THE BLOG
07/07/2013 11:50 am ET Updated Sep 06, 2013

Snowden's a Hero, Obama's a Villain: The Banality of Black and White Thinking

As the long and winding road of Edward Snowden's journey continues to play out, trending opinion seem to be keeping pace with his ever-so-fluid travel itinerary. Back in the early days, fist-pumpers on both sides of the political divide -- or, rather, all sides (we mustn't forget libertarians in this chorus) -- were uncharacteristically joined in the certainty that he was a 'hero,' a brave whistleblower who blew the lid off nefarious back-room dealings done to the detriment of Americans and countries the world over. Never mind that the dealings he was denouncing were largely protected by existing law, his hero status was cemented in a cultural climate that frames most things within the palette of black and white, good guys and bad guys. Gray area, nuance, intent between the lines, even fact or truth, are pushed aside for the extreme of belief.

To believe Edward Snowden, to define him as a hero, one must conversely believe that Obama and his administration are villains, as, it seems, Snowden supporters, by and large, do. Of course, swiping Obama, et al with the brush of tyranny has become a convenient meme; we've had 'scandals' and conspiracy theories of every ilk occupying our attention, with calls for impeachment and various other forms of mass hysteria, none of which have resulted in much more than wide-ranging and colorful news cycles and a lot of noise that ultimately became deflective and distracting.

But that's where we are as a country: black and white thinking, a mode of perspective that comes with grand presumptions that we all know all the truth about everything, even things we couldn't possibly know all the truth about. But we make that presumption because we're Americans; we're arrogant and entitled.

When I hear opinionated movie stars and college professors encouraging people not to vote based on their purportedly deep knowledge and arcane understanding of the details and minutia of policies and decisions made behind closed doors of the White House and other government institutions, I can't help but wonder how they got the inside track on an inside track they could not possibly have an inside track to. And yet... they speak as if they do. They're little Zeligs, magically present when presidents make globally impacting decisions or ponder the right moves regarding national security. They know. Because they're Americans and they just... well... know! And with that mysterious know-it-all knowledge, they put a black hat on the president and others and we're told not to vote for the lot of 'em.

We've got citizens who 'just know' the World Trade Center was brought down by Bush and Cheney, that Michael Hastings was blown up by the FBI, that Obama is secretly out to confiscate ALL guns, and that the Illuminati is running the whole damn show anyway. You can't argue with this thinking because it's stated in unequivocal black and white; it allows for no persuasion, no debate, no logic. Because it's not based on fact; it's based on conjecture, presumption, guessing, and... just knowing.

We are quite knowledgeable, we arrogant, entitled Americans.

As for Snowden, while large numbers 'just knew' the truth about him -- that he was a hero, that he saved the world by exposing the over-reaching surveillance of the NSA; that he should be honored, protected and deified along with other truth-seeking whistleblowers -- other Americans, the less black and white thinkers, took a more circumspective view. They said, "Let's wait and see how this all plays out before we jump on any bandwagons," and as they took their reflective, patient pose, they were sometimes maligned by those who'd already made up their minds. Liberals went after liberals, Republicans (who wanted so desperately to side with any side sided against Obama) started in-fighting over exactly what Snowden was, and even libertarians got squeamish at the revelations that Snowden was dumping info at the doorsteps of less-than-friendly governments.

Now as his fans carry on about an angry South America inviting him in and Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian continues to front for his boy, the black and whiteness of it all is getting a bit muddied.

A recent Huffington Post/YouGov poll reveals for the first time a slip in the 'hero' numbers:

According to the new poll, 38 percent of Americans think that Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, did the wrong thing, while 33 percent said he did the right thing. Still, 29 percent of Americans remain unsure about Snowden's actions. [... ]

Much of the drop in support for Snowden's actions since the earlier poll appears to have taken place among Republicans, who were divided, 37 percent to 37 percent, on whether Snowden did the right thing in the previous poll, but in the latest poll said by a 44 percent to 29 percent margin that he did the wrong thing.

Ah... red staters stirring a little gray into the mix. Fascinating.

In a compelling piece at Addicting Info titled, Have We All Been Fooled By Edward Snowden?, the writer references some illuminating information that frames his motivations as less noble than some would have us believe. In public chat rooms, long before he hit the front pages, he made clear his deep distain for Obama, his support of Ron Paul, his Second Amendment fanaticism, his (truly vile) revulsion about seniors sucking off Social Security; his antipathy for the New York Times for "reporting classified shit" (ironic, isn't it?!), followed by put-downs of Wikileaks (his current BFFs) and his support of Bush's warrantless wiretapping. Yes. Really. I know... getting grayer all the time. I urge you to read the whole article; the chats alone are worth the click.

Edward Snowden, the hero, the whistleblower, the do-gooder doing good for the good of America seems to have been a very different fellow not all that long ago. What are we to make of that? My first impulse is to say, "Like everything that happens in life, we are to watch, listen, pay attention, open our minds, get past our partisan impulses, and wait for enough information to arrive at an intelligent, fact-based opinion." Turns out that's my second impulse too.

Because there's very little that comes in true black and white. That we Americans persist in believing that, demanding that others believe in that, indicates a sort of cultural arrested development... like children who only see in broad strokes of good or bad (no child believes Daddy can be dastardly). Most people -- those we hate, those we love and all those in between -- have at least some shades of gray. We've just got to be willing to see past the black and white to notice.
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Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Facebook, Rock+Paper+Music, and Addicting Info; details and links to her other work at www.lorrainedevonwilke.com.