David Brooks misses the point on Snowden

In a recent piece, New York Times columnist David Brooks attacked Edward Snowden and lamented the trust gap between the American people and their government shown by the NSA leaking scandal and America’s reaction to it. Snowden, according to Brooks, did not give proper respect to the “invisible bonds” that hold society together.

“Big Brother is not the only danger facing the country,” Brooks writes. “Another is the rising tide of distrust, the corrosive spread of cynicism, the fraying of the social fabric and the rise of people who are so individualistic in their outlook that they have no real understanding of how to knit others together and look after the common good.”

And to think that Brooks passes for an advocate of limited government in the venerated halls of The New York Times!

Striking a balance between liberty and society has long been an endeavor of the collectivist philosophies, but Brooks’ argument goes a step further. Rather than defending the existing balance between individual privacy and government surveillance, Brooks attacks Snowden for informing us of where the balance currently lies. Apparently society, which for Brooks seems to be the fundamental human unit, is so paramount as to justify the subversion of individual rights, but not paramount enough to be informed of those subversions.

At no point does Brooks even consider the possibility that the rising tide of distrust and cynicism is a byproduct of the massive infringements on individual liberty perpetrated by the U.S. government (and the arguments of its sycophants that we should simply ignore them). No, instead Brooks blames that distrust on the information age and its penchant for liberating people from the social institutions that cowed past generations into acquiescence.

Continuing his descent through the looking glass, Brooks drops these gems:

“[Snowden] betrayed the cause of open government. Every time there is a leak like this, the powers that be close the circle of trust a little tighter. They limit debate a little more.

“He betrayed the privacy of us all. If federal security agencies can’t do vast data sweeps, they will inevitably revert to the older, more intrusive eavesdropping methods.”

You see? Because Edward Snowden decided to undermine the trust between the U.S. government and its citizens (by revealing the U.S. government is untrustworthy), the U.S. government now has no choice but to abuse its powers even more.

This logic evokes the childhood game of hitting your friend with his own hand while demanding that he stop hitting himself. The more we expose government wrongdoing, the more wrong the government is going to do, ergo we should stop forcing the government to abuse us.