Aug 6, 2021Liked by Edward Snowden

Whatever you do, please don't burn out from writing these blog posts. I'm learning so much in so little time, and googling things I've never heard of. Thank you from the whole community for the time you put in to do this. We know you don't have to continuously allow the public to peek into your brain, but we appreciate when we can. From one nerd to another, stay safe and keep using big words, it helps us learn. -c

Expand full comment

Use duckduckgo :)

Expand full comment

So, I'm confused about this "pre-conspiracy world" you describe... Are you saying that the Phoenix Program is a figment of my imagination? Likewise COINTELPRO? That Edward Bernays didn't articulate tools of invisible mass manipulation? Or, in the current age, are you saying that the surveillance panopticon that you exposed only emerged as the unintended result of computer networking in a paranoid age, not actually related to evil, paranoid, avaricious intent by the people who built it? That there were no assholes intending retribution and conspiring against you the moment you didn't show up for work? That the Snowden-leak cover-up and your suppression and the constant attempts to destroy your reputation are not consciously coordinated, very real conspiracies? And that before the internet came about to overwhelm us with data saturation, bureaucracies, industrialists and militaries didn't always and constantly quietly coordinate projects and target goals in order to get one over on people, enemies, marks, markets, competition, or skeptics of there corruption, in order to maintain and increase their advantage? C'mon, man.

I think you discredit your position by tacitly continuing the lie that skeptical perspicuity and cynical circumspection of people and institutions with power (ie. critically analyzing the pattern so as to measure the gestalt fabric it weaves) is akin to a symptom of mental illness. Let's admit it, some people have good pattern recognition and logic on their side, and so observe the shadow of actual conspiracy, and other people are novices and unsophisticated in their critical analysis, and these poor folks contribute, as their learning curve is slow, to diminishing the reputation of the pursuit altogether, baby with bathwater.

And as far as German Soldier Case #10 goes, that dude's psychosis, if he had one, was merely in assuming as his own the cloaked psychological reality of his superiors through banal transference of martial privilege, and he over-estimated his ability to get away with what his daddy-state inherently, constantly got away with on a vast scale. It's no different than Martin Shkreli's lapse of judgement, which was not in deciding to fleece people like the rest of his VC monopolist peers in big pharma - it was in admitting that he did it intentionally in public and that he COULD fleece them, without being two-faced about it, like the rest of his VC monopolist peers in big pharma. It was in actually saying out loud: "I drink your milkshake."

So what are we to make of every power hungry sociopath who is rewarded by establishment institutions who intuitively knows that one never admits that one knows what evil one does (or is adjacent to) as a pre-requisite for getting ahead? What do we call that if not 'conspiracy' or 'inherent silent collusion,' or 'an assumption of complicity?' Because without a name for it, it automatically drinks your milkshake. And eventually, you, the victim, is forced to admit that you never had a milkshake in the first place. God save you, if you actually begin to believe it.

Perhaps a lesson in Espionage Phenomenology from an expert would be more helpful to the improve the acumen of a naive populace that is either over-eager to attribute hyperbolic blame (such as QAnon dupes) or too frightened (in the case of people who trust the NYTimes) to venture conspiracy hypotheses, let alone open their eyes, in search of a theory.


Expand full comment

Isn't "assuming [one's] own ... cloaked psychological reality" psychosis? Isn't Shkreli also suffering from some kind of mental breakdown being so narcissistic that he thought he could brag about his scam without repercussions?

I don't believe the argument here is that there are no powerful people trying to "get one over on the 'rest of us'". But it shines a light on how we allow those people to achieve their goals by finding our own rabbit hole(s) to crawl down.

Following up on your (excellent idea of) suggested study of Espionage Phenomenology, I found this paper that has an interesting title (Spies without borders) and abstract. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1057/s41284-019-00199-1

The paper links to WISKOS and bang a new rabbit hole! A third of German small and mid-sized companies have been hacked!

I used Duck-Duck-Go for my search, but perhaps I should do it again on Google to see what ads start showing up.

I have a friend in Fiji who claims to be "helicoptering" above all the (false) information on COVID, but he's very deep into the claim that the virus (in fact all viruses) does not exist. This (I believe) is the Apophenia Mr. Snowden is trying to warn us about.

It does not help that NPR (and other media) are pushing stories about making vaccines mandatory. It drives anti-vaxxers further down their rabbit-hole and makes pro-vaxxers angry. And the media is doubling down. This morning WBUR's "On Point" claims: "The 'Disinformation Dozen' Spreads Vaccine Misinformation Online" If we just censor these 12, everything will be "just fine"; "just fine"; "just fine".


When those same voices are so adamant that the events of 9/11 have been fully explained such that anyone with doubts is suffering from their own psychosis -- well, now who do you trust?

Caitlin Johnstone's "After Russiagate, Why WOULDN'T People Be Skeptical About Covid?" further highlights the problem.

Myself, I find I turn more and more to substack. But isn't that just another pigeonhole to get lost in?

No wonder people turn to the ilk of a Jim Bakker.

Expand full comment

A neat pattern just occured to me that Ed's essay here is called "apophenia" about false epiphany, AND it just so happens that January 6th, the events of which are a veritable bureaucratic black-hole of government transparency, also happened to be the Day of Epiphany in the Christian Advent. Go figure. Probably just a coincidence.

You're speaking about individual psychosis. I'm speaking of mass psychosis, alternatively known - in its humane or benign aspect - as paradigm, which all individuals in all societies experience in one manner or another, either coping well enough or not coping well enough. Everyone's got one, whether you believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, telluric currents, bio-mimetic impulsion, and psychonautic fairy helpers, (on the theme of "Be Cool, man, we can discover a happy resonant interval",) or if you believe in the Big Bang, Malthusian over-population, the inescapable eminence of fossil-fuel toxicity, and immanent climatic collapse (on the theme of "You're all alone! BE AFRAID! We need more security!"). Both of them involve lots of forecasting (prophecy) and both have an over-reliance on models and mental constructs. The more monolithic a paradigm is, the least likely it is good for you or least likely it has your best interest at heart. And hence the more likely it represents a mass psychosis rather than its benign paradigm cousin. (Ask anyone persecuted for their religious belief or their whistle-blowing exposures of systemic corruption.) The truth of either is determined by the ability of human artifice to manifest them. Sometimes you get the renaissance; sometimes the inquisition. Take your pick. Both are born of imagination and psychological entrainment among the societies that constitute social power.

So are you suggesting by implication, concerning Shkreli, that a society composed of individuals with a profoundly duplicitous and rapacious state of mind - at least when liberated from the likelihood of mental breakdown (because, hey look ma: No crises of conscience!) - that is displayed by most monopolistic, but discrete VC bad-boys and sociable eugenicists is a viable form of psychological health and sanity? Yeah, I suppose if sanity is akin to sanitation, and all you have to do is make it look pretty and smell clean long enough to cover up the rot of a metastatic systemic corruption until all human civilization has been seduced into non-optional neo-feudalism. Sure. I mean, who wants a break-down born of un-medicated narcissism, right?

Thanks for the "spies without boarders" paper.

Yes, if I understand your point correctly: the gaslight of Lee Harvey Oswald, followed by the gaslight of 9/11, followed by every other mass-shooting gaslight, and a decade of the Big-Pharma gaslight - hinged on the idea that opposing corporate syndicalist avarice equates to opposing science or biological reality - does indeed present a strategy of incremental and compounding gaslights. And these have paved the way to our current mass psychosis in which blind conformity with, and trust of, one brand of semi-monolithic media outlet or another, let alone the captured bureaucracies and regulators they speak for, and speak with in total opacity, is not only acceptable, but the only way to avoid mis-information. And to have everyone's phone constantly surveilled for kiddie-porn is the only way to have a safe society. This has lead to a surreal phenomena in which censorship and intelligence agencies are championed by liberals, transparent science and freedom of medical choice are championed by conservatives, up is down, black is white, and Covid is both real and not real. It's true. The technocrats had to discredit the reliability and veracity of all institutions from medical research to academic science, and from regulatory agencies to journalism outfits, if the conquest of the west (from within) was to be successful. They're doing a pretty good job of it. As Uval Hurrari has said, "all you need to conquer a nation in the age of big-data is the ability to blackmail judges, politicians and journalists."

You might enjoy @Gumby4Christ's twitter feed. I don't think I see how Caitlin Johnstone's observation 'highlights a problem,' so much as it confirms the healthy reflex of vigilant skepticism. You should never trust anyone in power to do anything but defend and maintain that power. Liars lie; Hurt people hurt people. It shouldn't take an epiphany to understand that.

Discussing Anti-Vaxxers or Pro-Vaxxers is about as distracting and pointless as talking about Democrats and Republicans, The Red Sox and the Yankees, or Kanye and Beyonce. Over and above all partisan distractions there is this concept of a globally universal (or near universal) mandate imposing, under imperial military auspices, a regimen of regularized genetic-therapy high-technology instruments in conjunction with the mandate of universal digital passports - which incidentally link your internet persona, your body's bio-metrics, your genetic identity, your health records, and your financial data into a single bankable and police-able entity - posing a singular transhuman, exo-cognitive, dystopian problem - it's some scary shit. And if you didn't think it would require bio-weapons and health-security-terror to accomplish, well you haven't read enough Philip K Dick or Thomas Pynchon. And its very real. So it's best not to ignore it. Nor to mistake it for mis-Information or science fiction. Nor pretend that observing it, or probing its boundaries, is psychologically unhealthy. Because it WILL drink your milkshake,... even the flavors you didn't know you had. It will flatten all labor markets, it will obsolete the Bill of Rights, it will obsolete systemic uncertainty for supply-chains and politics by maintaining a constant psychological uncertainty for humans, it will obsolete sovereignty of any sort including free-will and property rights, it may depopulate whole fractions of the earth's population rather quickly, it will probably stage-manage some hearty new hot-wars in the process (Cha-ching!), even the children of the elite will not be immune, it will obsolete every human decency, and.... drum roll please,... it will be automated. Go SINGULARITY! And it will succeed, insofar as the less it is discussed by people due to fear of being paranoid, or fringe, or insane, or different, or looking like a Trump-supporter, or anything else non-conformist, such as becoming facebook friendless, the more likely it becomes true. So it is imperative to understand and discuss in atmospheres that can tolerate it, and to avoid - as you appear to be doing - atmospheres that stifle it. Interestingly, the likely best way through it, so as to prevent its success, is to laugh at the psychopaths who truly believe it will be beneficial for humanity, not just for themselves due to their proximity to the top. Don't outsource authority to them. They are the ones who have developed armories of bio-weapons under the auspices of protecting you, and they are the ones who know they can manipulate your fear of death (or in microcosm, your fear of being alienated by your friends) in order to achieve most anything they want.

No, Substack, while not a permanent utopian panacea for open dialog, is ONE place where the media oligopoly does not exert total, overt control yet, so it is more than a pigeonhole or a rabbit-hole. For now it is both a pigeon roost, rabbit warren, and a perch with a decent view. But it is not unexposed. It still amounts to civil disobedience, because it is surveilled. As Ed says when you join: welcome to the list - this will go down on your permanent record.

I like using it as a pigeon-soap-box in a veritable rabbit agora. You know, friendily poaching the audience of the sage, weather-beaten red panda philosophers, like Snowden or Greenwald. But it is not the only one of its kind.

If you haven't read and listened to all of Whitney Webb's articles and interviews, then you are late to the prom. (Same goes for you, Ed.) And that means that you have so far neglected the most coherent mosaic illustrating a verifiable societal figure cobbled together from an otherwise cacophonic and crazy-making collage of lies and propaganda that passes for news, but is really paid content sponsored by forces that would prefer you were an automatic slave than a willful child. Go get lost-and-found in her stellar library, while you still can. There's a solid contingent of peers in her orbit who can make better sense of this mess and are committed to supporting open cognitive libraries, on-boarding intelligence, and responding creatively rather than with fear, violence, confusion and desperate pleas to the daddy state to save us, which are the norm everywhere else.

Speaking of Jim Bakker, Tammy Fae had surprisingly prescient make-up habits, come to think of it. She was far ahead of her time in that regard. Little did she know her style would align with a political stripe she would have found abhorrent. Must be like how Bob Dylan sometimes feels.

Expand full comment

One of my favorite Yuval Harari quotes is "It's very difficult to know where power really lies in the 21st Century." Also, "The modern world, the last couple of centuries, one of the main functions of power is to conceal power." I think that fact alone gives rise to many conspiracy theories.

Expand full comment

Wouldn't it be fair to say that it gives, not rise to, but legitimacy to the veracity of a particular class of conspiracy theories, given his establishment bone fides?

I might rather suggest that among readers of Harari it may give rise to the social acceptance that, in fact, a great many shadows of conspiracies indicate actual conspiracies, that they are endemic, and that many rationally and demonstrably provable conspiracies may reasonably be revealed through effective whistle-blowing, and that the irrational dismissal of any so-called 'conspiracy theory,' - when used as a euphemism for stupidity or gullibility - is a profound lie better abandoned, if clear vision is the goal.

Such quotes as the ones you named, I think, also make him a beloved fanboy of Zuckerberg and a sycophant of the W.E.F. crowd, who include him in their circle for his ability to tell them what they want to hear. And by "them," I mean the people actually doing the conspiring to consolidate the technocratic super-state under total centralized control, and hence, drink your milkshake: the W.E.F. themselves (among others.)

Expand full comment

Are you paid by the word, Whitney. Be succinct.

Expand full comment

I hope the irony is not lost on you that the pattern of your handle is "A.I. Billings" and you are requesting more easily digestible sound-bites, as automated accountants might do wishing to nudge the collective mind toward simplicity. In any event, I appreciate that you're not a connoisseur of the refined art of beating dead horses... (Must be an acquired taste.)

TL;DR: “I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.”

Expand full comment

" I think you discredit your position by tacitly continuing the lie that skeptical perspicuity and cynical circumspection of people and institutions with power (ie. critically analyzing the pattern so as to measure the gestalt fabric it weaves) is akin to a symptom of mental illness."

I think this misunderstand's Snowdens argument. He doesn't say that we are all literally suffering from mental illness. Rather he uses mental illness as a metaphor. What he says is that, similar to the apopheny described by Conrad, our thinking becomes easily detached from reality because we are all thinking in our own bubble.

One may say that at all times people lived in their own bubble. But the new phenomenon, according to Snowden, is that these bubbles are now so tailored to each individual that we are getting more and more isolated from the others.

By the way, he also suggests a way out at the end of his article ...

Expand full comment

TL;DR: Conspiracy Theory when framed as madness insures the supremacy of status quo.

There's no doubt that current technologies are creating echo-chambers of one. And if that's all that Ed is saying, then he would be proposing we either ought to disengage from our digital bubbles, or at least learn to mediate with other humans in society, beyond the tech-bubbles tailored to manipulate and coerce, in order to correct the failures in perception such technologies impose.

(Ed seems to be getting at this when he says "Thinking in Public, Together," but by what means, what medium, what technology, in what agora does he envisage it? The Occupy movement provided a "Stage," and just look how that was infiltrated, sabotaged, defamed, neutralized by the integrated and monolithic powers that be, with military acumen & dexterity, it should be noted. [To Ed: And why shouldn't we personify that behemoth? Perhaps instead of learning to be more logical, we should all be learning how to be more poetic in our description or attribution of veiled evil, which so expertly evades logical probing, shy of the not-inevitable whistleblower.])

I don't hear him doing that, either campaigning for a digital Bill of Rights, or proposing other ways to game the system. I hear him collapsing the trauma in upon the anxious individual in order to explain how their doubt, rather than their faith, in legacy institutions renders them superstitious, and hence mentally/socially broken, misled. He's not offering a way out to clear-headedness, except through "social theorists." And let's face it, social theorists are just as easily social engineers with nefarious effect when their own personal social position and cognitive framework is strategically gamed, when the 'good boys and girls' among theorists are rewarded with prestige and platform.

I appreciate what you mean about the metaphor of madness, and Ed may mean it that way. Mental Illness, however, is a dangerous and pernicious metaphor, because the diagnosis of, or accusation of mental illness invalidates, arrests, and/or diminishes the psychological and political autonomy of the individual, and so most importantly it forcibly removes the agency of the individual. It is the ultimate gaslight that drives a person to doubt their senses and their mind, undermining all efficacy in a social frame.

Diagnosing someone with mental illness has the equivalent effect of incarcerating, banishing, or deporting a person; it takes them out of the equation in the view of the persecutor. It maximally alienates their 'self' even from themselves against their will, excluding them well beyond participation in a community or civilization, into a prison of mind.

A person with unsound opinions should have their knowledge informed, not have their mental wellness adjusted.

In its most benign sense it forces a victim of internal or social anguish to participate in some sort of protocol of submission, such as a pharmaceutical regimen or martial institutionalization, which amounts to an operative, if hopefully benevolent, mind-control. "For their own good, the poor sops." Such is an inherent appeal to transcendence through the paternalistic daddy-state and its legacy institutions. It assumes the paradigm has the capacity to be omniscient and benevolent, which it never does.

Under the soviet system one of the most effective weapons against social heterodoxy was the psychologist and his evaluation. It has the effect of re-victimizing the victim. (A review of Rosemary's Baby helps to illustrate the effect outside of politics.)

For this reason, Mental Illness is not a healthy metaphor for the even-remotely-sane person seeking to petition against wrongs and curtail the cheaters who perform or effect those wrongs.

To then preemptively re-categorize all creative and imaginative human impulses that would seek to tease out systemic corruption - beyond the vaunted expert, insider "whistleblower" - as mentally ill, as Ed is implying, I maintain, such an approach effectively obsoletes any opportunity for reform through the social sublimation of coping with the new information.

What I'm saying is that the there is nothing not Conspiracy Theorist about the Whistleblower, except that he may have hard evidence of the Conspiracy. The Whistleblower is the Conspiracy-Theorist-cum-Scientist/Engineer, who's willing to see the broken machine, and so sacrifice his privilege of insider knowledge heroically for the benefit of exposure and possible reform by the larger society. A society on the receiving end of the whistle blown, which is not already primed to accept the likelihood or threat of conspiracy, will surely ignore any fruit of the endeavor, return their head to the sand or their eye to the belly-button, and consider the Whistleblower as mad and destabilizing as any religious crank. To collectively respond responsibly to true revelation of systemic and immanent crime is maximally traumatic for the society unprepared for revelation, and they will resent the expectation thrust upon them. (Snowden AND Assange briefly cultivated such a society en mass, and then had their influence violently curtailed.)

The moment the Whistleblower throws the Conspiracy Theorist under the bus, he diminishes the psychological impulse that drives him toward justice in the first place, and he alienates himself from the society which is most inclined to be sympathetic and supportive toward his appeal, his evidence, and his situation.

Expand full comment

"Mental Illness, however, is a dangerous and pernicious metaphor,"

I appreciate the point you are making. To defend Ed, though, let me continue to quote you.

"... invalidates, arrests, and/or diminishes the psychological and political autonomy of the individual ... removes the agency of the individual"

The way I understand Ed, is that he says that exactly this is happening to medically healthy people right now. For example, if we took the science of global warming seriously and had agency, I believe more people would demand action on this front. Instead we are gaslighted into one of "it is not happening" or "we are doing fine" or it is too expensive" or "it is too late anyway". To continue this example, the French government is fighting climate activists as terrorists (I am referring to the recent ProtonMail scandal) while we are all sitting in our bubble ...

"The moment the Whistleblower throws the Conspiracy Theorist under the bus, he diminishes the psychological impulse that drives him toward justice in the first place, and he alienates himself from the society which is most inclined to be sympathetic and supportive toward his appeal, his evidence, and his situation."

I have to think about this. I would say: "If the whistleblower looses the hope of getting the attention of the mainstream, they loose the reason that drives them toward justice. Campaigns for justice can start on the fringe but always hope for the mainstream."

Expand full comment

I see where you are with the Center-Margin take on Mainstream-Fringe relationship of attaining political relevance or effecting social change. I'd like to put that model into a historical framework, to illustrate where it falls apart. I hope to avoid any political valence in the hue of the summary.

Until Donald Trump corralled the whole nation back onto its TV News addiction, either to love him or hate him with equally profitable enthusiasm, most Americans had completely moved on from Mainstream Corporate News, either as a time-suck or because there were better sources. It was a dying industry, one that only baby-boomers and tweakers kept afloat, and this was clear in the advertising sponsors. It was an industry that adopted sportscasting techniques to keep audience attention in total mind-control desperation. Up until that election season, it could only keep itself breathing on life support by harnessing the tragedies of mass shootings and terror events exactly as the FBI/DHS does, by telescoping and overselling those horrific non-events (statistically speaking) in order to keep itself relevant and its budgets flowing.

Americans had effectively, if not consciously, rejected the veracity of corporate and intelligence-compromised mouthpieces. The internet offered more intrepid and less compromised-by-advertising sources. This is one structural reason why Hillary was as doomed as Jeb Bush; this is where Bernie and Trump perceived a true opportunity in the vacuum, and where Hillary's DNC screwed the pooch by pushing the more clownish rival into ascendancy.

Up to that point, Americans were reaching heights of cynicism (and mental health) about what 'the mainstream' even is, because it was clearly not representing them, and it was ever more clearly a profoundly produced bit of theater, not a true reflection, as any degree of internet searching could clearly reveal. Even before the censorship regimes of today became fashionable and overt, rivals to network supremacy by indie figures & upstarts online were compelling enough to audiences that audiences and corporate containment strategies gathered around them. (The taming of Vice, the scorched earth of Gawker Media, and the selling up or selling out of every other venue was in clear evidence - because these things actually did journalism better than the conglomerate controlled majors.)

It was in this atmosphere over the last few decades that a majority of Americans had come to privately or publicly reject the official state narrative of JFK's lone shooter assassination, for instance. And as a result of WL's heavy lifting to skirt access journalism, they had also developed a commensurate doubt about the Forever War, the global intelligence racket, central banking institutions, etc., so that a large fraction of disaffected audiences were content to also reject the plainly erroneous official story of 9/11, and in astoundingly large numbers. This is the atmoshphere in which Joe Rogan built his audience, putting the media oligarchs and their control mechanisms to shame, until he, too was brought to heal.

In other words, most high-school and college educated Americans, the actual mainstream - not to be confused with its corporate pantomiming impostor on the TV who claims to represent them - in their evaluation of these few paradigm-defining historical events, JFK and 9/11, were sympathetic with 'conspiracy theorizing,' if not identifying boldly as conspiracy theorists on those specific matters. This trend had even reached the red-states by the time the Russiagate-hoax was exposed as theater as Greenwald's guest Darryl Cooper discussed here: https://outsidevoices.substack.com/p/author-of-the-mega-viral-thread-on

But by that time, the majority of self-identified liberals, who once knew how dangerous censorship is, had come down with a severe case of Partisan Derangement Syndrome and were as good as 2003-era FoxNews devotees, in terms of their susceptibility to mass-media mental programming.

So now things have changed from those 2015 halcyon days, of course, and between Trump and Covid-19 we're a nation of zombiesque binary thinkers about as sophisticated or nuanced as any red-scare cold-warrior. So what it means to be "mainstream" now is tantamount to group-think tribalism guided by nothing more than paid-content narratives and 'official' proclamations by statist authorities, wherein all knowledge, or hope to attain knowledge, has been replaced by partisan opinion and belief, only feeding greater mutual despair and anger at the unreliability of it all.

This is to say that the aspiration of a whistleblower to attain mainstream attention and support is not only a moving target across time, but at some upper limit, it becomes an appeal to pledge allegiance to madness and mass psychosis itself. Sometimes harnessing sanity is something that must begin on the outside. These days are probably a time like that. The mainstream, and its corporate imitator, have both jumped the shark. Resolution and revelation are elsewhere. In the fringe, alone, if you must.

Sorry for the rambling landscape painting of all that. I hope its a familiar scene.


I'm averse to taking the bait on climate change, but I'll say this:

The Global Climate Change narrative is a bad example to discuss in terms of gaslighting, madness, or mass psychosis, because none of the people pointing the fingers at Climate Change Deniers ever bothers to understand what it is that the deniers deny. (Your examples, like Ed's, are blind to the actual, if understandably occluded debate, which, in fact, has compelling veracity, beginning with criticism of the Club of Rome's The Limits to Growth.) They never stop to consider if their own pro-environment position is itself a product of mass-media gaslighting, by the weaponization of good intention, because if it were, it would be so counter-intuitive to common sense. But it is like the Evolution debate in its over-simplification. Pro-Darwinian scientist-identified people truly believe the opposition they confront is composed exclusively of superstitious Christian Creationists, and so they never bother to discover that the Creationist is largely a straw man, and there are other reasons, entirely good ones, for disagreeing with the over-simplified, establishment-controlled 'consensus settled science' version of the debate.

If one fails to recognize that the medium of exchange, itself, might be systematically skewed by corrupting forces, as the corporate, educational, and establishment filters demonstrably are, you'll believe anything that medium delivers stillborn. A deeper accounting in the sciences and in cosmology in general is highly merited and well-past due.

That revolution will not be televised. Nor will it be reported in Nature.

Expand full comment

Thanks for pointing out Cooper. One point of Cooper (and of yourself, if I understand you correctly) is that the Left has always been subjected to this kind of abuse of concerted media and government power. Now it has hit the Right. So couldn't this be an opportunity to get together and campaign on issues such as systemic corruption, campaign financing and corporate power?

I think asking about systemic corruption and corporate power are as good as guiding lights now than the were in the past in order to understand what is really going on. The fact that the left has forgotten about this in their "madness and mass psychosis" could also be an opportunity as the right is now discovering these topics.

Expand full comment

I'd like to see an in-depth response to this post by Edward

Expand full comment
Aug 5, 2021Liked by Edward Snowden

I agree with you that we need more public thinkers in the interweb, as that is the mode of travel through the individual silos? But in an era of accounts being suspended and users banned, what platform would we use to allow social thinker trade their wares unabated by the controllers?

Expand full comment
Aug 6, 2021Liked by Edward Snowden

So I subscribe to a few substacks, some of which (like yours) are striking and provocative and brilliant – and thus you might say cause for optimism. But overall, I think things are looking down, and very much so. Any person, place, thing, idea, or occurrence that is legitimate cause for optimism will leave many, many behind. I wonder sometimes if pessimism isn’t a better place to start, and then fight to end elsewhere.

I’ve created my own “feed” of substacks and newsletters that I read, as well as twitter accounts that I check, but I do worry sometimes that even in creating my own “feed,” there’s a danger of self-delusion – that maybe I chose the substacks and newsletters I did to support whatever I already thought I saw. I try to question myself often: Am I making indefensible assumptions now, or not?

Creating my own feed has also created a situation where I feel like a spy and a fake when talking to people I’ve known forever. They’re wanting to discuss, you know, why I should be more diligent about all the constant Covid rules or what do I as a poc say to white people with privilege or what do I think of Simon & Schuster buying a Mike Pence book and blah blah – all of it to my ears using a false language separated from meaning and reality.

Sometimes I can hardly stand how hard my heart is breaking for young people, including my son, who are growing up in a world that seems to have gone insane. My longtime boyfriend’s strategy is to try to stay cheerful. I’m more inclined to be pessimistic at this time, and see where that takes me…

Expand full comment
Aug 10, 2021Liked by Edward Snowden

Ill start this off by saying that I can't for the life of me figure out what you are trying to say with this. My interpretation of it seems to suggest that you would not have listened to pre-2013 Snowden.

I feel obligated to point out that before you leaked classified documents to the press, global mass surveillance was also an unfalsifiable conspiracy theory building on supportability because everyone involved were displaying a clear pattern of "I can neither confirm nor deny this, but if it were to hypothetically exist then it would be legal" I don't agree that the observation of this pattern is not scientific because forming a hypothesis based on patterns is a part of science. Of course as you mention it should also be falsifiable and you should adapt to new information. but how would you form a falsifiable hypothesis on the existence of PRISM?

There are two possible options:

A) It exists

B) It doesn't exist

So you go to ask a high ranking government official and they refuse to say anything concrete or they say it doesn't exist. If you assume they are being truthful then nothing to see here, move along citizen. But if you assume they are lying or concealing information then, what you appear to me to be saying in this article, is that this is somehow a product of you being paranoid or delusional. In the realm of pure logic it is pretty much impossible to prove something doesn't exist, however proving definitively that something does exist without being a sysadmin for the NSA will occasionally force you to rely on supporting evidence rather than the purely scientific method of focusing on falsifiability. It is already quite hard to create models of human behavior, but it becomes even harder once you are dealing with describing someone who is listening to you. "If hypothesis A is true then X will do Y at Z", but if X is listening as you formulate said hypothesis and actively trying to avoid you from believing A to be true then X is not going to do Y at Z. (Try putting money on the line against that drunk guy standing at the pool table at the bar and missing all his shots and you will see what I mean)

Expand full comment
Aug 6, 2021Liked by Edward Snowden

You put words and language to thoughts I have been entertaining along the way. Appreciate your having brought Popper into your public thinking. Thank you, once again!

Expand full comment

I am reading the second in a selection of Popper's books. The first was 'The Myth of the Framework' and now 'The Open Society and Its Enemies'. Popper is the antidote to wishful thinking. Most importantly, I think, is his ability to correct various misinterpretations of the value and meaning of liberalism and by extension, the proper heritage of Western Civilization. His critiques of Plato and Hegel in the latter book are stunning and deeply revelatory. I cannot recommend him enough. If we are not to be overcome by postmodern silicon snake oil, Popper draws the clear path.

Expand full comment
Aug 6, 2021Liked by Edward Snowden

While it is true that people can err by seeing patterns where there is none and by not accounting for the emergence of unintended consequences that underlie many observed patterns, those are scarcely the only aspects of pattern recognition that are relevant here.

Positivists like Popper are mistaken in affirming that empirical testing of perceived patterns is the only method for validating generalizations applicable to the real world. One's preconceptual process of classifying objects by their perceptual discriminants attaches meaning to subsequent experiences; giving one a path to formulating analytic truths that don't require further empirical testing. Likewise, introspection of the very process of cognition and volition yields self-evident truths whose contradiction is unintelligible , and therefore are never liable to subsequent falsification. While analytic and self-evident truths are still grounded in one's prior experience, they nonetheless rise to the level of being necessary general truths that are not open to doubt and don't require further testing.

The implication of this for political discourse is that the intentions of bad actors can be shrouded by a conceptual fog where meaning, logic, and intention are stifled. George Orwell described how this works in his essay "Politics and the English Language," explaining that the brutality of a given act can be camouflaged by substitute terminology that paralyzes an audience's capacity to conceive of what happened (Orwell notes the preference of contemporary propagandists for Latinate terms over plain Anglo-Saxon words in aiding this process). Orwell developed this theme in _1984_ where his totalitarian state is busy creating a reformed language designed to cut down on the range of thought possible. Dissent becomes impossible if you can't even come up with the ideas needed for conceiving of deviancy. Even when evil happens right before your very eyes, you can't process the data in a meaningful way if you are stuck with the wrong set of patterns.

The possibility of hiding evil behind a conceptual fog puts the charge of "conspiracy theory" in a somewhat different light. While human actions can indeed give rise to unintended consequences in a social context, they always have intended consequences. The purposeful character of individual actions is in fact a self-evident truth. While a given social pattern might be a spontaneous, emergent consequence of the interaction of different people pursuing different goals, it might also be a consciously intended outcome sought by a particular individual or group, and that intent is likely to be hidden or at least kept out of widespread public discourse if it involves harm to others or significantly detracts from their well-being.

A major objective of manipulating public opinion and engineering consent in a modern setting is to delegitimize any inquiry into the private motives of the powerful and to circumvent any use of language that casts their actions and goals in a negative light. The accusation of "conspiracy theory" is a handy way to cut off discussion about the powerful as intentional actors and to assault the credibility anyone who presents hard evidence that elites are in fact engaged in nefarious activities. Only by seeking out and holding fast to analytic and self-evident truths can one cut through the fog and begin to properly distinguish between intentional and unintentional patterns in society.

Expand full comment

This is great.

I would add one minor caveat concerning the primacy of "intention" in the frame of 'conspiracy theory.' Most people reflexively assume that a conspiracy cannot exist if intention cannot be proven. (The same sort of fallacy is evident in conjecturing on the will of the artist: that things can only manifest in art by conscious intention, and that things in evidence, but unintended are therefore not significant.)

When we make the distinction between manslaughter and murder in most jurisdictions, the presence or absence of intention does not make any difference to the dead person, and, to the court and the juries, it makes the difference of about +/-7 years of imprisonment. It's a fairly negligible and superficial difference to the person who has effected the killing. So where potentially vast conspiracies involving complex social arrangements are concerned, the victim may not be 1 dead person, but thousands. And for most of the compartmented specialists involved, they will have been willfully blind or naturally ignorant of the larger goals of the programs they participate in.

But a lie retold by a person who believes it to be true remains a lie. (And ostensibly the re-teller is therefore a liar, even without the omniscience or desire to deceive, merely by virtue of themselves falling for deception.) For this reason actions that lead to such unintended consequences as mass manslaughter, for instance, just because the actual effects are not overt, explicitly stated or admitted goals, should not clear its perpetrators, managers and financiers of responsibility.

In some sense, this is what the Nuremberg Trials were all about, isn't it? "Just following orders" is not an excuse. The eminence of consciousness is assumed, even for the cog, in certain existential or devastating situations.

Expand full comment

I just came across this essay over at Aeon. If Ed insists on continuing along his Popperian line, he ought to be able to address this position and the history it illustrates.


Ignoring the completely ahistorical claims about Anthropogenic Climate Change Denial and Anti-Vaxx Movement, so called, that are wedged in at the end, I think it's a good article. It is both interesting and Ironic that Ed explicitly attempts to call out Anthropogenic Climate Change Deniers in the more recent essay, and seems to maintain his pro-Popper position.

[In fact the Anti-vaxx movement is no such thing; it is a pro-science, anti-unaccountable-healthcare-and-drug-syndicate movement. The name was applied in a retaliatory PR move to deflect criticism from Big Pharma and its captured agencies. As we can well see today, it amounted to very effective curse hurling, but that is all. See James Corbet's numerous resources for the legit history and critique of the Climate Change Religion (my term.)]

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

You make an important point here. Moral responsibility for an action extends well beyond the particular goals an actor was aiming at; the actor also bears at least some responsibility for exercising foresight concerning the impacts of their actions on others. This is something that legal and ethical systems struggle to define--even in the murder/manslaughter distinction, there can be special rules that escalate an unintentional homicide to the level of murder (e.g. the felony murder rule, the wanton-and-willful disregard of the danger rule). From a strict liability point-of-view, the plea of not intending harm (perhaps out of ignorance or out of pursuing some other legitimate goal such as self-defense against an aggressor) is an unwarranted excuse for actually causing harm to others, not an exoneration of responsibility.

On the other hand, holding people responsible for harm arising unintentionally from their ignorance or their righteousness does strike many people as being unduly harsh, which in turn gives predatory individuals an opening--as long as they can *appear* ignorant or righteous in their motives while concealing their true goals, they and the compartmentalized specialists who serve them can escape responsibility under a less rigorous standard of justice.

Even if a stricter standard of justice is applied, however, the conceptual fog I described can be used to conceal more than intentions; letting others conceptually frame the harm for us can also conceal the causal connection between the act and the resulting harm. This is particularly the case when we start analyzing the large-scale harms associated with unintended consequences arising in political and economic contexts. If a comprehension of self-evident truths affecting one's understanding of politics and economics can be foiled, one won't be in any position to understand why one is suffering in the first place, let alone identify the bad actor responsible and do anything about it.

Expand full comment

[To anyone following along, for clarity's sake: In lieu of an editing feature in the Substack interface, I deleted the comment to which Vincent's comment above was a reply, and re-posted it with minor edits, showing above. So the comment beginning "You make an important point here," is a reply to the comment beginning, "This is great."]

Thank you, Vincent. Well said.

Expand full comment
Aug 6, 2021Liked by Edward Snowden

I share your optimism. If we can each discipline ourselves to take and respond to others’ views charitably, we can begin to rebuild that shared conception of the world by challenging shared assumptions and discussing the assumptions we don’t share with open minds. The mere act of engaging with the digital in this way will begin to reshape the digital environment to one that cultivates a true consensus reality with which we can then begin to engage and adapt.

Great post!

Expand full comment
Aug 6, 2021Liked by Edward Snowden

One argument against a conspiratorial world view goes something like this. The conspiracy narrative is strangely comforting, though the thinker would not agree, it provides a sense of order and stability in what is a demonstrably unjust and unstable world. If there is some central force controlling things to any sinister ends, then at least it illustrates that we are not completely without agency in this crazy world. To accept the alternative views of simplistic surface narratives is impossible when we have lost faith through often justifiable reasons. The alternative view that lies beyond the conspiracy seems to be even more terrifying, the acceptance of a truly unpredictable chaos where nobody is in control.

As much as I'd like to I'm not going to spend a bunch of time knocking down the above straw-man. I will even posit that there is something to it. I will however raise this observation that I never hear voiced. It is positively obvious that the above dynamic, a critique of a conspiratorial mind, applies equally to our non-conspiracy views of an equally ordered reality. A world that works, one where the NSA spies on enemies not everyone all the time with no oversight, one where government is responsive to the citizenry and swift justice is served in court even to the l little guy, these ideas are the veneer of reality we are trained to assume. This default version of reality is also a psychological comfort blanket. When one is shown, by the likes of a whistleblower how unreal that worldview is, well it feels like we've outgrown our comfort blankets and we start wondering what else have I taken for granted that just is not so?

Eye the true rub is when we are all past that stage, and have recognized the dynamic you so eloquently illustrate, and we seek to regain some kind of agency to fight the good fight, to do so in public, to seek and promote the truth and by way of it, justice. We will be fashioning a new reality but it will be moored to what? Skipping past getting everyone on the same page, what force will impose a corrective measure say on the likes of a corrupted government, and judiciary, on the likes of an all powerful intelligence apparatus such as the NSA. Are we go back to having faith in some political leader that says the right things, even if they are sincere will they be able to drain the swamp and steer us in the right direction? At what point does it make sense to say you know what this is not a problem which may have possible solutions, it's a predicament, and all we have are outcomes.

Expand full comment

Unfortunately this is the greatest limit, a real single point of failure, of human beings. The worst part is that the social networks were designed exactly to exploit this human bug. Sometimes it seems to me that this is the worst crime against humanity ever invented

Expand full comment
Aug 6, 2021Liked by Edward Snowden

Great article, thank you Ed. Made me a subscriber. Two things come to mind, one biological - humans are pattern (meaning) seeking organisms, much like moths seeking light; second, social theorists since Durkheim have distinguished between social movements and their morphing into institutions. “Collective effervescence “ or the fire in the belly of the cause driven revolutionary , cools and becomes institutionised through the rule of law or the simple acceptance of a new reality by the society. But society has to be ready to accept the new normal, or we have chaos and confusion. Looks like now we are in a transition phase where new reality is emerging.

Expand full comment

Conspiracies are only a conspiracy to those who fear the information being told.

Expand full comment
Aug 5, 2021Liked by Edward Snowden

The MSM narrative is insane, and truth really is stranger than fiction. The wars were/are real, as is the man made division. For a reason. You know....

Expand full comment
Aug 9, 2021Liked by Edward Snowden

FYI, I was wondering when you were going to follow up on your Ellsberg interview. So I searched your name in gmail and found that even though I've told google that your emails are important, but your news letter still doesn't appear in my gmail inbox... lol. So that's interesting.

Expand full comment

Enter the Dragon. This article has set of a fascinating chain of commentary. I am an avid reader of my substack subscriptions comment pages and this has opened up a can of magic. I think I’m reading a comment from a genius but it could be a madman. It’s titillating stuff ES. Personally, I am constantly trying to check myself when I am 100% certain in my conspiracy. Most of the time i weigh it as long as possible and then think, fuck it, I’m totally right. It’s maddening that people i love so dearly see it in 180 degree difference. I will learn how to live with that as the insanity gap widens.

Thank you for the mind bender…I needed that at 11:53PM..Fuck

Expand full comment