A Portrait of the Leaker as a Young Man

Why have Edward Snowden’s actions resonated so powerfully for so many people?

Portrait of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Click for expanded image. (Painted by Robert Shetterly for his Americans Who Tell The Truth Project)
Portrait of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Click for expanded image. (Painted by Robert Shetterly for his Americans Who Tell The Truth Project)

The huge political impacts of the leaked NSA documents account for just part of the explanation. Snowden’s choice was ultimately personal. He decided to take big risks on behalf of big truths; he showed how easy and hazardous such a step can be. He blew the whistle not only on the NSA’s Big Brother surveillance but also on the fear, constantly in our midst, that routinely induces conformity.

Like Bradley Manning and other whistleblowers before him, Snowden has massively undermined the standard rationales for obedience to illegitimate authority. Few of us may be in a position to have such enormous impacts by opting for courage over fear and truth over secrecy—but we know that we could be doing more, taking more risks for good reasons—if only we were willing, if only fear of reprisals and other consequences didn’t clear the way for the bandwagon of the military-industrial-surveillance state.

Near the end of Franz Kafka’s The Trial, the man in a parable spends many years sitting outside an open door till, near death, after becoming too weak to possibly enter, he’s told by the doorkeeper: “Nobody else could have got in this way, as this entrance was meant only for you. Now I’ll go and close it.”

That’s what Martin Luther King Jr. was driving at when he said, in his first high-risk speech denouncing the Vietnam War: “In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity.”

Edward Snowden was not too late. He refused to allow opportunity to be lost. He walked through the entrance meant only for him.

When people say “I am Bradley Manning,” or “I am Edward Snowden,” it can be more than an expression of solidarity. It can also be a statement of aspiration—to take ideals for democracy more seriously and to act on them with more courage.

The artist Robert Shetterly has combined his compelling new portrait of Edward Snowden with words from Snowden that are at the heart of what’s at stake: “The public needs to know the kinds of things a government does in its name, or the ‘consent of the governed’ is meaningless. . . The consent of the governed is not consent if it is not informed.” Like the painting of Snowden, the quote conveys a deep mix of idealism, vulnerability and determination.

Edward Snowden has taken idealism seriously enough to risk the rest of his life, a choice that is to his eternal credit and to the world’s vast benefit. His decision to resist any and all cynicism is gripping and unsettling. It tells us, personally and politically, to raise our standards, lift our eyes and go higher into our better possibilities.

  • David John SEO

    I have added to my favorites. Thank You http://www.tarotpsychicmedium.com/free-tarot-read

  • David John SEO

    I think this is an informative post and it is very useful and knowledgeable. therefore, I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article…A Xarelto Lawyer

  • David John SEO

    Great website here, really useful and interesting information. Thanks a lot for all your efforts, and please keep the great work up! read more

  • David John SEO

    If more people that write articles really concerned themselves with writing great content like you, more readers would be interested in their writings DUI Attorney

  • AsharSeo

    Hello, i am glad to read the whole content of this blog and am very excited and happy to say that the webmaster. dedicated server reseller

  • Every government out there have committed crimes hidden under the name of 'classified information', therefore Snowden did not bring out anything new. It was just interesting to see how everybody reacted as if it was news. acompanhantes São Paulo, SP

  • As People governed by governments of our Countries, we are not free and we will never be free because somebody will always tell you what to do and not to do. Salvador acompanhantes

  • andrew

    Beautifully composed post. This is breath taking. The information here is just the best one that I've read in a long time. I needed the info on this topic and I want to thank you for giving me that info. Cheers! game hacker apk

  • AsharSeo

    This type of message always inspiring and I prefer to read quality content, so happy to find good place to many here in the post, the writing is just great, thanks for the post. delhi to jaipur cab

  • loardsmith

    his is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the leisure here! Keep up the excellent work.
    facebook