As expected, there has been a lot of chatter about the personal life of Edward Snowden, even to the extent of details about his girl friend. What surprised me is the amount of time spent on the fact that he did not graduate from high school and had some community college education, and yet at the age of just 29 had a very well-paying job with a major firm that gave him access to a lot of top-secret government information. This is clearly troubling to some people.
Why is this seen as even worthy of note, let alone a bad thing? Apart from shedding light on the nature of how private contractors charge the government for services, it should be irrelevant. There has been no indication that he got his job because of nepotism or corruption or that he was bad at it. As far as I can tell, Snowden could do the work that he was assigned and if his employers felt that he was worth it, what exactly is the problem with them paying him well? Why do we feel that a person’s salary should somehow positively correlate with the level of formal education? Why is the criticism that is made of Snowden not leveled at college dropout Bill Gates? Snowden’s salary has no relevance whatsoever to the merits of his whistleblowing. If anything, it is a positive thing because he clearly walked away from a job that many would love to have.
I have a lot of formal education but have never felt that it entitled me to a certain income. I got the education because I wanted to and because I enjoyed studying physics. The fact that it enabled me to get a job that I enjoy doing and that provided me with some security and comfort is a nice bonus. But I cannot claim that it equips me for anything special. For example, I would be useless to a company like Booz Allen or many firms that pay high salaries because I could not do the kind of work that Snowden did and presumably was quite good at. But I never wanted to do that kind of work anyway so I am not envious of those who do.
In addition, the more formal education one has, the more one gets indoctrinated into the establishment and becomes part of it and thus a servant of the status quo. Having these young people without much formal education gain access to important positions is a significant development because they are far more likely than people like me to buck the system. The Daniel Ellsbergs who, after getting solid Ivy League and establishment credentials, risk everything by turning against the establishment are a very rare breed.
The future lies with young outsiders like Bradley Manning, Aaron Swartz, and Edward Snowden who are disturbed by what they see and feel the need to do something about it. There are a lot more of them entering the higher ranks of the information network than those with Ellsberg-like pedigrees. And that is a good thing.