It’s a shame, really. Many people who have that ideological waft about them have knee-jerked Edward Snowden up to hero status in much the same way that giddy teens launch Justin Bieber into those same heights. Whether we realize it or not, most of us have an intrinsic desire to be extraordinary. Most humans in modern homogeneous societies, however, do not have the means, skills, talent, or “need” to be extraordinary.
The difference between you and I and Edward Snowden, who I remind you is in only 30, is that he had the means—and apparently the need—to become extraordinary. That, coupled with an existential crisis, may have led him to craft a fictional narrative in his mind, which in turn led him to justify his rash actions. Yes, Snowden says otherwise — that he thoroughly thought things through over time — but he is speaking from the pages of his own story, written, perhaps, with the help of Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, a pompous opportunist looking for brighter lights and a book deal. So long as Snowden does the talking, Greenwald assumes little risk and stands to make a bundle while Snowden, who dares not take a cent, clanks his chains.
Perhaps an equally compelling motive comes from Snowden’s support of libertarian Ron Paul, which suggests that Snowden embraces libertarianism, an ideal based on the the unhealthy view that government is not just grossly flawed but evil. Libertarianism's impatience, coupled with many libertarians' refusal to pull back from history’s timeline and see its smooth gradual slope towards greater human flourishing, accounts for much of humankind’s quandaries and tragedies (See Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined). Good news, however, about humankind’s progression (Oops! There’s that "p" word!) does not trade well within schemes that peddle fear for their survival.
True, it is entirely possible that a sincere desire to do good trumped Edward Snowden’s need to be extraordinary, but then I wonder why he did not assume a “Deep Throat” role, which worked for Watergate and unseated a president. (I’ll bet you’ve never heard of Mark Felt who remained anonymous for 30 years and died at age 92 in 2005). Thanks to Snowden, Assange, and Manning, questionable government tactics to combat terrorism have been exposed. There are really only two choices here. Either the government’s intentions were ostensibly to protect citizens from terrorism, or government was out to deprive citizens of their rights. The former scenario has concrete support in very real and vivid acts of terrorism and an end, whereas the latter is speculative and has no end, just more and more conditionals in a speculative causal chain.
PRISM’s exposure is evolution rather than revolution, but given that revolution plays better in our society, let’s go with that. Revolutions seem to be born from initially good and noble intentions embodied in human beings who most often succumb to being human and often end up tainting or completely destroying the revolution they started. Occasionally, though, a Gandhi, a Martin Luther King, Jr., or a Nelson Mandela, emerge from our midst. What sets them apart from the media’s Flavor of the Month hero (other than the obvious paucity of genuine heroes) is that they “sustained” a complete surrender to their cause over the course of their entire lives. They eschewed the trappings of fame, were imprisoned, and faced death straight up. What is more, revolutions that elevate their progenitors to heroic status are, unfortunately, typically marked by flame and blood rather than the relative hygienic manifestations — protests, headlines, breaking news, talk shows, filibusters, lawsuits, court rulings, et al — of evolutionary change. Edward Snowden has emphatically not risen to the level of revolutionary hero. Not even close. Leaking, sniping, running, hiding, and asylum-seeking are not the “right stuff” of genuine heroes.
Once Snowden runs dry of information and no “real” damage is done, the intrigue attendant to a Jason Bourne reality show wears off, and the anarcho-libertarian hysteria dies down, Edward Snowden will go back to leading a mundane life (I sincerely hope he escapes prison). In time, Edward Snowden will probably realize that his quieter, pre-hero life among family and friends in Hawaii was probably closer to utopia. There is no Galt's Gulch.