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Review: Things That Can and Cannot be Said

Things that Can and Cannot Be Said

Title: Things That Can and Cannot be Said
Author: Arundhati Roy and John Cusack
Published: 2016
ISBN-13:  978-1-60846-717-4
Publisher: Haymarket Books
Publisher Blurb:
In this rich dialogue on surveillance, empire, and power, Roy and Cusack describe meeting NSA whistleblower Ed Snowden in Moscow.

In late 2014, Arundhati Roy, John Cusack, and Daniel Ellsberg travelled to Moscow to meet with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The result was a series of essays and dialogues in which Roy and Cusack reflect on their conversations with Snowden.

In these provocative and penetrating discussions, Roy and Cusack discuss the nature of the state, empire, and surveillance in an era of perpetual war, the meaning of flags and patriotism, the role of foundations and NGOs in limiting dissent, and the ways in which capital but not people can freely cross borders.

I’m not sure about the point of this slender book.  It’s 100 pages of large font transcriptions of conversations between Cusack and Roy, recollections of an “UnSummit” facilitated by Cusack featuring Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg in Moscow.

What I’d hoped for was a deeper discussion of the effects of Ellsberg’s and Snowden’s espionage.  What led them to the conclusion there was no other way than to be whistleblowers?  I wanted to know more.  I was hoping for something more unfiltered .

Do I know the world’s governments aren’t what they want us to think they are?  Of course I do.  Do I think corporate governance of charities and NGOs is a bad thing?  I don’t know enough to make an informed opinion.  But if what Arundhati Roy thinks is what we’re all supposed to think, we are indeed doomed.

It is the utter hopelessness of Cusack and Roy of any government, any people doing good in the world which got to me.  This paranoid, pseudo-intellectual view of the world, especially from a white man of privilege, is what brings out the despair.  If this is what they think is important, and it gets published, what chance do the rest of us just trying to get through our day have?

It is utterly maddening that an opportunity for two of the most famous whistleblowers to meet was so censored.  For readers to not be privy to any of the conversation beyond niceties is hardly better than fanning the flames of a global game of Chicken Little.

The security concerns addressed in Things That Can and Cannot be Said are serious, but there’s no real substance in discussing them.  I chose not to be scared simply because two activists who have the resources to walk freely through the streets or sit in cafes and talk tell me I should be.