Breakdown of the Left: Snowden's Surveillance State Versus Liberal Roots / by Sam Abelow

Breakdown of the Left

Part One

The surveillance of today doesn't come by spies, but by the smartphone in your pocket and a record of your internet browsing. | Original photograph, Chicago, 2007

My political views may be surprising, as an artist and musician, a songwriter and Millennial, of Jewish heritage: I'm skeptical of socialism and critical of the radicalLeft in America today (although, I would have to define myself as a Liberal and on the Left).

Oliver Stone's new movie about Edward Snowden, the controversial figure who leaked NSA documents and revealed, for the first time, the absurd reality of sweeping and all-encompassing surveillance. Government agencies are collecting data on every person in the country. From your email to your phone, privacy is gone.

In that nakedness, few are exhibiting the appropriate anxiety that goes along with walking through the school's halls in one's underwear, or the anger that goes along with having one’s underwear thrown up onto the flagpole.

Many citizens take the position: "If I'm not doing anything wrong, then what does it matter?"

This view is born out of a juvenile ignorance of humanity's history broadly and is a defilement to the legacy and convictions of the Founding Fathers.

A Little History Lesson

A reading of ancient and even modern history is a reminder of the fragility of any civil equilibrium. History is filled with a series of once dominant rulers, whose kingdoms were overtaken and whose people were cruelly subjugated; it is a process of temporary stability and inevitable chaos. Our past is packed with unjust rulers, endless wars, tribal disagreements and relatively brief sprawling Empires. Remember the Egyptian and Persian, the Roman and Ottoman, the Napoleon and the British empires, all of which slaughtered and enslaved many before eventually falling. For example, when Julius Caesar expanded into Gaul (modern France), his legions massacred the population of 40,000 in Avaricum, leaving only 800 survivors.

The founding of the American ideals (despite it’s many faults in action) was a small blip of sanity in an endless mishmash of rulers who often governed with an autocratic ferocity. Thomas Jefferson, for example, went as far as stating his belief that slaves should be free and women should be equal. Of course, America has a dark history with slavery and racism, as well as oppression of women; I am merely pointing out that the liberation from religious law, recognition of freedom of speech and the right to elect leaders was truly revolutionary.

Renowned commentator and writer, Christopher Hitchens pointed out how visionary the beliefs of Thomas Paine were in such works as "Declaration of the Rights of Man," which innovated the notion of the welfare state and the freedom to speak against religion, for instance. The HBO series on John Adams does a spectacular job dramatizing the Founding Father's fierce compulsion towards independence. Their goal was a nation of sovereign individuals, free from religious oppression, able to democratically choose those who lead them.

The Loaded Totalitarian Gun of a Surveillance Stat

In the mid-1950’s my grandfather Samuel, whom I hold the same name as, was Blacklisted. He was Jewish by blood and was a scriptwriter and producer for CBS' Edward R. Murrow, a public critic of McCarthyism. Because of his identity and political association, the government presumed he would have communist leanings. This prosecution, forced my grandfather abroad. 

This historical anecdote reveals how quickly, when society becomes hysterical over a perceived enemy, we can condemn our neighbors.

Today, the massive infrastructure of surveillance is in place. With the wrong leader in office, or a swift change in the public mood, an Orwellian-esque crack-down based on your Facebook messages is within the range of possibility, as Edward Snowden points out in a Vice documentary.

This all-too-near scenario illustrates the present vulnerability of our nation. Now as we witnessed an uneducated, angry voting bloc who has been willing to elect an outright lunatic for president (Trump), we can see, now more than ever, the precariousness of our nation’s equilibrium.

Obama had four separate investigations into the NSA surveillance to see if it was effective and reports all recommended closing the programs. He made a speech in 2014 where he stated the need to “end the Section 215 bulk metadata program as it currently exists.”

Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, who is described as the author of the Patriot Act, pushed for reform after the Snowden releases.

Since then, there have been revisions and slight restrictions made, under the Freedom USA Act. This includes a five-year period where information on citizens can be stored, and if no use is found, then it must be deleted.

So now, the unconstitutional invasion of privacy codified by the last two administrations lingers on as the election of 2016 comes to a close.

Revolutionary Roots

The data mining, which conceivably generates a political analysis, social connections web and documents our most intimate habits may be negligible to those accepting today’s status quo. But, it must be understood by all citizens that this sort of encroachment on the individual is a threat to those with contrary opinions -- the dissenters; it's a snub to our revolutionary roots.

The Founding Fathers were fiercely opposed to the intoxicating effects of power, so they set up the protection of the free speech and the right to individual liberty (private life as uninfluenced by the state). Giving up our rights so easily, to the corporate-state interests, for the sake of Facebook and Pokemon Go (both of which channel massive amounts of data to corporations in-bed with the government), may be an unfixable mistake.

Millennials often complain about the corrupt and unjust system, but as Obama has pointed out, only slightly over half of the people actually come out to the polls. The current president, despite any faulty policies, clearly has altruistic intentions towards this country. He is a pragmatist and his doctrine has been steady, if not progressive enough for some, like Noam Chomsky, if not conservative enough for others, like Ben Shapiro.

When Obama criticizes the nihilism of young people towards political process, it is because he knows that an uneducated and unmotivated public could lead to the continued fracturing of our democracy. Obama is well aware that we live in an oligarchical system, where the banks and corporations pull the strings of the world's stage with staggering power.

But, as much as this nation has become a plutocracy, our saving grace is elections by populous and an insurance of independence of mind, which, when mobilized, can lead to revolution and reformation.

Bernie Bros and Socialism

Original art: found art clipping and ink

During the primary elections, I saw my Facebook feed flooding with fellow Millennials who were suddenly, unexpectedly and yet ardently politically motivated. What was animating these Instagramming, selfie-shooting hipsters: an old Jewish man, griping about socialism.

They cited their college debts; ranted about the need to break up the big banks; called to extricate big money's diffusion of fair politics. All of this was their revolution.

From my view these are validated progressive ideas, which, despite falling short in the primaries, the animated youthful support is reason for optimism.

Young people have a tendency towards liberalism and idealism. Sanders retained this vital progressivism, despite being old enough to recollect sitting at a typewriter during his studies at university -- which were then affordable! Besides the disposition of youth, it is in the academy where historically and presently the Left has set foundations and influenced culture and politics.

The professorial fascination with communism has been prolifically articulated, so passionately and continuously that it has bled into young American minds (this is satirized in Ethan Hawk and Jullianne Moore’s movie “Maggie’s Plan,” which I recommend). Among my contemporaries, recent graduates and undergraduates, there is the stench of an anti-capitalist sentiment that is far beyond a call for hybrid-socialism.

Of course, America is already is somewhat socialist, with Social Security, welfare programs and has a history going back to the public works of FDR, who said: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have little."

The Communism Confusion

Yet my generation's enthusiasm for Marxist revolution is superficial: They are confused by the current crony capitalism and are without appreciation for the merits of an authentic free-market.

A free-market, with intelligent limitations, is the only historical solution to the problem of governance. When socialism is taken to it's fullest expression, and the free-market is abolished, we end up with communism. This is a system where the ideal is egalitarianism -- a flattening of the social hierarchy.

Liberals value the need to take care of the less fortunate members of society. But, as Aristotle proved, any virtue taken to its extreme becomes a vice. And in the implementation of communism, the ideology takes precedence over the individual: Any person, or idea that is resistant proves expendable to the ultimate goal. In other words, the ends justify the means. Examples: Stalin's Russia and Mao's China, which resulted in millions dead.

Conclusion

I have given a background on the Western and American values of liberalism and the current threats to our rights to free speech coming from the government, which we as the public are compliant in.

In the second part of this article, I will delve into another area where censorship is coming from, that being the radical Left, especially on campuses.