NEW YORK TIMES: Clearly, there is a moral principle at work in the actions of the leakers, whistle-blowers and hacktivists and those who support them. I would also argue that that moral principle has been clearly articulated, and it may just save us from a dystopian future. In “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” one of the most poignant and important works of 20th-century philosophy, Hannah Arendt made an observation about what she called “the banality of evil.” One interpretation of this holds that it was not an observation about what a regular guy Adolf Eichmann seemed to be, but rather a statement about what happens when people play their “proper” roles within a system, following prescribed conduct with respect to that system, while remaining blind to the moral consequences of what the system was doing — or at least compartmentalizing and ignoring those consequences.
A good illustration of this phenomenon appears in “Moral Mazes,” a book by the sociologist Robert Jackall that explored the ethics of decision making within several corporate bureaucracies. In it, Jackall made several observations that dovetailed with those of Arendt. The mid-level managers that he spoke with were not “evil” people in their everyday lives, but in the context of their jobs, they had a separate moral code altogether, what Jackall calls the “fundamental rules of corporate life”:
(1) You never go around your boss. (2) You tell your boss what he wants to hear, even when your boss claims that he wants dissenting views. (3) If your boss wants something dropped, you drop it. (4) You are sensitive to your boss’s wishes so that you anticipate what he wants; you don’t force him, in other words, to act as a boss. (5) Your job is not to report something that your boss does not want reported, but rather to cover it up. You do your job and you keep your mouth shut.
Jackall went through case after case in which managers violated this code and were drummed out of a business (for example, for reporting wrongdoing in the cleanup at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant). MORE
RELATED: Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, an organization of former national security officials, has honored NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, praising his decision to reveal the extent of U.S. government electronic surveillance of people in the United States and around the world. Edward Snowden, an ex-contractor for the National Security Agency, has been named recipient of this year’s award for truth-telling given by Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, the group announced Monday. Most of the Sam Adams Associates are former senior national security officials who, with the other members, understand fully the need to keep legitimate secrets. Each of the U.S. members took a solemn oath “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
Former senior NSA executive Thomas Drake, who won the Sam Adams award in 2011, has called what Snowden did “an amazingly brave act of civil disobedience.” When secrecy is misused to hide unconstitutional activities, fealty to that oath – and higher duty as citizens of conscience – dictate support for truth-tellers who summon the courage to blow the whistle. Edward Snowden’s disclosures fit the classic definition of whistle-blowing. The invective hurled at Snowden by the corporate and government-influenced media reflects understandable embarrassment that he would dare expose the collusion of all three branches of the U.S. government in perpetrating and then covering up their abuse of the Constitution. This same collusion has thwarted all attempts to pass laws that would protect genuine truth-tellers like Snowden who see and wish to stop unconstitutional activities. MORE