Friday, October 04, 2013

Response to Peter Ludlow

Peter Ludlow had a piece a couple of weeks ago in The Stone at the NYT.

In it he defends all the recent leakers (Snowden, Manning et al) as brave souls fighting a tyrannical system in the only way they can.  He essentially portrays them as refusing to be "good Germans", and if he doesn't use those words he does start off by quoting Eichmann in Jerusalem.

Ludlow quotes David Brooks and John Bolton making blanket dismissals of the same leakers for allowing their self-confidence to trump their allegiance to their coworkers and compatriots, and to the systems in which they worked.  Ludlow himself all-but-dismisses the possibility that people can police the organizations over which they have authority, a point I'll revisit in a moment.

What they're all ignoring, probably because iffiness makes for bad copy, is that there are no rules of behavior that will make the decision to blow-the-whistle or not into something that can be calculated by a computer.  "Good Germans" were very bad people, not because they they followed orders but because they knew that the orders were evil, that the people they were persecuting didn't deserve it, that they ignored the plight of their neighbors out of fear, not loyalty, and all the other pathologies attendant on the phenomenon.

There are always cases that call for breaking ranks, breaking faith, betraying (perhaps in a narrow sense) your own side.  And there will always be cases where the goal can be accomplished -- perhaps with  great deal of pain and difficulty -- within the system, or where the damage is disproportionate to what's accomplished.

And there's no way to know for certain which situation you find yourself in.

So we can tinker with the laws for the punishment of treason and those for the protection of whistle-blowers, but we're never going to get it exactly right and we'll sometimes misapply what we do have.  This is not only natural, but to an extent desirable:  We want people to think long and hard about tattling and about keeping silent; the consideration should be in proportion to the consequences.

As for Ludlow's vision of organizations as corporate entities with agendas seemingly divorced from those of the people running them, it reads like a tract on Class Warfare and is hard to take seriously.
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