Truth, Power, and the Duty to Act

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Lauri Love, a young political activist from Stradishall in the UK, is currently facing extradition to the US. There, he would face 99 years in prison, most likely in isolation. Love has Aspergers Syndrome, and told a British court today that he fears he would kill himself if he was extradited to the US. He has been accused of hacking and stealing data from US Government computers including the Federal Reserve, the US Army and NASA.

There is something hideously ironic about two governments which subject their citizenry to 24-hour mass surveillance, much of which has previously been declared illegal, suddenly seeking retribution against a young man who has dared to subject them to the same level of scrutiny. Indeed, there is something grotesque about it, given that we purport to live in a democracy, the very foundation of which is open government; in an ideal democratic society, those who wield the greatest political power would operate with transparency and openness, while the ordinary citizenry would not be subject to any level of close scrutiny or surveillance, hence the distinction between ‘public officials’ and ‘private citizens’. As pointed out by Edward Snowden, however, in the UK and the US this principle has been completely reversed; now, those who wield the greatest political power operate behind a wall of opaqueness and secrecy, while everything that private citizens do is open to maximum scrutiny and surveillance. Instead of our leaders being accountable to us, we are accountable to our leaders. What Lauri Love did, therefore, was seek to restore some semblance of balance to the vast disparity of power which now characterises our society. For that, he must be punished.

It is a universal truism that the powerless simply cannot adopt the same methods as the powerful. What the strong do to the weak can never be revisited upon them, because all of the power is on the side of the strong. If the weak even attempt to do to the strong what is consistently done to them, they are promptly crushed, unless they operate with extreme caution and tact. The case of Lauri Love proves that the powerful do not play by the same rules as the powerless, and that to resist the powerful through inflicting on them the same acts that they inflict on us is to sacrifice your life and freedom. After all, it is the strong who have a monopoly on violence. The reason why Love faces 99 years in a cage, a punishment so cruel and abhorrent that it seems more suited to a totalitarian state, is simple; a message is being sent out to the rest of us that disobedience will not be tolerated. The forces we are attempting to resist and overthrow are so beyond the reach of accountability and morality that they can throw us inside a cage for 99 years and there’s nothing we can do about it. The message being sent echoes Saruman’s advice to Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings: “Against the power of Mordor there can be no victory”. We should go back to being loyal, obedient citizens. This is the same reason that the US and its allies attacked and destroyed Iraq, abducted people from all over the world and locked them up without charge or trial in Guantanamo, and subjected Chelsea Manning to such egregious and brutal treatment while she was awaiting trial: “This is what will happen to you if you stand up to us. So stand down”.

But we can never stand down. To give up means to abandon those whom we are fighting for. It is true that to take action the way Lauri Love took action means to surrender your freedom, but there are so many other ways we can all resist the power of our rulers through smaller but no less significant actions. As George Orwell recognised, “In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act”. The most radical thing we can do right now is tell the truth. Snowden and Manning are heroes because they faced harsh and brutal punishment as a result of doing what they knew was right, but those of us with the privilege of not facing such punishment have an even greater responsibility to act upon our consciences in the face of injustice. This is especially true for those of us residing in the UK and the US, as we are relatively free to criticise and condemn the powers that be without facing repression and torture as a result, while we are defending the weak and vulnerable not just in our own societies but all over the world as well, who face terror and violence sponsored or perpetrated by our own governments.

You can support Lauri Love here, and keep up to date with the court proceedings by following this Twitter account. So long as we have hope, we will never be truly defeated. As Howard Zinn reminded us, “If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory”.

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