This is Part Two. Part One is here.
Number of the anti-surveillance state absolutists in my circles of acquaintance---I'd call them the Greenwaldians except that Greenwald, the most prominent victim of Obama Derangement Syndrome on the left side of the bandwith, has made such a jackass of himself over the last five years that calling them that would be an unfair, unnecessary, and unmeant insult. But basically I 'm talking about people who accept that Greenwald has been way more often right than wrong on the issues of privacy and domestic spying and in his belief that the government is almost always up to no good in the so-called War on Terror.---start from the assumption that all the questions at issue in the debate over the NSA mess have been settled and settled in their favor and anyone who doesn't agree with them is stupid, a coward, or a moral monster, and probably all three.
Apparently they're under the impression that the best way to persuade others is to shame them, insult them,or infuriate them.
Graduates of Dale Carnegie, them.
Well, it's not settled for me.
Partly this is because I still don't know what anyone on either side means by "the surveillance state " or why it's so terrible or not so terrible.
But mainly it's because I don't have the information I need to settle my questions and concerns.
We have a pretty good idea of what the NSA has been up to, gathering information on everybody they can, and how much information they're after---all of it. Which is probably far more than it needs and more than any of us want them to have even those of us who aren't that worried about what they might be doing with it. But it doesn't settle it for me because it matters what 's being done with it and at this point that has to be guessed at.
Neither of the two main sides--- which I think of as the dystopian absolutists and the shoulder-shrugging if not quite utopians then borderline Panglossians---or the OMFG we're just one government employee-read email from living in a full-blown police state crowd and the Hey, the Feds gotta do what the Feds gotta do to go after the bad guys but relax, we can trust them, or trust the President, or trust the FISA court, or trust Congress, trust somebody at any rate to see they don't cross any lines or go too far over them, and besides the data's out there and by its very nature it's being collected, nothing we can do about that anymore so we might as well not worry about it and go update our Facebook statuses contingent---neither side can tell me anything more about what's actually happening beyond what they're guessing, supposing, surmising, conjecturing, extrapolating, imagining.
The truth is out there but it hasn't arrived yet, and so arguments aren't based so much on facts as they are upon competing fictions. One side's nightmares versus the other's rosy daydreams.
The absolutists don't seem to realize that’s what they’re doing, describing their nightmares and then demanding I accept those nightmares as being as prophetic as the Pharaoh's dream. The shoulder shruggers, for the most part, Josh Marshall excepted, don't seem aware they're pushing their hopeful opinions as fact and take it for granted that worrywart doubters like me will come around when we calm down or when all the facts come out, which is something else they take for granted, that the facts will come out.
As you can tell, I'm not finding either side very persuasive.
When I put my concerns and confusions on Twitter, looking for some answers or at least advice and guidance on where and how to look for answers, a friend accused me of copping out by taking a pox on both your houses stand or, rather, non-stand.
The same friend suggested that I don't need the kind of answers I'm searching for to decide where I should come down on the overall question. He said all I needed to do was look at the bloggers, journalists, and pundits I read regularly, see who's making which argument, and then go with those people whose judgments and opinions events have most often proven to have been right.
There are problems with that, starting with it immediately forcing me to choose sides between Josh Marshall and Glenn Greenwald, and in that matchup guess who wins or, more to the point, who loses because he's been such a jackass. But even putting aside personal feelings, however much you admire Glenn---and I do, although nowhere near as much as I used to---Talking Points Memo is far and away the greater accomplishment and gift to the liberal blogosphere than all of Glenn's prodigious blogging and op-ed writing.
And Josh, through TPM, is right more often and on more subjects, because he employs lots of people whose job is to get things right in his name on his dime. Glenn is a one-man band and his focus is mainly on civil liberties. His job isn’t to get things right. He starts from the premise he is right. His job is to convince his readers that he’s right, a job that’s gotten a little easier since he’s become such a jackass about it. He’s alienated so many people that most of the readers he has now don’t read him to be convinced---they’re already convinced---they read him the way believers go to church to hear a popular preacher’s sermons.
I feel comfortable making sweeping and dismissive generalizations like that. It’s a trick I learned from Glenn himself.
Makes me kind of a jackass myself, I guess.
But being right often doesn't automatically make you right this time. And jackasses aren't automatically wrong.
Here's the thing though.
I've never kept score in this way. If I did, I suspect that few if any of even my favorites would score over 40 percent, not even digby. But beyond that, I don't read the writers I admire and trust because I think they 're right. That's a good way to wind up reading only people you already agree with because you know they're going to tell you what you already think is right.
I read people whose writing is clear and honest and because of that they can make it clear what they honestly think and that helps me figure out what I think and if I’m right to think it or if I have to go back and re-think it.
But here’s the next problem. Most of the political writers and bloggers and journalists and pundits I read regularly online are liberals and Democrats. Most of those who aren’t are out and out leftists. (And, by the way, I wish more of the leftists would identify themselves as such, instead of hiding behind the word “progressive.” It’s a proud tradition. Own it.) And over here on the west coast of Blogtopia (hat tip as always to Skippy), doom and gloom is our métier. We’re not happy unless we’re predicting disaster for our own side. And when we’re in this mode is we’re usually, well, not necessarily wrong but not as right as we think we are or not right in the way we expected to be or not right for the right reasons.
I tried making this point back in March. I think all I did was ride my hobby-horse into the ground. But…
Although we pride ourselves on being part of the reality-based community---after all, facts have a liberal bias and the scientists on our side---we don’t tend to argue online like scientists. Or like lawyers. Or like scholars or experts of any kind. Even those of us who are scientists, lawyers, scholars, and experts. We argue like human beings, smart, thoughtful, well-educated human beings with snappy prose styles, but still human beings, which means mostly we don’t argue, we throw out an opinion and then set out to defend it, with our egos and vanity always on the front line.
What defines us as reality-based is that when facts come along that prove an opinion wrong we change that opinion.
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
The trouble I’m having is that neither side has the facts, not enough of the salient facts, to help me form an opinion because the government is sitting on those facts, the most salient of which is whether the “surveillance state” is protecting us from terrorists and doing it in a way that can’t be done in other, less intrusive and secretive ways.
Please don’t quote Franklin on liberty and security. For one thing, most people get the quote wrong. For another, it’s possible it’s not his. For a third, even if it is Franklin’s, quoting it is about as profound as quoting A penny saved is a penny earned in a discussion of fiscal policy.
And for a fourth, we’re not talking about a “little” security.
We’re talking about how much danger we are in of being blown up on the streets.
But we can’t talk about that knowledgably or reasonably because we don’t know. The President won’t tell us and he’s working extra hard to make sure nobody else will tell us either.
The little he will tell us has not been either reassuring or persuasive.
The director of the NSA says at least fifty terrorist threats have been thwarted, but his few examples don’t sound all that threatening or even like real threats. The foiled “plot” to bomb the Stock Exchange sounds like another clown show of the kind the FBI has hadn’t had much trouble shutting those down in the good old-fashioned way of sending agents under cover, employing paid informants, relying on snitches and concerned citizens to drop a dime, or just waiting around for the clowns to screw up. You've all seen this one, right?
That’s assuming there even really was a plot to begin with.
And, it should be noted, the program didn’t stop the Tsarnaevs, did it?
On the other hand, if PRISM did foil a plot to bomb the subway, then preventing that one might justify everything all on its own.
I’m willing to sacrifice a “little” security to save hundreds of lives.
If that’s what happened.
I don’t know. And I’m mad that I don’t know and am not being allowed to know.
More than I’m worried that the government might be violating the Fourth Amendment, I’m angry that it’s abrogating the deal we have with our government, which is that we get the main say in how we are governed.
We can’t have a say if we don’t know what’s being done in our name and on our behalf.
Trust me, says the President.
Trust you, Mr President?
How about you trust us?