When all is said and done, society always pays itself
in the counterfeit money of its dreams.
-- Marcel Mauss*--
I know, I know...
You are wondering what our three subjects could possibly have in common. Whatever it is, it´s not intuitive.
A helpful hint. Think: gravity, time, light. Keep in mind they are not completely separate.
Something else I know:
Outrageous liar, sanctimonious son-of-a-bitch -- who does he think he´s kidding!?
Those are just a few of the more printable thoughts passing through your mind, Dear Reader, on reading Edward Snowden´s I-am-still-working-for-the-NSA remark proffered in his Washington Post interview published December 24, 2013.
I couldn´t agree more with Snowden. He is still working for the NSA night and day -- this very instant. And, in more ways than one.
Our post of July 14, 2013 ("Edward Snowden: Quid Pro Quo Vadis?") asked/answered a vital question:
Is Snowden a middle class rebel?
Of course. Readers of The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion will see in him all the archetypal characteristics; I won´t dwell on them here. In case you are wondering if Snowden is socio-economically middle class, Bloomberg reports that his mother is an administrative clerk for Maryland´s federal court and his father retired in 2009 from the Coast Guard.
Middle class rebellion is the heart of the Snowden affair. Ideological in nature, that heart can be summed up in one word:
reconciliation. That ideology is a reflection of and endemic to the pivotal political role the middle class plays in perpetuating Western societies.
A phase of reconciliation is rebellion. Rebellion, far from being extrinsic to reconciliation, is part of reconciliation -- a crucial part. Rebellion is necessary for repair and renewal of the existing mode of reconciliation when the latter is damaged, outdated.
This is not to say that middle class rebellion is always “good” any more than water is always good. Water is essential for survival, but too much water will kill you. Likewise, rebellion is indispensable for the renewal of reconciliation, and consequently for the survival of Western society. Rebellion is also, however, the source of terrorism. (p. 101)
Snowden says his goal was to expose the errors and omissions of the NSA in order that they could be corrected. He sought reform -- repair, renewal -- not revolution. I´m not trying to bring down the NSA. His own words evince a standard position of the American middle class rebel vis-à-vis reconciliation:
"I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself...All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed...That is a milestone we left a long time ago."
I didn´t want to change society. We will return to Snowden´s idea of the American people making basic decisions and changes. Did that ability once exist, as Snowden implies? And can that ability now be acquired without changing society -- the very thing Snowden says he does not want? That is the crux of the matter.
Viewed in the context of middle class rebellion, Snowden´s behavior was entirely within the normal course of events. 100% pro forma, there was nothing unpredictable or exceptional about it. Before continuing, it is worth repeating what The Source of Terrorism concluded: middle class rebellion "is indispensable for the renewal of reconciliation" -- hence, rebellion is indispensable for the survival of Western society.
Recent talk of pardoning Snowden completes the picture. Richard Ledgett of NSA, in charge of a Snowden task force and reportedly in line to be NSA´s number 2 man, stated that granting amnesty to Snowden -- who has said he would return to the U.S. if he received it -- "is worth having a conversation about."
Forgiveness seems to be gaining traction. In an editorial published three days ago, which concluded Snowden was a whistleblower and not a traitor, The New York Times called for clemency.
Given the rebellion/reconciliation relationship, the gravitational pull on both sides is -- despite countervailing forces -- ultimately in the same direction. It is also ultimately irresistible. Snowden will return to the U.S. , assuming one glitch (revealed in our next post) does not emerge. The only question is when? Months? Years? Decades? He will receive a pardon, amnesty, clemency, reprieve -- whatever. Of course to make the whole thing politically digestible, he must be punished. I think we are looking at house arrest. Since Snowden rarely leaves the house anyway, what difference will it make?
The above explanation of Snowden´s on-going service to the NSA takes into consideration manifest, deliberate intentions. Snowden´s announced intentions are good -- "All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed." And, NSA´s announced intentions are good -- "to defeat terrorists and their organizations at home and abroad, consistent with U.S. laws and the protection of privacy and civil liberties."
Of course, there exists another side to things: consequences. Not only are the two sides seldom the same, seldom are they even on the same coin. The proof is simple: if intentions and their consequences always coincided, we would have a perfect world. Looking out the window, that is not what I see.
The second way in which Snowden continues working for the NSA is more latent, circuitous, insidious. It is the realm of consequences, of de facto processes, of which Snowden and the NSA are 90% unconscious.
In the Post interview, Snowden´s self-contentment is palpable:
“For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished...I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated."
Snowden was referring to the latest twists and turns in his odyssey. For readers who missed them, a CNN report cogently summarized them. On December 13, a
review panel of outside officials delivered dozens of recommendations to Obama on ways the U.S. can balance necessary intelligence gathering with expectations of privacy among both Americans and foreign governments. Convened amid a series of leaks from Snowden, the review board operated in private, and its recommendations won't be made public until next month...
The review came as newspapers published story after story detailing the spying powers of the NSA and other federal agencies, including reports that the U.S. government tracked the cell phones of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders. The revelations prompted outcry from Americans and foreign governments, concerned the U.S. was overreaching in its efforts to thwart terrorist attacks....
Obama vowed at the beginning of December to find ways of reforming the NSA, though in making the pledge he also defended the agency's work.
"I'll be proposing some self-restraint on the NSA, and you know, to initiate some reforms that can give people more confidence," he told MSNBC on December 5. "But I want everybody to be clear: The people of the NSA generally are looking out for the safety of the American people."
I already won. Vindicated. Mission accomplished. Ball game over. Over and out. Case closed. Elvis has left the building. More on him shortly.
All of which is exactly what the NSA wants you to believe. Because here is what NSA is going to do to change its act -- really:
Think back to little over a year ago -- to the slaughter of 26 people in Connecticut (see our post of January 9, 2013, "Sandy Hook Killer Adam Lanza: The Other Tragedy"). Think back also to how Obama, faced with mounting public outrage in support of gun control, appointed a task force to make recommendations, as well as issued 23 executive orders on gun control.
Our post of February 4, 2013 ("Barack Obama: Romancing The Drone") reviewed Obama´s specific recommendations. Our conclusion:
Dull, drowsy, indifferent. In all of the above it becomes apparent that the D.C. bureaucracy has wasted no time cabbaging in on the latest flurry of gun control action.
I will spare the reader the tedium of going through the 12 "proposed congressional actions" Obama also announced for gun control. They are a grab-bag of actual and promissory boondoggles ("Providing financing to expand mental health programs for young people") and self-serving administration measures ("Confirming President Obama's nominee for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.")
One proposed congressional action is worth singling out: "Reinstating and strengthening the ban on assault weapons that was in place from 1994 to 2004." As noted above, the ban did not work then and will not work now.
Monotonous activity, idleness...
Gun control? It failed. You let Sandy Hook off the hook; it slipped your mind, Dear Reader -- you have other priorities. NSA chiefs know it, and are playing for time. They figure the domestic and foreign outcry against their bid for omniscience -- only god is omniscient -- via omnipotent snooping will undergo the same fate. Are the chiefs right?
The NSA and I finally agree on something. What makes us so certain that no real change is in the offing is encapsulated in one non-word:
When a new chief executive takes office the bureaucrats test him. Obama promised during his campaign that if elected he would close the U.S. prison in Guantanamo within a year.
The old boy D.C. network turned Gtmo into a rite of passage for the new boy on the block. No sooner did President Obama sit down in the oval office than the bureaucracy informed him that Gtmo could not be closed. The bureaucracy folded its arms, waited.
Obama´s response: uh...oh... oh, O.K.
All quiet on the Western front. The Eastern front too, for that matter. Bureaucrats all over D.C. smiled inwardly, then ordered another round of cherry stone clams. You are what you eat.
In 2008, Americans elected as president an after-dinner motivational speaker. From the get-go, Gtmo showed newcomer Obama didn´t have an executive bone in his body. Still, though, he could grow into the job. Did he?
A second test of Obama came in 2012 -- the Cartagena Caper, in which his Secret Service guardians ignored legendary boxing trainer Angelo Dundee´s dictum, "Never hook with a hooker." This was Obama´s excuse for the inexcusable:
Throughout the weekend, the White House has said repeatedly that it still has the highest confidence in the Secret Service.
“These men and women perform extraordinary service on a day-to-day basis, protecting me, my family and other U.S. officials,” Mr. Obama said on Sunday. “They do very hard work under very stressful circumstances and almost invariably do an outstanding job.”
What does a real chief executive look like? I worked for one -- a governor with whom I eventually broke due to political differences. Nevertheless, as a chief executive, he was extraordinary. If I had a business and needed a CEO, I would hire him faster than Hussein Bolt can run 100 meters. The governor was definitely a difficult man to work for, but he accomplished miracles in the state apparatus. Obama mentioned very stressful circumstances; you could always spot the bureaucrats in the lobby waiting to see the governor. They were the ones -- as the Brazilians say -- com cu na mão (with ass in hand).
Their unabashed, unabridged fear was entirely justified. More often than not, a bureaucrat got gonged. Example: the first week in office the governor informed all his appointees that the days of the 3-hour martini-besotted lunch were gone. Henceforth, they had to be back in the office at 1:00 sharp.
It seemed his appointee as chief of the energy department wondered what would happen if...
The chief returned at 1:30 to discover a stranger sitting in his chair. He crossed his feet on the desk top; the chief was now looking at the bottoms of the stranger´s shoes. The chief, who had been on the job two days, started to speak. With a wave of a hand, the stranger demurely silenced him:
Pick up your shit and split.
Nobody in state government again wondered what would happen if.
Very hard work? Extraordinary service? Think so? In plain English, after the Cartagena Caper, a real chief executive would have tossed Mark Sullivan, Secret Service Chief, onto the street. Instead, Obama allowed him to quietly go into retirement the following year.
For his December interview, Snowden had his pick of the media litter. Remember how he burst onto the world scene in June 2013, thanks to The Guardian to whom he gave the scoop of the year? Six months later, to bring to light his latest revelations Snowden did not return to his old journalist allies (we think we know why -- the "eighth dwarf" -- see our next post). As for the Huffington Post or some other crypto-dissident outlet -- forget it. For that matter -- and for the second time -- Snowden bypassed Wikileaks.
Instead, Snowden granted his interview to the Washington Post -- my old employer. I summed up my experience there in our post of February 12, 2012 ("One-Eyed Jacks Versus Rafael Correa"):
The Post is a tool of the American government. Obama, Bush, JFK, Pol Pot, Hitler, Hoover, Lenin, Reagan, Elvis: it makes no difference who is in power, the Post does his bidding ...
Our subsequent post of March 2, 2012 ("Alchemy of The Word") provided a specific incident I witnessed during the Cuban Missile Crisis, of how in
a twice, the Washington Post changed hats, converting itself from mild mannered reporters for a large metropolitan daily into an ad hoc Ministry of Propaganda whose mission was to contact rápido editors who were “confused” over Kennedy newspeak.
In brief, Snowden could not have picked a more establishment press to talk to than the Washington Post. That fact he did so is singularly revealing about what is really happening and how the Snowden affair will eventually end:
We emphasized that middle class rebellion is essential to the continuation of Western civilization. More intelligent members of the intelligence establishment intuitively recognize that fact and are willing to work with it. Richard Ledgett´s remark about having a "conversation" is a case (albeit naive and clumsy) in point.
Ledgett was deliberately ambiguous to allow for subsequent evasions and "clarifications" -- a tactic lawyers I worked with called "The Fudge Factor." In the end, in his pretentions to coyness Ledgett is just as in the dark as Snowden about the underlying dynamic in which both men are participating. To shine a light on it, we must look elsewhere -- to Elvis.
For me, the Dorsey Brothers will always be figures from an older generation. They played the big band music my dad liked. I played the trumpet for 4 years; although the Dorseys were never my cup of tea, I had the greatest respect for their musicianship. They taught Frank Sinatra how to sing.
The Dorseys were to music what the Washington Post is to journalism: industrial-strength establishment. Which was all the more reason why, when the incredible happened on the Dorseys´ TV show, it was truly incredible.
To see Elvis Presley´s first national TV appearance, click here. Note the introduction: "We think tonight that he's going to make television history for you. We'd like you to meet him now -- Elvis Presley."
Years later, Dorsey Band members remembered the stark, rebel/accommodationist encounter:
Most of the members of Dorsey’s band were uncomfortable with Elvis. “During our rehearsal with him, some guys fell off the bandstand laughing at Elvis,” recalled musician Pat Chartrand. “It was so shocking to all of us, we couldn’t believe it.” Musician John Frosk added, “We didn’t like him because he looked dirty, and he needed a haircut. We thought he never bathed.”
On that cold January night in 1956, the establishment passed the torch. Nothing less than a recomposition of American music occurred. The Dorseys sensed what was about to happen and decided to play a part in its birth -- not to try to derail, forestall or marginalize it. All of which shows the brothers not only knew their trade, they had great instincts.
The same confrontation/integration dynamic -- the same rolling of eyes, sniggers, shock, sighs, name-calling -- is going on right now inside the NSA and between NSA and Snowden. In his first interview with The Guardian, Snowden stated, "I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under." True to middle class rebel form, when the process plays itself out, Snowden will end up not only accepting and living under but also supporting -- legitimizing -- the very thing he rebelled against:
The Source of Terrorism concluded: "The power to leave -- but not go too far ... The rebel does not just turn around; when he returns home, he lands hard, with both feet." (p. 190). In an airport some where, someday, conscious intentions and unconscious consequences will meet, shake hands, just as they did on TV 58 years ago.
Snowden´s admirers are expecting something else. When it doesn´t happen, they will cry "Sell out!" We will not join them. In truth, it is impossible to be disillusioned without having an illusion in the first place. For reasons given in our "Quo vadis?" post, unlike Snowden´s followers or the NSA, the Russians never had any illusions about Snowden -- zero. From the start they saw the light -- that Snowden is full of illusions, that he is ideologically-governed and can "flip" any moment -- which is why they never trusted him farther than they could throw him.
When Snowden comes home, it will hit like a bolt from the blue. Such is the way unconscious processes work.** His friends and enemies alike will feel their minds wobble: What the...I don´t get... How did it happen?
Middle class rebellion is first and foremost an ideology. French scholar George Duby:
Ideological systems are not invented. They are there, diffuse, barely touching man’s consciousness. They are not idle. They are changed inwardly by a slow, imperceptible evolution, the effects of which are discovered only much later. If that evolution creates a major dislocation, a re-composition is required….Because the body has changed, the clothing does not fit as well as it should.***
The first step to understanding an ideology is to recognize that the unconscious is incapable of distinguishing facts from symbols -- and in ideology, it is the unconscious that rules.
Snowden constantly mistakes symbolic change -- journalists going to work, reports from task forces, White House speeches -- for real change. In particular, he confuses media reports with the voice of the people. Result: he ends up mystifying that voice beyond repair.
* * *
What would be real change? How can it be distinguished from merely symbolic, purely virtual change? -- from counterfeit money?
At this historic juncture in America, real change means a change of, not in, the political system and society. That change is exactly what Snowden does not want.
Real change is the subject of The Big Movida: The Third American Revolution, our book available free here. Its core:
The First American Revolution, 1776-1789, transformed the political system from a monarchy not into a democracy but rather a “политей” or polity, i.e., a middle class-moderated, oligarchy/democracy hybrid inclined toward democracy. The Second American Revolution, 2008-9, changed the polity into an oligarchy with democratic residues, accessories. That change was normal, predictable; Aristotle analyzed it 2000 years ago. The Third American Revolution will resurrect the polity but with greater power for democracy, less for the oligarchy.
Snowden´s working assumption is the one that prevails worldwide. It is the Great American Illusion identified in The Big Movida, viz., the United States has a democracy. In reality, it never had and does not now have a democracy. In his heart, Snowden has an inkling that what I just said is true -- "We are a long way from that milestone." However, the Great American Illusion eclipses his heart, overrules his intuition. Snowden wants the people to decide, when the people cannot decide any more today than they could decide in Czarist Russia or Pinochet´s Chile.
In order for the American people to have a say in how they are governed, nothing short of The Third American Revolution will suffice. Real change installs real institutions, such as a national referenda procedure -- as opposed to journalists going to work.
As for the NSA, the agency is obviously out of control. There is one way -- and one way only -- the upcoming review board report can show it is worthy of the paper it is printed on.
De-grease the mammoth: saw off at least 10% of the NSA budget.
Stop hiring Snowdens. Start taking a qualitative approach to fighting terrorism.
Stop collecting. Start thinking.
UPDATE, January 19, 2014. I have reviewed Obama´s speech on the NSA (January 17, 2014). Obama said that "the men and women of the intelligence community, including the NSA, consistently follow protocols designed to protect the privacy of ordinary people. They're not abusing authorities in order to listen to your private phone calls or read your emails....After all, the folks at NSA and other intelligence agencies are our neighbors. They're our friends and family."
In case there are any doubts about what will happen -- or rather, will not happen -- read Obama´s proposals for change in spying techniques. You will find more weasal words than in his gun control speech: presidential directive, guidance, review decisions, review, consultation, report, panel of advocates, reforms, additional restrictions, transition, develop options, consult, seek authorization, shape an approach, instruct, comprehensive review, chart a way. Concrete and substantive changes -- they are not.
The proverbial bottom line: Obama was sending a message to the NSA, CIA and Homeland Security -- the same message he sent to the Secret Service after Cartagena, as well as to bureaucrats and private businesses involved in Gtmo and guns: it´s O.K., guys.
*« En définitive, c’est toujours la société qui se paie elle-même de la fausse monnaie de son rêve. » Marcel Mauss, Esquisse d’une théorie générale de la magie, in Marcel Mauss, Sociologie et anthropologie, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 2004, p. 119. [My translation]
**Sigmund Freud developed this point in depth in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.
***"Les systèmes idéologiques ne s’inventent pas. Ils sont là, diffus, affleurant à peine dans la conscience des hommes. Non point immobiles. Travaillés de l’intérieur par une évolution lente, imperceptible, mais dont se découvrent de loin en loin les effets : qu’elle a disloqué l’ensemble, qu’il faut le recomposer. […] Parce que le corps a changé, que le vêtement ne tombe plus comme il faudrait." Georges Duby, Les Trois ordres, in Georges Duby, Féodalité, Gallimard, Paris, 1996, p. 523. [My translation]