Thursday, May 22, 2014

Kinsley vs. Greenwald: it's about principle

My twitter feed has exploded with hate over the Michael Kinsley review of "No Place To Hide". That's because they've focused on one small paragraph in the middle of the review rather than paying attention to Kinsley's larger point.

Kinsley is nominally on our side, agreeing that "the Snowden leaks were important — a legitimate scoop — and we might never have known about the N.S.A.'s lawbreaking if it hadn’t been for them".

What Kinsley disagrees with is Greenwald's lack of principle. For example, the NSA's breaking of the law demonstrates their perfidy, whereas Snowden's breaking of the law demonstrates his heroism. Greenwald changes his principle of the moment to show his side being good and the opposing side bad. Kinsley's long career in journalism is notable for his upholding journalistic principles. To somebody of integrity like Kinsley, somebody without integrity like Greenwald is an anathema.

This is an important point, showing the third leg to the NSA/Snowden Affair: people of principle. Most people take an "us vs. them" stance where their own side can do no wrong and the opposing side can do no right. The third leg is people of principle, who while supporting part of Snowden's actions nonetheless don't agree with everything. For example, as I've written before, I believe Snowden is a hero, but nonetheless I think he belongs in jail.

This is similar to why people of principle cannot abide by Julian Assange. Everyone who has worked closely with Assange confirms that the guy is a pathological liar (or, as Kinsley puts it, a "self-canonized narcissist"). Those who believe in the principle of truth and honesty cannot support Assange -- even while they support the principle of Wikileaks.

This idea of principle is the heart of Kinsley's review. Only as an afterthought does he claim the government should "have the final say over the release of government secrets" -- the statement that has generated so much disagreement. This is wrong, of course, but it stems from trust in the current system and his distrust of Greenwald's lack of principles. Where Kinsley errs is in not seeing how deeply delusional and corrupt the system has become. We have a system that errs on the side of leaking too few secrets rather than too many. That Greenwald has gone off the deep-end leaking too many is just a reaction to a delusional system that has been leaking too few.

In any case, my point is this: Kinsley's review isn't about argument the government should be the final arbiter (which is wrong). Instead, his point is that Greenwald sucks as man of principle (which is right).


Simon said...
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Salim Douba said...

"...Kinsley trusts the system". Really so? did we not learn enough of NSA illegal spying to lead us into distrusting the system. NSA is not outside the system that Kinsley trusts, neither it is the only one bad apple.