Given the calendar, I hadn't intended to post anything today. But Eugene Robinson's latest, in which he reshuffles the outcome of that second-most dreadful event of the year--Time magazine's anointment of person of the year--compelled some brief thoughts, even if no one reads them, given the calendar. (By the way, the most dreadful event of the year still stalks us: those seemingly endless unnewsy reviews of the "Top Stories of the Year," as though we didn't just live through them, and in more cases than not, would just as soon forget them.)
Writes Robinson: "I want to say Pope Francis, but I’ve got to go with Edward Snowden," since "We now know how technology is destroying privacy," and we know that because Snowden "became disillusioned--and then incensed," continues Robinson, "at what he considered outrageous violations of individual privacy by a surveillance apparatus that was out of control."
I sympathize (which you may recall from my miscellaneous posts when Snowden's revelations broke), but Robinson's assessment is more of a loaded polemic than an argument, and as an argument it's flawed.
First, our awareness of privacy-destruction unquestionably antedated anything Snowden revealed, and further, Robinson tends merely to reinforce tribal antipathies when he rightly observes that Snowden "considered" certain surveillance operations both "outrageous" and "out of control." That's a not very subtle conflation by Robinson of Snowden's sentiment as the singularly virtuous sentiment--and perhaps it is, although the opposing camp is scarcely the black-hatted wicked one here; the "outrage" to date is mostly a mass of impersonal, untouched data whose potential misuse is what's conceivably outrageous; and "out of control" suggests a situation that is, well, uncontrollable, which clearly this one isn't.
So there, on the one hand, is Snowden's contribution. On the other lies that of a spiritual leader: a pope who has for the first time in this agnostic's lifetime inspired genuine hope of a global unification of the incurably skeptical and the deeply devoted, whose intellectual differences make no difference, since secular justice is the goal. This pope seems to "get it"; he seems to get that sanctified theology isn't worth spit if temporal goodness is only secondarily pursued.
There is, needless to add, real potential here--one with vast implications for politics, economics, international relations, earthly reformers, interfaith movements, and in general humanity's reawakening to what actually matters in this world.
And on this Christmas eve, especially, I favor that over tweaking FISA--and I see that as more worthy of our however-dubious Person of the Year Award.