The loneliness of the whistle blower

Our last two student blogs were dedicated to the growing influence of social networks and the new forms of micro-powers emerging from them. Being encouraged to doubt and question given assumptions, IB students should be naturally engaged by the ethical implications of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden’s revelations concerning the alleged wrong doings of such powerful agencies as the CIA and the NSA. Are both men, noble whistle blowers or dangerous hackers jeopardising the security of millions of citizens around the globe? To what extent is information transparency permissible in a more and more complex and dangerous world? Should classified information forever remain a secret of state kept well beyond the reach of inquisitive citizens?

The fundamental mission of philosophy is to get to the bottom of the truth and in this respect, great figures like Socrates, Kant, Mill or Sartre would undoubtedly have publicly supported what they would have seen as a courageous stand of private citizens against unaccountable behemoths. Responsibility is at the core of existentialist ethics and passive obedience can only be a poor substitute to blind loyalty to the state.

Where are the great voices of contemporary philosophy when it comes down to such a sensitive but urgent question? A fruitful classroom debate could be organised around these pressing issues after some preparatory research into the respective revelations of Assange and Snowden, both men living in forced exile and both of them hailed as patriotic heroes by some and castigated as traitors to their country, by others.

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