Friday, June 7, 2013

Purists abdicate their role as human beings and citizens

Because of his role at the center of the recent leaks about NSA, the Washington Post ran a story about Glenn Greenwald. It was basically a puff piece extolling this bloggers "virtues" and completely missed his severe ethical lapses, but I suppose that is to be expected in the current climate.

However, there was one quote from Glenn himself that stood out to me.
“I approach my journalism as a litigator,” he said. “People say things, you assume they are lying, and dig for documents to prove it.”
People who read here regularly know that I have no love lost for Glenn. I think this pretty well captures a big dose of why. And I think its an important world view that goes beyond the approach of this one litigator turned blogger.

My first response on reading this was to think how similar this approach is to that of Rep. Darrell Issa who makes up conspiracy theories and then goes in search of proof.

But think for a moment about what it means to have a world view where you simply assume everyone is lying. This is the mirror opposite of what folks like Glenn and other emos suggest is the failing of anyone who they label an "Obamabot" when they say that we blindly trust the President. They blindly distrust the President. Based on the reality of human nature, neither approach is warranted.

Its probably true that all human beings tell a lie at one point or another. I'll be perfectly honest and say that I certainly have. But other than an extreme sociopath, its also true that none of us lie all the time. To assume so means that you approach the world with a lens that distorts reality - which is what Glenn does so much of the time. Now I understand a little bit more about why.

In the end, to assume either blind trust or that people always lie is to relinquish the responsibility for the hard work of what it means to be human in a world populated by other humans. We have to look at people, listen to what they have to say, watch what they do and then form our beliefs/opinions based on what the individual does in any given situation. When we avoid doing that, we generalize. And that is the root of prejudice (not much different than assuming brown/black people have lower intelligence or are more prone to crime).

The need to do that is especially important when it comes to politics. It is my opinion that the founders were right in choosing to create a democratic republic rather than go with a simple majority rule. In other words, we elect people to represent us rather than have simple referendums asking the people to decide on every issue (over the last few years we've seen how the latter has been abused in states like California). That means that we need to observe those representatives (I'm using the term broadly to apply to all elected officials, not just members of the House) closely and make educated choices about how they've done when we enter the voting booth. We also have to live with the choice that a majority of people make in those elections - whether we agree or not. Our recourse if we don't is to do the hard work of community organizing to make changes the next time.

Anyway, that's how its supposed to work. To simply suggest that we trust those who are elected (as evidently Glenn did prior to his days as a blogger) or to assume that they're all liars is to abdicate our role as citizens in developing good government.

I get that Glenn and the emos distrust power (which is at the heart of assuming that anyone with it is automatically a liar). We certainly have been witness to the many ways power has been abused. But some day they are going to have to deal with the fact that it is the only tool we have to make the changes we want to see. If every politician is always assumed to be a liar, we've bought into the whole anti-government thing that is at the heart of the Republican message these days.

Its true that no politician is perfect. That comes with the territory of being human. But its also true that not all of them are evil. To resort to one or the other is what we mean when we call people "purists." Real life is MUCH more complex than that - as is the role of citizenship in a democratic republic.


  1. The attitude seems not to have served Greenwald well as a litigator, either, towards the end. I would doubt until it is shown otherwise that it served him well before that, either.

  2. I haven't read any of his article until a few minutes ago at Balloon Juice. WOW - if no one told me he wrote it I would have guessed it was written by Alex Jones about some new world order.

    And this quote is disturbing too. Should Glenn's readers also assume that he is lying as well and dig into his work? Nah, they blindly believe what he says and other members of the MSM do so as well.