Whistleblowers as Modern Tricksters
Every generation occupies itself with interpreting Trickster anew.
America 2013 is a far cry from the days of Patrick Henry (“Give me liberty or give me death!”) and even the days of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. It’s a brave new world 30 years beyond Orwell’s imagined dystopia 1984 .
While we may have had the cathode ray tube then, the technology of the 1960s and 1970s had more in common with the slowness of media in the 18th century than it does with today’s media/surveillance reality. Daniel Ellsberg could not have imagined the internet and that a war could be entirely managed and operated within the confines of an alternate cyber universe. One of the first visions of today’s internet reality was notably published in 1984: William Gibson’s sci-fi classic Neuromancer.
Within this mind-boggling, ever-growing maze, it’s interesting to inject the time-honored archetype of the trickster, famous as edgy and playful figures in Norse and Native American myth. Lewis Hyde, author of Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art, puts it this way: “If the confidence man is one of America’s unacknowledged founding fathers, then instead of saying there are no modern tricksters one could argue the opposite: trickster is everywhere.” Caveat emptor -- buyer beware.
We’re now told any technology operating with a computer chip can be hacked into and controlled from a remote spot -- including cars. My reaction to that is: You gotta be kidding! We’re also informed there exists 300 types of drones, which are flying robots able to do things most of us can’t even imagine. Our soldiers (oops, I mean warriors) will soon be equipped with on-board computer glasses linked to command and intelligence support elements -- that is, they’ll be armed humans a hiccup away from the cyborgs of science fiction.
A smart young veteran who had the identical job as Bradley Manning in Iraq once told me -- a tech-ignorant, flesh-and-blood Vietnam veteran -- the entire war in Iraq was recorded and tracked in cyberspace on the internet. “The whole war is secret!” he told me with an amazed chuckle.
It’s clear to many Americans the combination of post-911 fear, the militarization of sophisticated technology and a runaway regime of secrecy has led to a dangerous condition of permanent war in which our military is outrunning the capacity for responsible democratic decision-making. As outgoing President Eisenhower warned in 1961, the Military-Industrial Complex is now running the show, and the idea of citizen-based democracy is a feel-good myth incessantly flogged with the tools of Public Relations. Real democracy cannot exist in such a context.
The fact is, our military and its powerful civilian supporters deal with the American public and the rest of the world in two very distinct modes: Secrecy or Public Relations. Serious journalists and their critical sources -- ie. Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden -- work the no-man’s-land between these two distinct modes. We have now reached the point the government is seriously gunning for those working in this no-man’s-land.