Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014
Columns

Snowden and the 'Wolf who cried plant'

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Naomi Wolf is taking a lot of flak this week from supporters of alleged NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden for her suggestion via Facebook that Snowden may "not be who he purports to be" and that his "emphases seem to serve an intelligence/police state objective, rather than to challenge them."

The upshot being that perhaps Snowden isn't blowing a real whistle against the state, but is disseminating disinformation on the state's behalf.

One particularly nasty response, from David Lindorff at Counterpunch, charges Wolf with "wild-eyed speculation," "baseless and libelous accusations" and "self-promotion and grandstanding."

On the one hand, I'm not sure that Wolf is really on to anything. On the other hand, I don't find Wolf's musings outrageous.

What's behind the vitriolic responses to Wolf? In my opinion, two things: Confirmation bias and tunnel vision.

Most of us out here in the wilderness of political dissent have long suspected that the government's intelligence collection activities are closer to all-encompassing than the government itself usually admits to.

Long before Snowden revealed the alleged details of the NSA's phone and Internet spying, politicians and lobbyists had publicly advocated for exactly those capabilities. Yes, they were censured in public, but that doesn't mean they didn't get what they wanted in hidden "black" budget lines.

Snowden is telling us the one thing everyone loves to hear: That we've been right all along. That's called confirmation bias. It means we're prone to believe him because we want to.

Most of us out here in the wilderness of political dissent often miss the forest for the trees when considering the intent of government statements and admissions. Our relationship to the state is adversarial, and we assume that when the government addresses matters we care about, it is talking to us. But that's usually not the case.

Usually, when government addresses matters we care about, it is talking to the "mainstream."

How does this tunnel vision affect our assessment of Snowden's revelations? The way we trees see it, the government has been "forced" to "admit" that it's doing nasty, illegal things all right-thinking people (i.e. people who think like us) will find outrageous.

But how does "the forest" see it? Being a tree myself, my guess is that they see it as a warning not to step out of line. A warning against discussing things on the Internet or over the phone that Uncle Sugar might not approve of. A warning that Big Brother is watching them.

At some point, an emerging police state stops trying to hide or justify its nastiness and starts emphasizing and flaunting that nastiness - although it may do so subtly or indirectly instead of openly. Its minions no longer worry about convincing you they're right. They're content to just bully, threaten and scare you into submission.

Wolf's hypothesis is that the Snowden revelations may be an intentional instance of the latter. Is she right? I don't know. But the idea is far from outrageous, and should be taken seriously.

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