Ed Snowden is an Atheist Issue

Changing the world from an atheist perspective encompasses a ton of different issues. Gamer culture, philosophies of science, principles of good dog ownership…these are all atheist social change (ASC) issues. It shouldn’t surprise anyone when I say that the surveillance state is an ASC issue. This is not mission drift. Our mission should be to make the world safe for (non)believers.

In a world where (non)believers can be imprisoned for blasphemy or executed for apostasy, we can’t take an easygoing approach to social control. Without a certain amount of security — the kind of human security where private conversations are kept private and where speech doesn’t carry a death sentence — we can’t be (non)believers. We can’t be in community and we can’t be intellectually rigorous. In America, we might lose our jobs or our homes. In other countries, we might lose our lives.

Edward Snowden has been living in exile for two years because his belief in liberation technology over the power of the modern nation-state compelled him to take radical, heroic, self-sacrificing action. Two years in exile would be an enormous price for any of us to pay, and Snowden isn’t done paying. His anniversary in Moscow is presently causing the nastier corners of the Internet to rage over the US government’s inability to serve up his head on a platter — and by nastier, I don’t mean “out of the mainstream” or “insignificant.”

My (non)believer friends and colleagues, you don’t have to agree with what Snowden has done. You are permitted your squeamishness moral discomfort about whistle-blowing and breaking the laws of Empire. But you need to have Snowden’s back, because he has yours. You, of all people, will not be free in a Panopticon.

Liberation Technology

This is a slightly modified version of a paper I wrote last quarter. It was originally written for the class “Religion, Space, and Place,” and the paper was styled to make the argument that the Internet is de facto sacred space (and, therefore, misuses of the Internet are desecration). I just cut out the parts which were me sucking up to the professor.

If you are a techie, the paper is a bit simplistic. If you are an academic, my citation style in this informal paper will drive you nuts (I had the prof’s permission, honest!). If you are a Catholic, you probably shouldn’t be reading an atheist blog to begin with — you’ll just raise your blood pressure. However, I really enjoyed writing this paper, and I think it shows.

I’m putting this paper up on my blog, as the first post of 2015, because I have the phrase “liberation technology” stuck in my head. If I say “liberation” in an American context, I evoke the 2003 invasion of Iraq. That isn’t the kind of liberation I’m talking about. If I say “liberation technology,” I evoke “liberation theology,” and I continue to assert various ways in which my prophetic atheism is an explicitly religious worldview.

Without further ado, I give you: “The Internet: Sacred and Desecrated Space.”

While Millennials aren’t the only Americans to consider the Internet a formative part of their identity, my predisposition to view the Internet as a sacred space is certainly rooted in my outlook as a Millennial. I was one of the first people to grow up on the Internet. It provided me a “‘space’ in which to meaningfully dwell” (Smith, Map is Not Territory, 291).

“Millennial” is generational moniker for people born roughly between 1982 – although anyone born in the 1980s is on the cusp – and the turn of the millennium in 2000. Millennials have a number of identifying characteristics, particularly as pertain to their use of technology and their political opinions about technology-related issues.

Asked an open-ended question about why their generation is “distinctive,” “24% [of Millennials] say it’s because of their use of technology” (Pew, “Millennials,” 5). When asked if Edward Snowden should be prosecuted for revealing the scope of the National Security Agency’s domestic spying, 50% of 18-to-29 year-olds said no, the largest percentage of any segment of the population (Pew, “Public Split”); 60% of the same age group said that the Snowden leaks serve the public interest. And while the American public is nearly unified in in their opposition to a two-tier Internet (this means we are generally in support of net neutrality), 18-to-24 year-olds are the most likely to say they “strongly oppose” a two-tier Internet (University of Delaware).

Karen Armstrong writes that a “holy place…is thus bound up with a people’s sense of self” (Armstrong, 191). It makes sense that this formula would also work in reverse. If we know and understand a group’s sense of self, we should be able to extrapolate what places they find sacred. I do not know if my analysis of the Internet as a sacred space would compel anyone who didn’t grow up with the Internet – either designing it or playing on it – to change their mind and to start to view the Internet as sacred. This perception of sacred space may be restricted to a rarified cohort. But what I can do on the strength of my analysis is demonstrate why the misuses of the Internet are so strongly opposed.

It is because some of us see the Internet as inviolate. It is because some of us know the Internet to be sacred.

Profanation by the telecoms, desecration by oppressive regimes, and the pollution of the wellspring of our culture – of the unrestricted liberty, access, communication, coordination, political power, and human potential of the Internet – will not be tolerated.

Continue reading