Glen Coulthard: Indigenous Protests

The indigenous people are those that are native to the land that we live on. Canadian history shows colonizers have come and taken the land with no regard to those who live on it. In Glen Coulthard’s “Red Skin, White Masks” the philosophy of Civil Disobedience with regards to Indigenous protests are explained and further elaborated upon creating multiple discussion topics.

1.At what point does a person switch from internalization to externalization. What specifically can cause the moment of resentment and the moment of realization?

This question was proposed due to the explanation of Coulthard’s reflection on the internal evolution of why the Indigenous protests began. Coulthard explains the change from internalization to externalization of an issue. It begins with internalization when one thinks the problem is their fault or due to their mistakes. Then there is anger in the realization that the way they are being treated is unfair and unjust. This leads to resentment, where one looks for the root of the problem, seeing that it is due to the actions of a another party (colonization). Therefore, the emotions are externalized and that emotion leads to protests and acts of civil disobedience that illustrate the disapproval with the state. Although this theory defines the process, my question proposes when that distinct moment occurs and whether there is a universal trigger or if it is specific for each person and/or group of people.

The group began with a discussion on what may cause a person to be angry or realize their anger. That moment comes at a point of respect for oneself and an intersection with a realization that the issue cannot be solved with their singular ability. After the anger, the point where they externalize their emotions and decide to do change the system is when they realize they’re not alone in their anger. Once a person realizes there is a universal anger and resentment, they have a safety of knowing that others will support them. This support allows people to voice their concerns and to feel confident in their opinions. Furthermore, there was also mention of when a person realizes that a certain action can affect more than one person. This goes well with the idea of support since the understanding of an action affecting more people that just yourself gives you the power to defend yourself since others will most likely support you because they feel the same. there were examples given such as the way Snowden externalized and gave information possibly due to the reassurance of support. In addition, there was the example of having a learning disability and once one realizes that they are not alone, they have the courage to voice their concerns and pursue help and/or change.

2. At what point could this lead to violence? Is there any point other that violence can be warranted on their behalf? Is this working?

The second question posed was a reference to Brownlee and her view on how violence can be necessary for civil disobedience. So far the Indigenous people of Canada have protested throughout history with little to no violence. Although, this is the preferred form of protest it has led to  minimal change in the government and the Indigenous pursuit of self-determination. Would violence benefit their cause and cause the media and state to pay attention or harm the protests by presenting an image that could be misconstrued?

It was understood within the discussion group that violence is never preferred, but throughout history it has proven to gather the attention of the state and media. There were ideas from half the group where they believed that violence or a choice in retaliation of violence can tarnish the reputation of the Indigenous protests that have been held up today. Whilst the other half of the group believed that violence, if pushed to that point, may finally make protests warrant the attention of the state. There was conversation that the violence is inevitable if the government doesn’t make change soon. Civil Disobedience was described as a cycle in a circular fashion where eventually if the issue is not resolved, violence will be encountered.

This discussion led to a final overarching question where we took all our knowledge on civil disobedience this semester and tried to answer, “how can the Indigenous people gain the attention of the government to make a change?”. People opposed violence just for attention and instead turned to petitioning for quantitative evidence that can be brought to the government. In addition, there was conversation on making minor adjustments that each person can do such as acknowledging the land we are one, learning about the culture of your area, and promoting the desire for change. Although, there were no conclusive ideas on how the government can finally make a change, there was a consensus in the discussion group that there should be change.

Discussion Summary on MLK Jr.’s Letter to Birmingham

In my discussion group, we talked about the letter to Birmingham that Martin Luther King Jr. wrote and all the points that he made regarding the difference between legal laws and moral laws, how he considered the segregation of black people and white people to be a sin, and how he thought it wasn’t just for people to be imprisoned for invoking justice.

One of the questions I asked my group was in reference to a quote from MLK, and the quote referred to him criticizing ‘the white moderate’ for choosing order over justice; referring to MLK expressing disappointment at his white brothers involved in the church who turned a blind eye towards the blatant injustice directed to people of colour. My question was, “Do you think that our society tends to choose maintaining comfort and order, as opposed to creating tension and pursuing justice?”

Where the discussion ended up going was the election of Donald Trump as the American president and the various reactions of people worldwide; fear, disgust, outrage, happiness, and maybe most importantly, indifference. Everyone appears to be either fighting back openly and passionately against Trump and his ideologies, or sitting back and not doing anything because they think it doesn’t affect them. My group was talking about this and how it might be considered even more unjust to be indifferent to injustice as opposed to invoking it. I also mentioned how my current sociology professor says from time to time that he loves Donald Trump, simply because the whole debacle with his election and his policies has gotten people to realize that their rights aren’t permanent and that they have to be fought for when they are threatened to be taken away.

We also talked about how as people, we are so used to living in comfort that anything that creates tension of any kind is typically avoided. But King states that some forms of tension are good because it encourages growth and cooperation amongst different parties, therefore promoting a just society with just laws for all. Even with people fearing for their rights and even their lives following the Trump presidency, there are some that don’t want to step out of their comfort zone to try to change things. And we all agreed that it is hard to be the one person stepping out of the norms doing something different, particularly if there is more at stake than just temporary humiliation.

My second question was, “Does organized religion either serve justice or deny it today? And if so, how and why?” and it was related to how King himself was a Christian who grew up in the church and advocated love and justice towards all peoples, but was disappointed and frustrated at the lack of support from white Christians when black people were losing their lives because of racism and segregation. There wasn’t as much of a discussion with this question as there was with the previous one, but we did bring up that some people today use their religion as an excuse for their own agendas. People back in King’s time would treat black people with blatant and shameful disrespect and violence, and yet be seen at church every Sunday and think that they were superior (of course, we did acknowledge that in some parts of the world people do this exact thing even today). King notes this in his letter and is the reason why he condemns segregation and calls it a mortal sin, for it gave black people a false sense of inferiority and white people a false sense of superiority.

Discussion Summary on applying Brownlee’s Features of a Paradigm Case of Civil Disobedience to Snowden

Did the Communicative aspect that Brownlee discusses succeed? Were the “hearers” (pg. 343) receptive to what Snowden had to say? Did Snowden’s civil disobedience “bring about a change in current laws” or “prevent the development of new laws or policies similar to those that [he] currently finds objectable?” (pg. 346) Snowden leaked NSA spying implementations across the world including the UK in the case of the GCHQ but the Investigatory Powers Bill passed in late 2016 allows government departments to view internet connection histories, potentially spying on UK citizens.

Group members said that the leak caused a great deal of change within the NSA, such as ODNI reports assessing the organization and the five-year limit on information storage. Others commented that people are more aware of what the government can do, and will teach the next generation to safeguard privacy laws. Although it was the opposite situation in the UK, a group member pointed out that the effect on the states would be more widespread since the NSA is a US organization and Snowden an American citizen. To close it off, a group member remarked that big amendments occurred and there is a precedence for reformation now.

Brownlee is adamant that if a society provides citizens the legal capability to enact change and their conviction is steadfast, it is a moral obligation for them to do so. She claims “broad-based, collective support” (pg. 348) is necessary to change laws. After learning about Edward Snowden, to what degree should we act? Are we morally obligated to do so? E.g. vote, write letters to MP, participate in protests, talk to friends on social media

Group members commented that there is an inertia of policy development surrounding the WWB and lack of meaningful progress adapting legislature to fairly deal with technology. A group member thought that most people ignored the NSA revelations because they believed they had nothing to hide. Another group member insisted that if someone is really passionate about making a change, they have to take it as far as possible by doing everything in their power. She claimed that Edward Snowden knew it was necessary, and sacrificed a great deal due to moral obligation (even though it was illegal).


Brownlee and Scheuerman Discussion

Snowden, despite knowing that he would be accused of being a traitor, still revealed secrets to the world. Due to the fact that revealing national secrets is treasonous, and by signing the non-disclosure agreement, his revelations are illegal. So, in all sense, he would qualify for civil disobedience; and depending on each person’s point of view, could be bordering on criminal. Snowden claims that he is offering an effective way to bring the injustices of US surveillance to the public. He’s also claiming that by doing so, he’s helping improve the NSA by making sure it adheres to the legal limits.

  1. The problem here is that: While Snowden is doing civil disobedience by revealing the information. He’s revealing information about the NSA breaking the ruels as well. So, while he was morally obliged to reveal the workings, he also did a wrong thing? Is it okay to break a law, if you believe there is something greater at stake? (imagine the good cop in the movie breaking rules to catch the criminal) [so basically, are you allowed to break the law if someone else is breaking the law harder]

Short First Response: Intuitively, one would say, “Yeah, breaking the rules is okay if it means you’re questioning something bigger at hand.”
Asker Response to that: But the question lies in, When do we stop? Because if you think about it, Martin Luther King, or even some of the earlier black rights activists, are going against something larger at hand right? How, or rather what, is it that we use to determine what is “right”? I mean, in hindsight, of course we know that rights should be given to everyone, but we know that now, we might not have known before.
Longer Group General Response: Supposedly, it’d go to the decision of the difference between a moral law and a legal law then. It’s one thing to break a legal law, breaking the law should be dealt with as normal. But if breaking the legal law means that you’re bringing light to what might be immoral, then you shouldn’t be afraid, as the public would kind of act as a shield. Snowden’s case was particularly problematic, because while he would (you would think) have the public as a shield, he was afraid that he wouldn’t get a fair trial (nobody in the group thought he’ll get a fair trial.) As we’ve discussed in a previous discussion, it’s hard to the someone to be the first one to get things rolling, but once people see that there’s a leader, people join more easily. So in this case, Edward is acting as the first person trying to motivate people. So, yes, he would be in the right to break the law because there’s something dirtier going on in the background.

Asker then goes off of that and talks about how some people might operate on different definitions than Snowden, using the example of Malcolm X [Malcolm X was sort of like the opposite to MLK, he preached black rights (because he wanted black supremacy) at the same time as MLK]. So, in that case, anyone could’ve followed either, but now we know that MLK was better than Malcolm X, so the decision of who’s right and wrong might not always be so clear at any particular segment of time.


“As he anticipated, his revelations quickly proved explosive, chiefly because only a tiny group of national security and political elites was familiar with the stunning scope and scale of NSA activities, whose legal foundations partly consist of judicial rulings dating back to 1979 – in other words, well before computers transformed communication and information technology – exempting from the Fourth Amendment meta-data collected by telephone companies.” (p. 616, Scheuerman)

2. Part of the fault goes to the legal system for not updating itself. But then, the government here literally benefits from not updating the legal system. As addressed in the first question, Snowden was definitely right, but also justly punished. Let’s address the fact that he runs away, is that proof of him admitting he’s wrong?

Quick Response: Yes, but he was afraid of not getting a fair trail right? (as noted before). So whether or not he thought he was wrong, wouldn’t he run?
Asker Responds: Doesn’t that kind of show that he might not have faith in his campaign? That he doesn’t trust enough people to shield him, so he runs away. It’s kind of a defeated mentality already, where he thinks the public won’t pick up his trail. The paper has also expressed that if Snowden had went to jail, wouldn’t that mean he respects the law? So by running away, he’s expressive that he feels the law is unjust to him trying to change things, but then, he’s also simultaneously trying to fix this exact law system. So, why fix something you don’t respect? MLK went to jail for the same reason, it’s something he believed in. And perhaps, the act of actually going to jail shows the respect to the law, and also how much MLK believes his movement was the correct one, so he had faith.
General Response: It seems that in terms of the public shielding the person idea, it’s almost riding on a stroke of luck. If whatever your movement is fits the narrative of the majority, then you’re pretty much good to go. However, if your movement doesn’t fit the narrative of the majority, you’ll get shot down pretty quickly, if you could even get it moving in the first place. Then, one person in the group talked about how the USA has a two political party system, and whoever wins will always be the majority, so it’s almost like “if your views align with the party’s, then you’re going to be viewed in a good light, but any thing that goes against the political views, is now a villain.” In Snowden’s case, even if he felt like what he was doing was morally correct, and also good to the general people, he might not have felt safe or secure.



Discussion Summary 03/15: Brownlee and Scheuerman2. 2.

“Snowden has in fact articulated a powerful defense of why he was morally obligated to engage in politically motivated law-breaking. He has also undertaken impressive efforts to explain how his actions are distinguishable from ordinary criminality, and why they need not culminate in reckless lawlessness.”

This passage directly relates to Scheuerman’s writing on the components of civil disobedience. According to Scheuerman, an act of civil disobedience must be non-violent, consciousness, publicly commutative, be made in attempt to change the law, willing to accept punishment, and be a last resort. Snowdens leaks of secret government documents are controversial in establishing if it was morally correct or not. Although Snowden clearly believed he was doing the right thing, many disagree. My question to my discussion group was;

Do you think Snowden’s classified document leaks was a valid, morally correct form of civil disobedience? Is he a traitor to society or a savior of our freedom and rights?

My group came to the conclusion that Snowdens leaks were a justified act of civil disobedience. In comparison to other leaks, Snowden was particular in which documents were leaked. It seemed like a honest attempt to shed light on behavior he strongly felt should be seen by the public. Issues arise because he wasn’t able to accept punishment, but we decided that due to the severe nature of the event, it was reasonable for him to believe that there wasn’t a chance of having a fair trial. Acts of disobedience will never be universal. People will always disagree, but this act benefitted the majority. This is what we decided made grounds for an act to be justifiable.



“Although conscientiousness demands that a person sincerely believe that she has good reasons to act as she does, it does not demand that she be correct in her judgments about either her own actions or the law to which she objects.”

This passage sheds light on the fact that Scheuermans components to justified civil disobedience have loop holes.  When does one’s disagreemnt with a law become reasonable means to force change? If whenever someone disagreed with the law, there was civil disobedience, it would wreak havoc on our society. For civil disobedience to work properly, it must coincide with the opinion of at the least a significant size following.  My question to my group was;

2. With this being said, what do you think also needs to be present in a civil disobedience case for it to be justifiable and escape subjectivity? If someone honestly believes children should be beaten, is this grounds for civil disobedience?

My group decided that in addition to the act being consciousness, it must also have a significant following. Anyone can decide they feel strongly about a subject, but the general moral compass of humans should prohibit any truly irrational forms from developing. We agreed it is tough to decide what is right and not within a society, but having a majority of people feel strongly about something is usually grounds for action.




Discussion Summary: Civil Disobedience (Brownlee, Scheuerman), 3/15

  1. Looking at both Brownlee’s and MLK Jr.’s arguments for violence and non-violence, which is a more effective way for Civil Disobedience?

“I think a less restrictive attitude toward violence is required. While I have suggested that, in a typical case, civil disobedience is essentially non-coercive, I would not make the same suggestion concerning violence. Discriminate violence is not by definition a coercive measure. Nor is it by definition incompatible with conscientious intentions” – Brownlee, pg. 349

“I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies–a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.” – MLK Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”.

By looking at Brownlee’s argument, the violent civil disobedience seem much stronger and beneficial than the non-violent civil disobedience (The violence allows to effectively express disapproval and sometimes, non-violence can cause more harm). However, I asked this question because recently, the Korean president was impeached and one of the strongest reason was the “candle light” protest where hundreds of thousands citizens went out to a street and protested with candles in their hand. During the protest, no violence was to be seen. So I asked my group this question and we decided that it really depends on what people are “civil disobeying” about. Some situations would require violence to solve, or in some situations no violence would have more impact. However we concluded that since violence would lead to potential chaos among the people, every civil disobedience should at least start with non-violent way.

2. Should a person/people consider drastic measures just to make a point?

“we should interpret Snowden’s actions as meeting most of the demanding tests outlined in sophisticated political thinking about civil disobedience. To be sure, some have already described his actions as an example of legitimate civil disobedience. However, they have yet sufficiently to justify this view, which will still strike many of Snowden’s critics as counter-intuitive and tendentious.” – Scheuerman, pg. 610

I was fascinated with Snowden’s choice of revealing NSA’s secrets, but I believe one of the things he revealed was a bit too much. Everything Snowden revealed about NSA wouldn’t directly impact the citizens except revealing about the US spies in other countries’ embassies. Yes the privacy of citizens were breached, but the fact that NSA spies everybody’s emails don’t really mean much if people aren’t doing anything suspicious. However, revealing the spies in other countries (I don’t know if their identity was revealed or just the fact that there are spies in particular countries) would damage the relationship between the countries and if the identity was revealed, the spies’ lives could be in danger. My group agreed with my opinion but as a group, we came to a conclusion that Snowden fleeing after revealing NSA’s secrets show that he wasn’t sure if he was gonna be supported by the US citizens. By revealing spies in other countries, however, would most likely bring those countries to Snowden’s side and that is why he revealed this dangerous fact. Based on this conclusion, my group’s answer for my question was yes the person or people should sacrifice or take a risk because the bigger the sacrifice, the bigger the impact.


Since Snowden did not accept punishment, do you think his action did not count as civil disobedience?


Here we discussed whether or not we agreed with Scheurmann’s sentiment that Snowden’s actions counted as civil disobedience. Generally, we agreed with him and I personally thought that these definitions were too constricting. I also thought that Brownlee’s broader definitions are more appropriate for defining civil disobedience.


However, some argued that while Snowden’s actions did count as civil disobedience, the power behind his actions was lost because his actions did not fit in with other classic cases of civil disobedience.  By refusing to accept punishment and escaping, he was unable to create a lasting, localized movement. In fact, it can be argued that while Snowden did bring issues of privacy and domestic spying to the forefront, his acts had little lasting effects. As well, he may have created an impression that self-preservation came first, rather than the goals of his movement. However, as Scheurmann has mentioned, I felt that Snowden’s actions were justified since he would be unlikely to receive a fair trial in the US (620).


Do you believe that Snowden’s unwillingness to accept punishment could inspire reckless and lawless civil disobedients?
We disagreed that Snowden could inspire reckless and lawless civil disobedients simply due to the sacrifices that had to be made. Leaving behind a comfortable life is no easy task, and acts like these require considerable foresight. As well, as Scheurmann mentioned, Snowden curated all the information he leaked, ensuring that no one would be harmed in the process (614).

Brownlee and Scheuerman Discussion Summary

I began the discussion by briefly summarizing the required readings for the week before introducing my first question: “Are Edward Snowden’s actions (of releasing classified documents to the public which entail the scale of NSA surveillance) a case of civil disobedience?” Because Scheuerman’s argument outlines why Snowden should be considered a civil disobedient according to Rawl’s definition of civil disobedience, I thought this question was quite pertinent. Since the group seemed to need more prompting to answer the question, I added a follow-up question, namely whether civil disobedience can exist in the absence of the element of accepting punishment and as it pertains to Snowden, “does the fact that he did not accept punishment affect whether or not his case is civil disobedience?” Kimberly Brownlee, for example, defines civil disobedience as “conscientious and (2) communicative breaches of the law for the purpose of (3) demonstrating protest against a law and/or (4) persuading lawmakers to change the law” (Brownlee, 338). Under such a case, Snowden would apply, having demonstrated seriousness and sincerity by giving up his comfort and security to reveal government action he believes is wrong to the public.

One classmate however, suggested that considering his case to be civil disobedience under Rawl’s definition is more difficult seeing as how this definition requires civil disobedients to show respect for the rule of law, which is usually demonstrated by accepting punishment. Scheuerman argues Snowden fulfills this because his “aim is obviously neither violent criminality nor revolution, but instead a peaceful transformation of US policy –and even the NSA itself – so that it might better accord with his interpretations of both the US Constitution and international law” (Scheuerman, 614). Snowden’s intentions are not obvious nor are his interpretations of the constitution necessarily sufficient to show respect for law and warrant not accepting punishment. This is because interpretations vary and reasonable people will disagree, but it is not acceptable to use that to justify breaking the law without legal consequences. My next related question was whether or not Snowden should have accepted punishment, and one group member thought he was right not to, but acknowledged that opinions would vary depending on how one views his actions and intentions, which the rest of the group agreed with.

Next, I asked whether Snowden was morally justified in what he did. Furthermore, tying back into the terms from the Singer reading, were his actions morally permissible, or is there any sense in which they could be considered morally obligatory? Invoking the idea of moral consistency that Brownlee brings up in her article, would it be morally inconsistent to stand idly by when you believe something is wrong? My group agreed that it heavily depends on one’s system of morality. For example, utilitarianism would say it is not morally justified because it endangers programs designed to protect society. One classmate said that while Snowden was morally justified because he personally believed that the extent of the NSA surveillance was violating rights and immorally wrong, in their own view, it would depend on whether the NSA was actually abusing the power by looking at the information they had access to. However, my group did not think it was morally obligatory because of other potential considerations, much like Brownlee mentions that people must balance “when deciding how to act” (Brownlee, 341). For example, one mentioned the non-disclosure agreement Snowden violated when he released the documents, breaking a law himself which is generally perceived to be morally wrong given that the law is just.

Another classmate expanded on this, saying working with the government tends to be a “grey area” because as Scheureman admits, “every liberal democracy carves out some place for government secrecy in the context of national security” (Scheuerman, 613). The group member raised doubt as to the moral permissibility of Snowden’s actions, due to the potential harm he could have caused to the nation’s citizens or to its international standing and relations. They argued against Scheuerman’s claim that “no political actor can reasonably be held responsible for all of her or his act’s unavoidable manifold long-term consequences” (Scheuerman, 614) stating that Snowden had to have some foresight before acting and his action could have had worse consequences than it did.

This was also their reasoning for answering no to my next questions: “should Snowden should have been pardoned by the Obama administration? If you were in a position to (i.e. POTUS), would you offer clemency to Edward Snowden?” This question is relevant considering Scheuerman argues “US Americans should demand of the Obama administration that it treat Snowden with clemency” as it is the “right thing” (Scheuerman, 623); this argument likely extends to the current President of the US. The members of my group seemed to be in a general consensus that Snowden should not be pardoned, because he endangered national security which is not easy to forget. Another reason was that it would set a precedent showing that his actions are permissible, and may prompt similar ones, to which I brought up the similar case of Chelsea Manning, who was pardoned. Unlike Snowden, however, Manning did accept punishment, which President Obama cited as his reason for awarding clemency to her yet not to Snowden. However, one student felt that while they would not offer clemency, Snowden should not have been restricted in travel, much like Scheuerman, who argues “he should still have somewhere to go besides Putin’s Russia” (623)

My final question was whether Scheuerman’s argument of Snowden appealing to a higher law to show fidelity to law was effective. The group was split on this question with some suggesting risking security was worse than those offences, some saying it is debatable whether his claim is true, and some agreeing his justification is made sound by appealing to a higher law. Those who said risking security was worse claimed he jeopardized people’s safety, increasing the potential for attacks on the US, which no amount of privacy would protect them from. A recurring theme in our discussion was deciding between different values, such as between national security and the right to privacy, which many consider a basic human right.

Discussion Summary- Edward Snowden

Scheuerman argues that “the secrecy in which NSA intelligence-gathering has been shrouded allegedly corrupts ‘the most basic notion of justice- that it must be seen to be done. The immoral cannot be made moral through the use of secret laws.” But he also cedes that “… some government activities may need to be veiled from direct public scrutiny… in the context of national security” (613).

My question is that for a functioning democracy where as Scheuerman argues there must be a certain level of secrecy for specific government actions to be effective where do we draw the line between too much secrecy in government and too much disclosure? How do we find that line or how would we decide where to draw it?

In discussing this question, a member of the group brought up the fact that if an action was deemed completely necessary for the safety of a large group of people or a nation as a whole then it would be alright for a government to perform some kind of surveillance without disclosing it to the public. However, in response another member brought up the fact that many times it would be very difficult to tell whether an action actually was necessary for the safety of a nation or not because many times a government may state that their motive of some action was to ‘uphold national security’ or something equally abstract. But the terms of these motives may be defined very loosely. We discussed who is ultimately in charge of deciding whether the circumstances of a given situation warrants some kind of invasion of privacy and came to the conclusion that unless that responsibility is given to some kind of third party committee that can be assured to be unbiased, then it is likely that governments will use this power even in situations that may not merit the invasion of privacy. Our discussion then turned to the subject of this third party committee and we started to echo the claims of Scheuerman, when he argued that “publicity is fundamental to the rule of law and constitutional government, whereas secret law tends to be corrosive as it risks unduly veiling government action from both individual and collective scrutiny” (613). We came to the conclusion that when a government uses secret laws as a basis for action they undermine democracy itself by not letting the citizens of the state have any say in whether they believe the government should have that power or not. However if we decide that these secret courts are undemocratic and should therefore not be used to determine whether a government may or may not exercise some power then what would? We never came up with a definitive answer, but many interesting suggestions were discussed including things like advanced Artificial Intelligence driven algorithms that you could input the parameters of a given situation and it would let you know whether the circumstances warranted an invasion of privacy.


Scheureman argues that “the standard grounds for assenting to punishment as an unavoidable consequence of civil disobedience are perhaps less air-tight than typically get recognized. Snowden’s example, in my view, helps buttress that dissenting position… the exorbitant penalties they [US officials] presently hope to exact are simply inappropriate” (618).

Is your opinion regarding Snowden’s refusal to accept punishment different to Scheuerman’s? If Snowden decided to stay in the U.S. and faced his punishment do you think that what he did would be thought of differently?

In cases of apparent civil disobedience such as Snowden’s it is the standard for those who commit their crime to willfully accept the punishment for that crime, Scheureman is among the group of people that believes one does not necessarily need to accept punishment for a crime given certain circumstances. The reasoning behind why undergoing punishment is the best thing to do for those who engage in cases of civil disobedience is to establish that the individual “expresses their fidelity to the general idea of legality or the rule of law” (618). On discussion of these ideas one member of the group brought up the point that she did not believe Snowden should have stayed and face his punishment because the U.S. government made it abundantly clear they were going to prosecute him as harshly as they could. And this fact alone ensured that he would not receive a fair trial and therefore he had no obligation to adhere to their punishment. Another member of the group brought up the fact that taking into account how groundbreaking the information that the government are spying on their citizens is it is very unlikely that the overall effect of what Snowden did would change. However looking at it as a narrative it is a much better story that Snowden had to escape to Russia to protect himself, if he just stayed in the U.S. it is possible that the story would not have made as big of as in impact worldwide as it did because he decided to leave the country and flee to Russia a country with historically turbulent relations with the western world. Scheuerman also argues that accepting punishment acts to “provide sufficient evidence of moral seriousness” (618) but he believes Snowden proved his moral seriousness through his careful deliberation of his actions and after assessing the risks involved he still decided to act out of moral obligation. It seems that accepting punishment does not necessarily have to be a tenant of civil disobedience if it can be concluded that the objective of proving moral seriousness has already been reached through other means.

Discussion Summary on Brownlee/Scheuerman (Civil Disobedience)

Question 1:   According to Brownlee, Civil Disobedience can incorporate violence and covert (as opposed to consciously public) action, which conflicts with Rawls’ definition as cited by Sheuerman.  Brownlee cites the case of repressive governments cracking down on protests, forcing  people to practice disobedience secretly, in order to avoid punishment.  However, Civil Disobedience often relies on publicity to raise awareness of its goals, as in the case of Martin Luther King or Edward Snowden.  In this context of acting publicly in order to raise awareness, is it possible to even practice Civil Disobedience covertly and without publicity?

We discussed whether it was possible to practice Civil Disobedience in secret, and how it far the definition can reach.. Ultimately, we felt that since Civil Disobedience primarily relies on the conscious breaking of the law in public in order to raise awareness, and to a certain degree accepting any potential punishments that result from the breaking of those laws, that breaking laws “secretly” somewhat defeats the purpose of Civil Disobedience, as it is most often defined.

Question 2.  Sheuerman notes that Snowden used publicity on a global scale in order to raise awareness of the NSA’s practices–claiming that his actions were legal under international law, seeking asylum in foreign countries, revealing secrets that had an impact on the international level (such as the USA spying on its allies).  If the idea of Civil Disobedience is to raise awareness and act publicly (which Scheuerman cites as criteria), do people who are not directly affected by the laws of the country in question have the right or moral obligation to protest?

We discussed the implications of Civil Disobedience on a global/international level:  do people have a right or duty to protest if they are not directly subject to the laws of the country?  There seems to be no clear answer at first glance;  while the citizen may not be subject to the law(s) perceived as being unjust, on a diplomatic and political level other countries can put pressure on a country to change its laws, (e.g. through economic sanctions, although this is a fairly extreme example).  Ultimately, we decided that people should have the right to protest laws they find unjust, even if they are of a different country.  This is especially pertinent if these practices do affect them, even if not directly (such as in the case of America covertly spying on allies).