25 March 2014

Oxford Union Debate On Snowden: And Chris Hedges On Civil Disobedience

The Oxford Union Debate on the question "Is Edward Snowden a Hero?" is quite interesting, and I am glad that they have made the individual contributions available on youtube. I wish they had made it available as a whole piece, but this will have to do.

It was a formal debate, and so we see the usual rhetorical ploys here and there.  A Mr. Crowley, speaking against, tried to make the case that only history can pass a judgment on Mr. Snowden. He threw in a little fear, uncertainty and doubt as well. One can always argue that time is needed to make any decision, so it is a bit of a red herring and somewhat cheap, but nevertheless it was nicely done.

Of all the negative arguments,  Mr. Toobin makes the most representative and pertinent case, with the usual amount of diversions and rhetorical equivalences, which is basically what the US government takes as their perspective in this.  I believe those fellows interrupting him are the 'judges' of debates, who can push a bit on things that are unclear, which is a polite way of saying 'howlers.'  But I could be mistaken. 

I have never attended an Oxford debate, but I have visited there numerous times. I have a framed needlepoint framed, compliments of a talented relative, hanging in my study.  I sketched it from one on the kneelers in Newman's church, St. Mary's, that has the Oxford motto, Dominus Illuminatio Mea.  The Lord Is My Light.

The positive side of the question carried the day and quite well. I suggest you listen to all the presentations, as you may find others that you like more, and that offer insights for your own thought.  You can search for them using Google, and typing in search words like "Oxford Union Debate Snowden youtube videos" for example. You can also try the Oxford Union youtube channel which I have just found here.

I wanted also to highlight Mr. Hedges' presentation, because in it he speaks to the much broader and more interesting subject, that of civil disobedience which he calls 'moral courage.' At first it rankled a bit that he distinguished such courage from that shown on the battlefield, but then as I listened his point became clear. And as always, his speaking style and literary allusions are quite pleasant to hear.

I regret that the modern news in the US does not offer such interesting forums for discussion, instead staging 'debates' between two paid actors who merely yell at one another.

One thing that never came out explicitly in the debate, at least in the portions which I have read or heard so far, is the concept of natural law. There are the laws of a nation, and in terms of strict legality, things which are done there may be judged illegal or lawful, based on those laws.

But what happens when a country grossly violates human rights, for example, under the aegis of their laws? Are they protected? Are those who follow those laws merely following the law, or orders, if you will?

Under the laws of the Reich, Sophie Scholl committed treason, judged by a lawful court, and was duly beheaded. A German lawyer emailed me some time ago and made that case quite forcefully. 

But those who did the judging and the beheading were later themselves convicted of a number of crimes, including crimes against humanity, and conspiracy to wage aggressive war among them, that were extra-legal to the Reich, and any written body of laws of which I am aware. They were judged guilty under the laws of what is moral, or the natural laws. It is the appeal to these overarching natural laws that Jefferson appealed when he wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident..."

It is an interesting concept. Martin Luther King directly attributes it to Divine Providence, in one of his most famous speeches which I almost never tire of excerpting, as I do in the last video below.  It is why he gave up his life, after all.

If we did not have a Constitution in the US, it might be necessary to engage in this discussion. But since the Constitution is quite clear on any number of these points, and the distribution of power, and oversight and transparency, and supremacy of individual rights, we need not worry perhaps.

Except for those who would hide and deceive and ride roughshod over what the narrowly legal mind and the flourish of rhetoric can consider just 'another piece of paper' when weighed on the expedient scales of the scheming mind, servile apathy, and the will to power.

I have just found Mr. Binney's presentation here.    Although it was dry, sometimes disjointed, and a bit technical, it was nevertheless interesting because he has quite a few of the facts and history of these programs at his fingertips through personal experience.

I thought Chris Huhne gave a nice summation for the proposition here. I include it because this meme that Snowden purposely fled to Moscow to live there is quite irritating. He was trapped there because the US yanked his passport, and through pressure even went so far as to stop an official flight carrying the Ecuadoran president in order to prevent his seeking asylum there. How obligingly forgetful and servile the presstitutes in the mainstream media can be when it suits.