If you’re over 50, Edward Snowden is treacherous — if you’re under 30, he’s heroic. This split comes from his character traits of narcissistic defiance and youthful idealism. These traits mold the individual conscience, which our culture always elevates above the state, considering especially heroic a conscience striving against tyrannical laws and surveillance. Overly romanticized, however, these strivings may degenerate into a self-destructive “pseudo-heroism.”
“Pseudo-heroism” follows a pattern: First (through false allegiance) gain access to targets; then (with fanfare) boldly strike; and finally (expecting accolades) elude capture. This often ends badly, John Wilkes Booth being an extreme example. Unfortunately, Booth’s infamous acclamation “Sic Semper Tyrannis!” still lives on; it frequently describes today’s youthful narcissists elevating themselves above any law with which their conscience disagrees — not by arduous negotiation following Lincoln’s example, not by public protest or civil disobedience following Gandhi or King, but by law’s total annihilation through self-proclaimed, egocentric manifesto.