Most of us, not all, know right from wrong. There is an inherent code of conduct embedded in most brains. It has nothing to do with religion or commandments. Cavemen knew when they took food from a fellow caveman they better start running. They knew they did something unacceptable in their cave community.
Ethical behavior is difficult to talk about. We can draw lines in the sand that we personally won’t cross, but each person’s lines are slightly different. We’re all in agreement on the killing thing, the stealing thing, but then we have those marginal ethical things that we don’t want to think about.
Then there’s the deep ethical questions about animal rights, abortion rights, parental rights, end of life decisions, environmentalism, prisoner rights, gay rights, the right to medical care, privacy, prostitution, drugs, immigration, population control and I could list dozens more. From our parents, churches and schools we learned our behavior and beliefs and some of that learning was dumbassery. Myself included.
There is a huge ethical question we should be dealing with which involves our constitution, oaths and Edward Snowden.
The same ethics problem came up for me in 1971 when Dr. Daniel Ellsberg was charged with treason under the Espionage Act of 1917. Like Ed Snowden he had a high level security clearance and decided to release the top secret Pentagon papers to the New York Times and other newspapers. He felt he had a moral obligation to show our government was lying about many things pertaining to the Vietnam War.
A quick word about the Espionage Act: It is the most outrageous and ignorant Act still on our books, but like everything else in Washington, nothing will ever change. This Act does not allow any defense. None. Even in a murder trial one gets to explain WHY they shot the victim. The Espionage Act simply asks: Did you do it? In Ellsberg’s case it was simply a YES I did it. He was facing 115 years in prison and he had no defense. Only the utter stupidity and idiocy of the Nixon paranoids (the same fools from Watergate…G. Gordon Liddy, Howard Hunt, etc) who broke into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office to try and obtain medical records to discredit him and just like in Watergate, they got caught.
The entire case was thrown out. Because of that, forty four years later, I had the privilege of attending a wonderful lecture on ethics from Dr. Ellsberg last month.
The huge ethical question about this scenario is now a part of “decision theory” and is called the Ellsberg Paradox.
Here is the question we must ponder:
If we have taken an oath to defend the constitution of the USA, and we have also promised to keep secrets of the government we are entrusted with, WHAT happens when we find out that one of these secrets is a direct violation of our constitution?
Yesterday one of our highest courts decided that the first big release of the Top Secret program (the huge mega-data collection of all our calls and texts) that Edward Snowden released was ILLEGAL and not allowed under the Patriot Act. Our government was acting illegally. They did not rule it was unconstitutional because that wasn’t the challenge, though I believe it certainly was.
What would you do?
What should we do with Edward Snowden? (My Hero, Traitor to others)