I am an idealist, and that probably won't change, despite my realistic and even skeptical leanings, and despite a downright pessimism at times about the way our political scenarios are going. I was depressed, or at least saddened when in high school I read Richard Hofstadter about the Presidents of the United States that had slaves. Ouch, that was just a beginning of deep sadness.
But then there were the Sixties, the decade that seemed to provide the winds of change -- the retreat from Vietnam, even when Richard Nixon told the crowd on the lawn of the White House that he was watching whatever football game was on at the time, and not paying attention to any of us there.
Today I saw "CITIZENFOUR", the documentary directed by Laura Poitros, the filmmaker trusted more than anyone by Edward Snowden -- hero to me and many, and traitor to many many others. By now the information on Snowden and his revelations about the NSA and its surveillance techniques -- which just about translate into the fact that the United States has access to where any of us are at any given moment at the same level that China does, are available to the public -- is public for us, thanks to journalist Glenn Greenwald. Which doesn't mean that many people know or care about the implications. And that is because -- because we are compromised.
We are compromised because since September 11th, we have become a nation that values fear more than truth. The talk and the anthems about bravery suffer in comparison to the rule of fear we have suffered and that has compromised our ability to think and our willingness to do so. Snowden says, in the film footage, that he will not be bullied, implying that he can sleep at night, having learned what he did from the superheroes of his earlier involvements in the internet -- that truth and integrity mattered more than anything.
Who knows all the facts of the matter? Perhaps it's too soon for that. I do know that Snowden was smart and savvy enough to know what the government was up to in its surveillance of ordinary citizens, predicting our behavior more or less by compiling profiles of our (anyone they cared about) tendencies, and learning to have a good idea of what we would or might, do in the future. And I do know he cared.
I, the naive high school student who got depressed about the slavery of Presidents, still have that disappointment that resides in my 60 plus sophistication that should -- ostensibly -- leave me with a healthy amount of skepticism. But then again, what is skepticism when it comes to democracy? It can lead to a furthering of investigation of claims of purity, but it can also lead to a cynicism that becomes tired and defeated and says, "Well what do you expect anyway?"
I'm someone still seeing to try my best to figure out what on earth makes us so stuck in our refusal to collaborate in solving problems we may have solutions to. Reza Aslan is a thinker and writer who talks of our being implicated in feeling part of a sacred and cosmic set of holy wars, for which we are prepared to sacrifice the so called smaller things of life. In our case, our fighting terrorism, our setting ourselves up as the alleged moral leaders of the world, involves having fear as the most important value of any. Why meddle and examine information if it can help the "enemy"? Why have newspapers report to us that no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, if it could have killed or endangered thousands of Americans -- so went the argument the Bush Administration gave to the New York Times, and Washington Post, etc, -- news media that followed the thread of fear to cease and desist from their pledge to us, to report the facts, and not only report but to investigate.
Much of life is hard for the best of us, even those privileged or fortunate enough to celebrate a Thanksgiving with good food and good company. It is hard because it is complicated, our interpersonal and social existence and the worries it causes us just to be human.
At the same time, I don't want to give up my right to my own sensitivities in an age where vulnerability may be in vogue but not so much when it gets so messy, so I think.Vulnerability isn't just a pretty word for self-help books. It is a word we need on a national level, if not a global level. I don't want to give up my right to be sensitive, or my right to hope -- passionately in fact -- to be part of a democracy which values integrity, information, freedom and the right to change.
Thanksgiving, for people like me, can't be a simple one. Our -- or the early settlers -- coming to America, involved genocide, and eventually involved a myth of a Christian America, better than the rest of the world. It has to be faced that we have so much work to do.
I want to be thankful, not only for the family and food at my table, but for our guts -- the real bravery we need -- to confront the wounds of our lives. The wounds done passively and actively to our dignity, to our freedom, the ways we are manipulated and that we manipulate in turn.
It's American by now (ouch again!) to end in a prayer. So -- without complying exactly and without irony -- I'd like to say I can in my agnostic way pray for more of us with the clarity, the faith, the idealism of Edward Snowden. I hope to be thankful for more people like him, as I aspire to come as close as I can.