“A Man for All Seasons” — the great play by Robert Bolt concerning Sir Thomas More’s doomed battle to reconcile his conscience with service to his king — is narrated by a multirole character called the Common Man. He starts with an observation: “The 16th century is the Century of the Common Man. Like all the other centuries. And that’s my proposition.”
And a fine proposition it is, as can be seen now in the news from the 21st century. Two uncommonly common men are the heroes or villains, according to your taste, of leaking the government’s secrets.
Edward Snowden, described by The New York Times as a “relatively low-level employee of a giant government contractor,” recently revealed hitherto unknown government surveillance programs.
Pfc. Bradley Manning, a low-level employee of a giant armed forces, is now on trial for sending thousands of secret diplomatic dispatches to WikiLeaks.
These two could show up at the Nonentities Ball — although I think their ball-going days are over — and someone would say: “Who are those two ordinary guys over at the bar with their ears flapping and their thumbs a-texting?”
Whatever other sentiments come to my mind about these unauthorized disclosures — disgust, celebration, wonder, outrage, surprise or the lack thereof — it seems to me that humility also must be part of the mix.
Speaking as one who has been a common man for many years, I view these revelations with a tinge of jealousy. Despite disgraceful table manners and slovenly dress, nobody has confided any secrets in me. I have nothing to leak at all. What is the point of being so common, nondescript and of lowly station, I ask myself, if nobody will dish the dirt?
You are probably asking the same question yourself, unless you are one of those superior elitist persons, in which case you are rendered clueless by being so removed from the commoners who know all the secrets. By the way, we ordinary people have assumed you were clueless all along.