Francis and Snowden (and Time Magazine)

Time has named Pope Francis its person of the year, and I have to say that I’m down with that; the only other person I would slot in the position would be Edward Snowden, and Pope Francis is at least the more optimistic choice between the two (and also admittedly the safer choice, in terms of who still reads Time on a regular basis).

I’ve noted before that as an outsider to the Catholic Church, I admire the fact that Francis is making a point to say that the Church needs to be in the world and serving the poor, and that its priorities recently have drifted too far from that core mission. Critics have noted that Francis represents a change in tone more than substance so far, which I think is a reasonable if incomplete observation. But I also think that one has to start somewhere, and where Francis has started from is important. Tone in this case does actually matter.

The Catholic Church and I will never agree on many fundamental things; that’s the deal when one is an agnostic who doesn’t believe in the existence of a god, or as a necessary corollary, that Jesus was the Christ. But to the extent that I understand the message of Jesus, and to the extent that the Church sees its mission as serving Christ’s message, I see Francis turning the focus of the Church toward that message. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of that.

For those who grumble that Snowden got robbed — a fair assessment, even if I’m perfectly happy with Time’s final choice — the New Yorker explains why, in the opinion of writer John Cassidy, it’s not even close that Snowden had had the most impact on the world’s news in the last year.

I think that’s correct, and I think that Cassidy’s note that the full page NYT ad that several tech companies placed the other day, calling on the US government to better protect the privacy of everyone’s data, would probably not have happened unless Snowden disclosed all that the he knew, possibly because the bland, not-obviously-sinister technocratic surveillance regime that’s developed since 9/11 doesn’t feel like oppression or an invasion of rights in the same way that someone stomping down your door does, and anyway it didn’t impede that the technology companies needed to do for their own purposes.

In any case, on a personal note, I certainly feel sorrier for Snowden than Pope Francis. Francis, no matter what, still gets to be Pope, which is a nice gig. Last I heard of Snowden, he’s living in a country not his own, eking by doing tech support, and if he ever tries to leave Russia he’s got a perfectly reasonable fear of being snatched up and then living the rest of his life in a SuperMaxx cube. For those of us old enough to have been slathered by USSR propaganda, there’s some irony for you.

29 Comments on “Francis and Snowden (and Time Magazine)”

  1. Considering the choice in 1938, the honor of being in that lineup is not as high as one may think ;-).

  2. Well, TIME is more likely to be comfortable with dictators than whistleblowers, @Martin Seeger….

  3. The description of the Person of the Year includes “for better or for worse” so Hitler in 1938 and Stalin in 1939 and again in 1942 certainly influenced the events of the year. Now without looking or being French, can you tell me what Pierre Laval did?

  4. The Whistleblowers (Cynthia Cooper, Coleen Rowley and Sherron Watkins as examples) were Persons of the Year in 2002.

  5. Martin Seeger:


    And he was probably the right choice (as was Khomeni, when it was his year). Theoretically at least the “Person of the Year” is not supposed to be someone who makes us all feel good, but someone who for better or worse has had the biggest influence on the news of the year, and in both the cases of Hitler and Khomeni, that was unarguably the case.

    That said, the 30s and the 70s were different eras from now, and I don’t suspect Time would have the same inclination to actually follow the dictates of its “Person of the Year” mission in the same way anymore — which may be one reason why it ultimately went for Francis over Snowden this year. Again, I do think Francis is a good choice, but I also think in terms of news, Snowden was probably the correct choice.

    (To be clear, Snowden IS NOT directly comparable to Hitler or Khomeni in most important respects. The point here is whether the Person of the Year is generating news, or is otherwise a very significant person for the year.)

  6. Re: the final paragraph… adds a whole new dimension to “home of the free and land of the brave, no?”

  7. Sowden is perfectly safe in Russia. As long as he’s completely straight, doesn’t say anything that might be interpreted by someone as being in opposition to the current Russian Government, and as long as Greenwald doesn’t say anything like that either. Oh, and as long as none of the NSA revelations turn out to be damaging to Russia.

    Other than that, he’s completely safe and free there.

  8. With any luck, Snowden will be man of the year next year, when we see Alexander and/or Clapper resign, special hearings leading to new mechanisms for intel and black line and clearance/classification oversight, FISC overhaul, and a resurgence in digital native/geek/maker political engagement.

    And people will realize this is less about privacy/civil liberties, and more about war profiteering as the MIC moves from aerospace etc into cyberwarfare — which can be sheltered in blackline unaudited, unwatched budgets. Follow the damn money people.

    Much as it pains me as a privacy maven and founding execdir of Tor (now outed by the leaks as a software non grata to parts of the NSA, though parts also use it ;) — the politics around all this are hairy, and worthy of some fine world-building SF political brains.

    I wanted to write SF when I was a kid. Instead, I wrote my future history on the biggest interactive nonfiction canvas available.

    If we spent a bit less time reading and a bit more time on our own Foundation… I have, and it changed the world.

    Oh, yeah, and in my ideal optimist dream for next year? David Brin’s Transparent Society goes deservedly and permanently out of print, as it’s shown to have been used primarily as a footnote by marcom and personal information brokers since it was published, the year before Al Gore was accused of inventing the internet. Privacy is not dead, and we can’t trade it for transparency in an asymmetrical infowar — you can’t exercise oversight if the people you oversee can anticipate your moves, blackmail and intimidate your auditors, and so on. And we now see how badly information is abused.

    Every one of you needs to get out of that ergonomic chair — and take action. Bitching on the net is not enough. Get engaged, get involved, hold people accountable, educate each other, FLY!

  9. And that is still safer than in the US, where he doesn’t even have the fighting chance of escaping a supermaxx cell, or worse some “enhanced” interrogation to let him know who is boss. Because, lets face it, if he ever did get renditioned (extra-ordinary[that means kidnapped btw] or otherwise) back to the US, he’d probably be shiipped back to Eastern Europe for a little chat in a CIA blacksite anyway. And then be shot “while attempting escape”. Russia is sucky, but the US right now sucks worse for him.

  10. What makes Pope Frank so refreshing for a heathen like me is that a BIG reason i ran screaming from religion was that most talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.

    Frank walks the walk.

    Plus, when some whacko like Palin calls him a socialist, he gets bonus points to me. When someone who actually LIVES the teachings of Christ gets called a socialist from someone claiming to be Christian like her… it totally illustrates what is wrong with religion.

  11. I voted for Snowden on the TIME Magazine site. He was my only “Yes” vote. Miley Cyrus was my only “No” vote. I’m okay with Pope Francis on the cover too.

  12. Re “Hitler” as MOTY, 1938:

    I remember a similar observation at school, where there was a prize that was awarded based on votes of the pupils and not in the gift of the teaching staff – the prize for “Integrity”. The teacher explaining the process took pains to point out that “Integrity” was in itself not an automatically good thing- “Hitler had integrity.” :)

  13. @Shayde- one of the occasional cognitive disconnects that come from being a Brit is that when I see “Palin”, my first thought is Michael and not Sarah. :)

  14. I would say that these choices – Snowden or Francis – are reflective of a larger debate – is there any cause for hope that the world will get better?

    Snowden’s words and actions demonstrated that powerful world governments will snoop, spy, coerce, and imprison for even the most trivial reasons in the name of “security,” will lie about it when caught, and face no consequences for doing so. The fruit of these disclosures, as I see them, have been anger, apathy, cynicism, distrust, and an increasing sense that nothing citizens do to control their government really matters. And look at the runners-up: Sen. Ted Cruz, who shut down the U.S. government for reasons and accomplished nothing by doing so; Bashar Al-Assad, who used chemical weapons on his own people to keep himself in power while the rest of the world gesticulated ineffectively, and Edith Windsor, a figurehead of ongoing culture wars (and perhaps because giving it to Justice Kennedy directly would have been too much of a tell). If you seek your salvation in politics, whatever those politics are, this has been a shitty year for you.

    Francis’ words and actions demonstrated that three simple words, put into action, can blast through layers of rules, bureaucracies, legalisms, politics, power struggles, disgust, shame, and fear: “love one another.” The fruit of these words and actions has been to draw ex-Catholics back into the Church, to put the focus of the world’s single largest denomination back on preaching mercy instead of rules and service to the poor and outsiders ahead of doctrinal purity, and to let the world’s “conservatives” and “liberals” alike know that their politics are badly missing the point, because they treat human lives as disposable means and not sacred ends. If you seek your salvation in the ordinary lives of people, this year was… well, less shitty. Because there was at least someone who, regardless of belief, most people looked at and said, “you know, beliefs aside, he’s doing it right. Let’s try acting as he acts.”

  15. I’m cool with him there as well.

    Yes, he hasn’t changed any doctrines, but by refocusing on the actual message of Jesus (like, the quotes as recorded), as opposed to policing people’s genitalia, that’s a huge improvement. Emphasizing the whole “be kind and generous and not self-centered” is a good thing. That’s a thought all decent people can get behind.

  16. I’m no fan of organized religion, but I have to agree with you about naming him person of the year. He has led and in a good way. I also agree about Snowden.

  17. Better Pope Francis than Miley Cyrus… I’m not even sure why she was one of those considered, when you look at other folks on the short list. She may be a decent singer, but I don’t think she has done much, either good or bad, to change society… The Pope, if he actually changes the attitudes and climate in the Catholic Church, has the potential to change the lives of folks throughout the world, poor thru rich. Snowden, on the other hand, while his actions have been important to rubbing noses in how much spying goes on into everybody’s business, is in some ways more limited in effect to those of us in first world countries. Someone in sub Saharan Africa who has no cell phone, a TV powered by a solar energy collector, etc isn’t going to be much affected by what Snowden has accomplished. The Pope and his Church, on the other hand, will have more affect in the Third World. I hope this makes sense…

  18. I suppose I’m biased in favor of Pope Francis (being Catholic myself), but I recognize that Time’s choice is going more for optimism than major political impact. I sincerely hope that His Holiness can better leadership and integrity to the Church, but I can also see that Edward Snowden did blow the lid on a major international scandal and is currently in a bad spot for it.

  19. According to an interview I heard on NPR this morning with one of the members of the group who decide Time Magazine’s Person of the year, Snowden was their second choice. Among other things, the Pope has great influence over the billion Catholics and he does seem working on a (IMHO) long overdue shakeup of the church heirarchy. While there have been a lot of changes since the Snowden revelations, it’s more of a reaction to what he revealed than him leading the changes like Pope Francis.

  20. I think I’d select Snowden, but the Pope is a fine choice too. I’m thinking of Jesus Christ, as described in the Gospels as someone who choose to be good rather than to be Right; who included the poor, the sinners, and the outsiders; who was angered by the moneychangers in the temple; who told us how hard it was for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven…

    Sort of the opposite of Pat Robertson. And the opposite of many historical popes. But an example that Pope Francis seems to be embracing.

  21. @Martin Seeger: That’s nothing compared to Time’s 2006 MoTY. Maybe they should change it to Newsmaker of the Year, or something else less confusing to people who think it’s the global equivalent of Employee of the Month and don’t read Time…oh, wait, never mind.

  22. Yeah, I spent my childhood in the GDR and the last two years I realized that I had far, far more privacy in a state known to chattel and corral it’s wonderful citiziens, then I do now. Plus, these days I could get as easily vanished by the USA as by the Stasi back then, and I wouldn’t have any recourse in both cases. When you land in the special jail, it doesn’t matter much if the charge’s named “terrorism” or “unsocialistic behaviour”.

    Looks like human nature doesn’t change. It’s just the buzzwords that get replaced.

    Now there’s an unsettling thought.

  23. Marc: ““Hitler had integrity.” :)”

    I’m not sure we’re using Integrity in the same way. I understood Integrity to mean honesty, being forthright and morally upstanding. Hitler was exactly none of these and that was entirely obvious to SOME elements of the international community by 1938. The major powers of Europe were actively involved in the policy of Appeasement, wherein Hitler was a bully who they just knuckled under to, so as to avoid a conflict (The Great War still fresh in many minds). Erik Larsen’s ‘In the Garden of Beasts’ discusses how many people just assumed Hitler couldn’t last or he couldn’t be as bad as his detractors said. Spoiler Alert: he did and he was.

    Hitler lied, tricked and politically maneuvered his way into power. It wasn’t integrity that led to the Night of Long Knives, the Anschluss or the annexation of Czechoslovakia.

    As for Snowden and Francis…I think both would work, but the former has had more direct impact on my life, personally. Speaking as a former-Catholic.

  24. Okay, so I should posted my original joke in THIS thread:

    So Bashar al-Assad, Jeffrey P. Bezos, Ted Cruz, Miley Cyrus, Pope Francis, President Obama, Hassan Rouhani, Kathleen Sebelius, Edward Snowden, and Edith Windsor walk into a bar…

    [Time magazine’s Person of the Year finalists for 2013
    Time magazine has narrowed down its annual list of the world’s biggest newsmakers. Here are the 10 finalists for 2013.]

    “What have you got with lots of chemicals?” said Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria.
    “Someday I’m going to deliver e-purchased drinks by unmanned drones,” said founder and CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos.
    “Cuba Libre.” said Ted Cruz, Republican senator from Texas.
    “Just water, to wash down my Molly,” said MTV’s artist of the year, Miley Cyrus.
    “Who am I to judge,” shrugged Pope Francis.
    “My wife won’t let me eat or drink anything unhealthy,” said President Obama. “I’ll have a V-8.”
    “Interim nuclear deal, on the rocks,” said Hassan Rouhani, president of Iran.
    “You sure your digital cash register is working?” said U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.
    “White Russian,” said ex-NSA contractor Snowden.
    “Martini for me,” said Edith Windsor, “and one to take home to may partner. In June, the Supreme Court ruled in the case United States v. Windsor that it is unconstitutional for the Defense of Marriage Act to apply only to heterosexual couples.

    He’s too modest to say so,” said Obama, “but Pope Francis won the contest and is Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Let’s celebrate!”
    “I’ll have a Virgin Mary,” said the Pope.

  25. Yesterday we were talking about Pope Francis around the lunch table at work, where I discovered that I was the only person who had NOT grown up in a rigorously devout Catholic household. Everyone was excited by him, and one coworker said that Pope Francis is the first Christian Pope in his lifetime.

  26. @Dru Albright

    I understood Integrity to mean honesty, being forthright and morally upstanding.

    While you’re of course free to use integrity as you see fit, we already have those words to describe those things. Integrity has a distinct meaning. I’m not sure what’s gained by shifting a unique word into being a synonym for other words. I’ve always understood it to mean moral integrity, that is, literally, fully integrated moral conduct with one’s moral code, whatever that happens to be.

    1: firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : incorruptibility

    OED is a little more in your camp, at least for it’s first of two definitions:
    1: the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness
    2: the state of being whole and undivided

    Wikitionary seems to have the most straight-forward definition
    1: Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.

    The way I use the word, there is no contradiction in a villain having integrity, as long as he or she is self-honest.

  27. Russia is the PERFECT place for Snowden and I hope he rots there (how can PUTIN wanting you ever be a good thing?).

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