Snowden the Scapegoat?


Acting in the classic role of Whistle Blower Edward Snowden outed  the National Security Agency Surveillance policies  igniting a fascinating debate.

Human’s have learned that Technology will always have its way with us. Books, Gunpowder and Radar were invented and immediately made available with little thought of consequences except for  immediate uses.   Ditto to our remarkable computing capacities. The action consequences of how inventions find their way into our society are always unpredictable and largely unforeseen. The ethics consequences are even more of a crap shoot; From the collective’s point of view, Snowden actions will be made into hero or villain depending on whose playing and pontificating.

As far as it is known Snowden acted “alone.” From the perspective of   scapegoat theory he was a person in a group process. He worked in an institution which means a complex intergroup as well. He may well be a psychological loner which makes him even more vulnerable to the various group forces swirling around him in his  role as a privileged technician with access to special knowledge. But that doesn’t mean he was part of a conspiracy or even that his well-known libertarian preferences were a primary cause for what he did.

Here are two possibilities beyond abstract  ideology and current value systems  which make   sense to explore in understanding his   actions:

Revenge-of-the-Scapegoat-Co 1)Revenge. He was an outsider and a natural scapegoat  in his work group.   His dramatic leakage  was his version  of  revenge of the scapegoat’.  His revenge was on the insider group and its leaders.  the object was to embarass them and their organization. That formulation  may seem too petty and personal compared to motives like the  good or bad he is doing for his nation, its reputation, constitution etc., but petty and personal is also what makes people tick. A look at his workgroup and the scapegoating leaders that ran the pecking order  (they’re easy to pick out) would help assess this formulation;  the actual  security breach might have been limited  by a similar early assessment. On the other hand there might be others in his group who disagreed with the NSA policy and found Snowden an easy mark to help get these policies out there without getting themselves into trouble themselves.  (All the military brass talking to each other in the congressional  hearing on sexual abuse  come to mind–no one quite willing to either take the responsibility or change the system but some more than eager to have others take the blame.)

2) He was in touch with the group zeitgeist of  all of us, liberals and conservatives, who don’t want to be the object of scrutiny by technocrats or politicos any more.  That would make Snowden a particular kind of Idea Leader, A Hero for many, someone who grasps the important feelings in the collective and acts on them whatever the risk. The biblical prophets were like that. They saw the corruption around them and they could only run away from that knowledge, and god, just so long. When such men and women prevail they are well placed to be our idealized leaders, at least until they are superceded by the next generations of bureaucratic types who know far more about institutional power. (See French Revolution for this dynamic).

Snowden clearly beleves he did all of us a service and that it was worth the personal sacrifice it may  become. Unlike most scapegoats, it looks like he had an exit route planned. And like most scapegoats it looks like he’ll be out there in the desert for quite a while!


Dr. Scapegoat



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