Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What Should a Person of Conscience Do?

Trey Smith

Whether Daniel Ellsberg, Thomas Drake, William Binney, Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden (to name a few), the chief underlying charge laid against them is that, in exposing illegal activities, each one of them broke the law. They took classified documents -- some designated "top secret" -- and released them to the press and public.  Consequently, regardless of the serious and, sometimes, criminal behavior they exposed, they should be sent to prison.

Here's the question I have.  If you are a person of conscience who has done about everything you can within the system itself and yet your concerns continually are ignored or rebuffed, what should you do?  Are you supposed to say to yourself, "I gave it the good college try," then go about your business as if everything is hunky dory?  That seems to be the response of those who decry these monumental leaks.

This is an odd perspective to take on two counts.  First off, if the English colonists in the New World had taken this tack, there would be no USA!  They tried to work within the system of the English government, but when this failed, they mounted a revolution.  Taking up arms with the intent of shooting people is a lot more drastic than releasing classified documents to the public, yet we have memorialized the efforts of the revolutionaries.

Secondly, since the Christian religion still holds considerable sway in our nation, how does one reconcile this perspective with the life of Jesus?  If Jesus had adopted this tack -- taking his concerns solely to the Pharisees and Sadducees -- there would have been no public ministry (i.e., no Sermon on the Mount).  He would have stated his case on several occasions and, when no significant changes were made, gone off to get married and worked as a carpenter.

Each of us has an inherent responsibility to our brethren to expose systematic wrongdoing, particularly when such wrongdoing involves our basic rights or our very lives.  To see something horribly wrong but staying silent is, in many ways, worse than the injustices themselves.  It shows that a person has a complete disregard for their fellow citizens -- that is a serious indictment on anyone!

Yes, working within a given system is often the best way to handle a situation, but if the system itself has no interest in reasonable change, a person really has only two choices: 1) Throw up your hands and walk away (which allows the injustices to continue unabated) or 2) Take matters into your own hands by exposing the perceived wrongdoing, even if you must break a law or two to do it.

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