynamics of violence and tradition that are characteristic of ‘the real world’.
Snowden’s revelations are the equivalent, then, of us finding out that shady people have invaded our nice house with no locks. People associated with precisely those coercive things that we hoped to keep out of our house. As hesitant as I am to employ psychoanalytical terms, I want to call this a sense of violation and betrayal.
Couple this with an existing hostility towards the institutions of state control and an unsophisticated view of the relationship between freedom and authority and it’s not surprising that many of us have taken to hand-waving calls for the entire intelligence community to be radically downsized or eliminated altogether. Don’t look for too much depth or coherence in these views because they’re neither deep nor coherent. But don’t dismiss them either, because they come from anxieties and aspirations that really matter to how people want to live their lives.
Suffice it to say, we need to be having these conversations. And I think that before we can have them properly, we may need to ride out a wave of hysteria while resisting the urge to dismiss it as stupid, even if we try not to let it determine what we think and do.