Manning and Snowden: Smart, Weird Products of Broken Homes Are Mankind's Last Best Hope
In the year 3013 in public squares at the hearts of modest villages and small capitals the world over, there will be statues of a global hero whose original identity is barely remembered, his or her actual existence in doubt and debated among scholars and the faithful. The exact appearance, face and general physical attributes will vary slightly from statue to statue.
Library of Congress High school hero, dressed for a date
But every iteration will express same the essential truth:The hero will always be a gawky, androgynous, too skinny or too fat teenager with not very good skin and teeth that didn't get fixed -- face green with reflected light, eyes bright, a tiny crooked grin at one corner of the mouth.
The hero who saves humankind will be a very, very smart late-adolescent of uncertain sexuality, ignored or battered by stupid irresponsible parents, shunned by knuckle-dragging conformist peers, a weirdo-loser by common standards who spent his or her adolescence bent over a computer playing games, trading anime art online, making up awkward not-terribly-funny personas on social media, then barking angrily at people who say it's not funny.
How in the world could a reject like this become a global hero? Ah, there's the secret, the rub, the thing that will save us all. It's precisely this person, the young Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden, who will save us from ourselves. He or she knows our secrets better than we, sees how we hide them, hates us for them and eventually will always throw them in our faces no matter how long we lock them up in jail cells for it.
If it were up to the rest of us, we would sell our souls to the CIA in a heartbeat, because we're lazy and afraid. The person who spares us the fate we probably deserve is Manning, the brilliant ditched kid with conflicted sexuality, or Snowden, the high school drop-out genius with a third-grade sense of humor, hunched over a computer screen in a darkened bedroom at three on the morning, boring into the hidden architecture of our communal consciousness with the kind of laser vision only an injured, lonely, angry, love-hungry, brilliant adolescent can bring to bear.
We hate guys like that, right? We laugh at them. So why the hell do we put them -- still half-baked, totally weird and not one of us in any way -- at the sensitive nodes of our secret intelligence systems? Because they're so fucking intelligent. It happens because it's in the nature of intelligence in the post-computer era for it to happen. It has to happen. It will keep happening no matter what we do to stop it.
Most of us are at best end-users of intelligence, at worst passive victims of it. But these wily bastards actually know how it works, so we have to put them at the helm if we want to beat the weirdos on the other side.
Intelligence is competitive. To win the online war-game of life, we have to hire the best player. And for some reason the very best player always turns out to be the conflicted misfit-reject, the one who spent adolescence outside the campfire ring peering in, who has that special refracted X-ray vision for relationships and connectivity that comes from youthful exclusion. He or she is the one who spills the beans, because he or she is the one who sees the beans.
How does that make him or her a hero? Oh, well, that's up to you. Not a hero at all, if you like. If you like the choking encroachment of government spying on your life, if you're down with trash consumer mind-control, fascist income disparity and all the other ways we are working to extinguish life on the planet, then don't count them heroes at all.
But you could see them as heroes for two reasons. First, maybe you are not down with all that crap. Given a choice between the two, you will always choose life itself over remote-controlled, battery operated, auto-deodorizing plastic trashcans made by slaves in China. Thanks anyway.
Second, maybe more important, maybe you get that these men and women are not merely inevitable but glorious. They represent the very best in our nature as human beings, an apotheosis of true intelligence that always eventually leads us back to modesty, generosity, love and individualism, against egoism, hatred and callous disregard for life.
A thousand years from now in ten thousand dialects of a world language instantly comprehensible to all human beings, the inscription beneath the statutes will all say the same thing: "WE OWE THIS WORLD TO WEIRDOS."