Goodness me, I just want to quote the whole thing! Gah!

Please, if you care about these issues of whistle-blowing and state surveillance (as I do) go and read this article by Peter Ludlow, a professor of philosophy at Northwestern University writing in the NY Times:

The Banality of Systemic Evil

… In a June Op-Ed in The Times, David Brooks made a case for why he thought [Edward] Snowden was wrong to leak information about the Prism surveillance program. His reasoning cleanly framed the alternative to the moral code endorsed by Swartz, Manning and Snowden. “For society to function well,” he wrote, “there have to be basic levels of trust and cooperation, a respect for institutions and deference to common procedures. By deciding to unilaterally leak secret N.S.A. documents, Snowden has betrayed all of these things.”

The complaint is eerily parallel to one from a case discussed in “Moral Mazes,” where an accountant was dismissed because he insisted on reporting “irregular payments, doctored invoices, and shuffling numbers.” The complaint against the accountant by the other managers of his company was that “by insisting on his own moral purity … he eroded the fundamental trust and understanding that makes cooperative managerial work possible.”

But wasn’t there arrogance or hubris in Snowden’s and Manning’s decisions to leak the documents? After all, weren’t there established procedures determining what was right further up the organizational chart? Weren’t these ethical decisions better left to someone with a higher pay grade? The former United States ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, argued that Snowden “thinks he’s smarter and has a higher morality than the rest of us … that he can see clearer than other 299, 999, 999 of us, and therefore he can do what he wants. I say that is the worst form of treason.”

For the leaker and whistleblower the answer to Bolton is that there can be no expectation that the system will act morally of its own accord. Systems are optimized for their own survival and preventing the system from doing evil may well require breaking with organizational niceties, protocols or laws. …

To quote Edmund Burke (again): “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Just as Hannah Arendt saw that the combined action of loyal managers can give rise to unspeakable systemic evil, so too generation W has seen that complicity within the surveillance state can give rise to evil as well — not the horrific evil that Eichmann’s bureaucratic efficiency brought us, but still an Orwellian future that must be avoided at all costs.

Doing nothing when confronted with wrongdoing can be seen as complicity, as we have here before a few times.

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.” — Martin Luther King

– P