The consequences of 'mass weapons of misinformation'

Alice Wu says it is absurd to fault Snowden for his distrust of authorities when we know now, in the wake of 9/11, how trust was betrayed

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 June, 2013, 3:35am

Edward Snowden has definitely started something this world is never going to forget and, apparently, loopy commentaries come with the territory. New York Times columnist David Brooks' criticism of Snowden being an individualist is - to quote this paper's columnist Alex Lo - "bizarre". It is indeed bizarre that Brooks failed to see that Snowden, accused of being guilty of cynicism and distrust, is in fact a victim of it.

The story must start with the imaginary weapons of mass destruction constructed by the George W. Bush administration.

In 2008, the Centre for Public Integrity and the Fund for Independence in Journalism jointly published a study that found that, in the two years following the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration made 935 false statements about the national security threat from Iraq.

These lies were part of a campaign that "effectively galvanised public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretences", they said.

If Snowden had visited his mother more regularly, or not dropped out of high school, it might have made him more socially acceptable to Brooks. Even so, Brooks missed the point altogether with his loopy attempt to cast Snowden as some sort of 21st century geeky pariah.

It is absurd that Brooks failed to see how being on the receiving end of Bush's "weapons of mass misinformation" could have affected people like Snowden; it should not be beyond Brooks' imagination that it would heighten one's distrust of authority and encourage one's cynicism.

If, as Brooks seemed to imply, one's level of individualism and cynicism could be factored into determining one's "guilt", "thoughtcrime" wouldn't be too much of a stretch for our imagination.

It makes perfect sense that sales of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four have spiked since Snowden's revelations. Brooks would make a terrific member of the Thought Police or the Ministry of Love.

Brooks, however, isn't the only one sounding off. The Global Times suggested that Hong Kong should have been "more spontaneous" in handling Snowden's case. That is hilarious. It was a complicated mess, to say the least. We're still trying to figure out whether Snowden's allegations are, in fact, real, since everyone seems to be denying there has been evidence of hacking into the Chinese University's system. I'm unsure whether spontaneity had any role to play here.

But if the Global Times was referring to the possible extradition of Snowden, we know for sure spontaneity was the last thing we would have employed. Due process and our rule of law frankly ruled out spontaneity. Upholding our rule of law may be a "natural instinct" for us, but a sense of acting on our whims does not fit in the way legal business is conducted here.

Spontaneity in this case would probably be more appropriate in the Orwellian world - something to be employed in Room 101.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA