That's why I found myself agreeing with some of what Peter Ludlow has written in a NYT op-ed titled The Banality of Systemic Evil. For example:
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 is was not an observation about what a regular guy Adolph Eichmann seemed to be, but rather a statement about what happens when people play their “proper” roles within a system, following proscribed 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.That reminds me of this Martin Luther King, Jr. quote:
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.Staying silent in the face of evil is indeed to be complicit.
But nowhere in Ludlow's article does he grapple with the deep moral question of having to isolate what is "evil." Much as Glenn Greenwald simply assumes that anyone in a position of power is lying, Ludlow infers that any bureaucratic system is evil and therefore justifies whistleblowing. When it comes to our government system, you can see how this aligns perfectly with a libertarian view.
Even those who are the loudest critics of Chelsea Manning will note that if she had merely leaked information about malfeasance in Iraq, she would likely be deemed a hero and walk free today. But that's not what she did. She leaked indiscriminately.
When it comes to Edward Snowden, there is even less of a case to be made. To date he has not released anything that points to illegal activities. President Obama has been willing to discuss improvements to NSA surveillance and the administration is busy declassifying at least as many documents as have been leaked so far. The idea that what we are witnessing from this administration falls under the rubric of "the banality of evil" is simply absurd.
Ultimately the job of whistleblower brings with it the responsibility to ask deep moral questions of oneself. To take the easy way out by simply defining every system as evil isn't a moral position - its the abdication that responsibility. Snowden and Manning have cheapened the whole concept of what it means to be a whistleblower. They don't deserve the label.
UPDATE: Just a bit off-topic, but I find this kind of tweet from Greenwald to be fascinating.
Pulitzer Prize Winning Author, Alice Walker, Shows Support For Edward Snowden http://t.co/BKoPQ0pE9p
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) September 16, 2013
No one has more respect for Alice Walker than I do. But the implication here is that if Walker supports Snowden, so should I, because nowhere in the article linked is her position explained or justified. Its simply stated. This is solely an appeal to authority from someone who constantly decries authoritarianism. It also suggests that perhaps those in doubt should "blindly" follow those they admire.
Alice Walker's view of Snowden doesn't really affect mine. I chose to look at the evidence and decide for myself. If that means I don't agree with her, so be it. I have as much right to my own opinion as she does. I suspect Alice would support that. Its the non-authoritarian thing to do.