The right of the multitude (II): the right to dissidence

by Ana Bazac

 

 

I

 

Actually, my paper related to the right of the multitude was motivated by the formidable event generated by Edward Snowden in the world politics. As we know, the mainstream ideology has focused on two arguments: that Edward Snowden would be a traitor and that he does not deserve any asylum. These arguments should be discussed philosophically: because only philosophy transcends the horizon of political institutions and concrete human interests by questioning their legitimacy and reasons. In the first episode of my paper – “The right of the multitude (I): citizenship and the right to asylum”, http://egophobia.ro/?p=10351 – I begun this discussion and I showed that the necessary right to asylum is only a compensative right in the frame of domination-submission power relations and that, because of the natural human need (and right) to feel protected anywhere and by all other human beings, the solution is the right to be citizen of the world.

The right to asylum is the right to escape from a country that does not protect the individual, that harms him, mostly even at the level of his physical existence. This right to escape has to be recognised by the countries the individual searches for as new home, new place to live in. Many times countries have recognised this right[1]. Well, even in this situation – and we also ought to think to indirect manners of search for asylum, as emigration because of poverty and lack of jobs –, in fact the individual is not a winner, but a looser: because he only adapts to the worldwide state of capitalism in system crisis, searching for lesser harmful niches to live in.

Of course, theses niches are or may be far better for him than the abandoned native country – and when he flees because of real threatening of his life he must do this in any country avoiding this threatening – but everywhere capitalism subsidises corporations but reduces till the destruction the social rights of the labour force, everywhere it supports war and militarization, and barbarization of the human conscience and behaviour. If the individual wants to win – indeed, to express his creativity by judging the social environment beyond the legitimating prejudices – he has to consider the whole world, thus including the home and host countries, as his place to struggle against the structural causes of his and his fellow men’s alienation, submission and reduction of his and their humanity.

Edward Snowden should flee the USA and search for an asylum, because only in this way he could escape his life. But there are some people who flee from their countries not for saving their lives, not for a job or dignified conditions of life, but because of the mirage of personal affluence in the fashion of the “American way of life”. The dignified conditions of life obviously contain material aspects erasing the constraining necessity. But these dignified conditions obligatorily include values[2], aims of human solidarity and freedom to express one’s ability to critique. Did the Cuban doctors who defected “for a better life” in the presumable niche offered by the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program of the US government[3] find these values by defecting?

The whole world is my country. We need to freely travel and live everywhere, according to our need to know, to experience, to create, to fight for a dignified life of all humans. But the reasons of our being are to know, to experience, to create, to fight: to freely travel and live everywhere are only the means of these reasons.

If so, the right to freely travel and live everywhere as well as the right to asylum are depending on our strongest inertia of feelings: that of pertaining to a language and culture and that of stubbornly persist and fight in a certain place. Hic Rhodos, hic salta. The deep meaning of this saying is that although people may leave a certain place because their homeland would be everywhere they enjoy their life instead of being despondent of it (ubi bene, ibi patria), nevertheless they want to demonstrate the power of their uniqueness in front and in the middle of problems they have discovered: within their communities. We can depart, certainly, but hic Rhodos, hic salta, it’s more challenging, more interesting. And even though our life will be more accomplished in the new home we find, we always will be nostalgic about the lost possibility, the Rhodos which will not anymore see our effort to demonstrate our unique capacity to live.

Consequently, nowadays the right to asylum, as the last save, has only a negative connotation if it is taken alone, as a kind of culmination of international rights of man: for it reflects the lack of human rights in the mother countries. But the right to asylum has a positive meaning if it is part of the system of human rights to oppose violence, injustice and irrationalism: in this system, the right to asylum is only a means.

 

II

 

Edward Snowden is not a spy or a traitor: he is a dissident. What does this mean? He has challenged from an active standpoint the universal and particular promoted by the state (thereby all states) as a priori and one-sided, i.e. reflecting only the interest of the rulers and reducing the ruled to the observance of the official law imposing that interest: for him, the human individual is not a given datum but a reality whose whole depends just on its moral autonomy; consequently, the human individual cannot be passive in front of the principles given by an abstract authority; the only efficient content of the human spirit, that is supporting the manifestations of this spirit, is the freedom of these manifestations, and “the only credible criterion to say about a culture, a religion or a state they are efficient is the recognition they accord to the value of freedom as the highest and universal”[4]: if this does not happen, the individual has not only the right to oppose to the restriction of freedom of his/her rational thinking and moral autonomy, but he/she is in fact constrained by this restriction to move, to become and to change. “It is only in the name of freedom – I add, of real freedom of thought of the many – that the becoming becomes dissidence”[5].

It was not only the abstract character of the universal principles promoted by Snowden’s state (as well as by other states) that which was propitious to his dissidence. The young American intellectual has grasped not only the contradictions of this abstract character, but also the systematic infringement of the abstract principles officially supported.

Edward Snowden is an absolutely modern “computer guy” (“indoor cat”)[6] who became a whistleblower when he thought to the methods of the state (of the powerful institutions) manipulating information. Because he is in love with the world of information, he saw that this world tends to be subjected to the powerful, while depriving the majority of population from the control of information. He saw that, contrary to the power people would have through information, they became more dominated through this means. Their rights “are being redefined in secret, by secret courts that were never intended to have that role—without the consent of the public, without even the awareness of the majority of our political representatives”[7]. And in order to annul this, he wants to create/to contribute to a “technical reform” concerning “digital rights” in a kind of “Magna Carta for the Internet” (control of surveillance, privacy protection, information freedom and protection)[8].

First of all, Edward Snowden is a technician and thinks that only competence could solve things. This is the reason of his focus on the technical feasibility of a democratic treatment of information. But just because of the domain his competence is involved, he saw the above-mentioned contradictions and, as according to Kant’s advice in his What is enlightenment? (1784), he has denounced them publicly.

This public exposure of the “abuses”[9] was that which infuriated the political institutions. They irrevocably have condemned the former private contactor for the NSA, who notwithstanding assumes that he is “not a communist, a socialist or a radical”[10]. “Things need to be determined by the public and not by somebody who was simply hired by the government”[11].

Of course, Snowden knows that neither the public denunciation nor the technical reform of information would be effective in the present structure of power. “We cannot be effective without a mass movement…But that moment is not now”[12]. This is the reason he thinks that technical activism would lead to outcomes, supported by a civil disobedience of the “abuses”, the excesses.

Edward Snowden is not a radical, he “is not seriously at war with America, its government or its society”, he is not even an “anti-imperialist”[13]. He only wants to address the social issues (reduction of jobs) resulting from the present development of automation and, certainly, the problems of the manipulation of information. Thus from a standpoint, he would be a “conservative’ aiming at preventing social unrests because of the perverting of capitalism (let’s joke: because of the “deformed”, “degraded” level of capitalism): he attacks the excessive mass surveillance and secrecy hitting the genuine principles of the Western democracy (transparency, publicity). He attacks the infringement of genuine moral principles legitimising democracy[14].

But on the other hand, Edward Snowden takes part from the present world multitude trying to overcome the world capitalism in its senile phase. “He is a hero”[15], of course, but this not only for his concrete attack on the policies of information, but also because he emphasizes – perhaps unwillingly – the strong interdependence between politics and economics, between forms and contents. By listening Snowden, many people better understand that when all is said and done the treatment of information is not first a question of openness or shutdown, but a question of power. They better understand that to protest against the deformation of information and policies, is not enough.

Edward Snowden is a hero[16] – in this sense, a radical – also because he has overthrown the habitual behaviour of political opponents to a state. In this habitual behaviour, the opponents became employees of the intelligence service of the state they could find asylum within. The situation has illustrated the adversity between secret services belonging to different states and between states as such. But Snowden has “offered up information they considered important not to an enemy state but to the general public”[17]. In this way he showed not only that the concept of state secrecy – as all the other social concepts – is historical and reflects different relations of forces, but also that the multitude has an ever greater political role in the world. More: that there is the tendency of reversal of the relationship between population and the state. The absolute and unquestionable power of the later over the former is jolting.

 

III

 

Edward Snowden is a dissident. What does dissidence mean? Before the 1989-1991 years, dissidence was preponderant in the liberal-conservative ideology. How that? It meant anti-communism (opposition to the system/structural non-capitalist relations) through the form of democratic opposition to the authoritarian political regime from the former socialist countries. Democracy was reduced in this image to the Western representative and multi-party system, and the opposition was clearly directed toward the “really existing socialism”. The liberal intelligentsia enthusiastically took over this approach[18]: “capitalism = democracy, socialism = dictatorship”.  This was a clear opposition from the right, which always silenced that this opposition has the strong support of Western countries and that the opposition from the left was very weak and lacked any support.

In this tradition, the officially awarded dissidence is, first, against the political regime. In this sense, Snowden is a dissident. And because, secondly, the model of dissidence supposes the attack against the system itself, Snowden is once more a dissident.

But because his object is in fact capitalism – under all its forms –, he is a non-traditional dissident. And even though he only suggests correlations between the policies of information and the structural relations (economy), he represents the looking-for alternatives of the ordinary people, the multitude. From this standpoint, his opposition tends to no longer be from the right. But it’s only a tendency: that has to be developed by the multitude he is part of.

 

[1] But not in the case of Edward Snowden. See Bill Van Auken,  Edward Snowden: Planet without a visa, 3 July 2013, http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/07/03/pers-j03.html: just because all of these countries not only defend their ruling classes and “national interests”, but they want to prevent similar behaviours.

[2] L’extraordinaire bilan médical global de Cuba fait honte au blocus des États-Unis, 4 décembre 2014, http://www.legrandsoir.info/l-extraordinaire-bilan-medical-global-de-cuba-fait-honte-au-blocus-des-etats-unis-the-guardian.html.

[3] A Cuban Brain Drain, Courtesy of the U.S., Nov. 16, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/17/opinion/a-cuban-brain-drain-courtesy-of-us.html?_r=0.

[4] Gilbert Zue-Nguema, « Le devenir comme dissidence », L’Universel et le Devenir de l’Humain, Actes du XXII° congrès international de l’ASPLF du 28 août au 1er septembre 2008, Tunis, Association  Tunisienne des Études Philosophiques, 2010, p. 116.

[5] Ibidem.

[6] Katrina vanden Heuvel and Stephen F. Cohen, Edward Snowden: A ‘Nation’ Interview,  October 28, 2014, http://www.thenation.com/article/186129/snowden-exile-exclusive-interview.

[7] Ibidem.

[8] Ibidem.

[9] Edward Snowden Interview Transcript FULL TEXT: Read the Guardian’s Entire Interview With the Man Who Leaked PRISM, June 9, 2013, http://www.policymic.com/articles/47355/edward-snowden-interview-transcript-full-text-read-the-guardian-s-entire-interview-with-the-man-who-leaked-prism.

[10] Katrina vanden Heuvel and Stephen F. Cohen, Edward Snowden: A ‘Nation’ Interview,  October 28, 2014, http://www.thenation.com/article/186129/snowden-exile-exclusive-interview.

[11] Edward Snowden Interview Transcript FULL TEXT: Read the Guardian’s Entire Interview With the Man Who Leaked PRISM, June 9, 2013, http://www.policymic.com/articles/47355/edward-snowden-interview-transcript-full-text-read-the-guardian-s-entire-interview-with-the-man-who-leaked-prism.

[12] Katrina vanden Heuvel and Stephen F. Cohen, Edward Snowden: A ‘Nation’ Interview,  October 28, 2014, http://www.thenation.com/article/186129/snowden-exile-exclusive-interview.

[13] William Blum, Is Edward Snowden a Radical?, Global Research, June 08, 2014, http://www.globalresearch.ca/is-edward-snowden-a-radical/5386128.

[14] See the present emphasis on the compulsory moral legitimacy of political techniques: Efficiency no justification for criminal activity – Snowden on CIA torture report, December 10, 2014, http://rt.com/news/213247-snowden-torture-efficiency-security/. “A government could say that rape has a positive effect because we have a declining demographic crisis in the country… Efficiency has no place in the debate about right and wrong”.

[15] William Blum, Is Edward Snowden a Radical?, Global Research, June 08, 2014, http://www.globalresearch.ca/is-edward-snowden-a-radical/5386128.

[16] He us not the only one. See Slavoj Žižek, Freedom in the Cloud: Assange, Manning and Snowden are the new heroes of the era of digitalized control, August 13, 2013, http://inthesetimes.com/article/15451/freedom_in_the_cloud. Also Kristina Betinis, Stratfor hacker sentenced to ten years in prison, 21 November 2013, http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/11/21/hamm-n21.html.

[17] Fyodor Lukyanov, Uncertain World: Agreeing to Disagree on Snowden, 1 July 2013, http://eng.globalaffairs.ru/redcol/Uncertain-World-Agreeing-to-Disagree-on-Snowden-16061.

[18] See Octavio Paz, One Earth, Four or Five Worlds: Reflections on Contemporary History (1983), Translated by Helen R. Lane, San Diego, New York, London, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985.

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