Jefferson in PRISM — I

A new generation feeds on a virtual reality inhabited by avatars. Technological advances have placed increasingly complex global networking capabilities within the hands of the masses

Jefferson in PRISM — I

On May 25, 2013, the government very quietly removed an elderly gentleman from the sidewalk in front of the Independence Hall in Philadelphia. He had set up a small display with the original documents known as The Declaration of Independence and The United States Constitution. They rested on hand carved wooden easels on either side of the entrance to the building. Those who passed by were impressed by the genteel manner of the man. Perhaps more startling was the phrase that he kept repeating again and again: “Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong.”
As the white-haired gentleman hailed from a private estate known as Monticello, he was remanded to the custody of the Virginia State Police and is now housed at an undisclosed location. Although there is nearly a complete media embargo on the peculiarities of this arrest, small factoids about the case are finding their way into a network of underground reporters who have managed to evade the surveillance of the state. A profile and extensive dossier had previously been constructed by the NSA and CIA on this particular citizen. He possessed a powerful intellect and strong command of the English language. At an earlier date, he had been heavily recruited to join the growing ranks of his powerful analytical peers. His subsequent protest was categorised as one of imminent threat to the intelligence-gathering capabilities of the security apparatus.
Interestingly, the technology that has allowed for the NSA PRISM programme is the same technology that has diminished any real public support for the elderly man who quietly went about his work as a sentinel. A new generation feeds on a virtual reality inhabited by avatars and unpredictable friends. Technological advances have placed increasingly complex global networking capabilities within the hands of the masses. This seems like empowerment. But a more subtle side to the technology has been exposed. A public poll assessing interest in the aforementioned arrest determined that 45 percent of Americans polled had little concern for the man on the sidewalk. In fact, they believed that the PRISM programme should be expanded. The conclusion is self-evident. This technology used by the masses is nimble in its psychological enslavement capabilities. For the unaware, it captures and enslaves the intricate reasoning processes necessary to understand concepts such as human liberty, right to privacy, and protection from unlawful seizure. Mildred Montag and a seashell to the ear. Fahrenheit 451.
PRISM. Bellum omnium in omnia.
One of the white-haired gentleman’s jailers, a rather brave fellow by the name of Edward Snowden, agreed to smuggle some of the private papers of this man into an underground media network. These papers were stored on a flash drive that was hidden in the heel of his boot. He assured the jailer that a forensic sweep of his private papers from his laptop at home had already been accomplished on more than one occasion. As I bring this report to you, the status of the jailer is also unknown. He is no longer available for updates on the physical condition of the prisoner. But he is known to be in a weakened state. So today, I release to you a few of the thoughts of this prisoner, delivered to me in a parking garage in Dallas. These are his words. His name is Thomas Jefferson.
“In every government on earth is some trace of human weakness, some germ of corruption and degeneracy, which cunning will discover, and wickedness insensibly open, cultivate and improve. Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.”
“Liberty, truth, probity, honour are the four cardinal principles of your society. I believe with you that morality, compassion, generosity, are innate elements of the human constitution; that there exists a right independent of force; that a right to property is founded in our natural wants, in the means in which we are endowed to satisfy these wants, and the right to what we acquire by those means without violating the rights of other sensible beings; that no one has a right to obstruct another, exercising his faculties innocently for the relief of sensibilities made a part of his nature; that justice is the fundamental law of society; that the majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest, breaks up the foundations of society...”
“The press is impotent when it abandons itself to falsehood. I leave to others to restore it to its strength, by recalling it within the pale of truth. Within that, is a noble institution, equally the friend of science and of civil liberty.”
“Under difficulties I have found one and only one rule, to do what is right, and generally we shall disentangle ourselves almost without perceiving how it happened.”
Let me finish this report with the words that were whispered into the ear of Edward Snowden as he was handed the private papers of Thomas Jefferson:
“Most codes do not distinguish between acts against the government and acts against the oppression of the government. The latter are virtues; yet have furnished more victims to the executioner than the former. The unsuccessful struggles against tyranny have been the chief martyrs against treason laws in all countries. We should not wish them to give up to the executioner the patriot who fails and flees.”
As I meditate on the above words again and again a strange juxtaposition occurs. I feel it in my heart. Grabbing my stethoscope I listen to my heart sounds. The normal S1, S2 seems the same. But then I listen more closely. Give me, give me...Give me, give me...Give me, give me... Leaping from my chair the words explode from the core of my being. “Give me liberty, or give me death!”
God Speed, Edward Snowden. God speed.

(To be continued)

The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at