Before he shot himself through the heart last week I didn’t know of Ronald Wagenhoffer.
Now, if I had done myself in like he did, undoubtedly a couple of my exes would have mused: “You mean he had a heart?!”
Where’s my elephant gun when duh female canines are growling in the moonlit barnyard?
Anyway, no matter who you believe — the meshugga Philadelphia mayor’s office, or the TV news folks whose over-whitened teeth often cast a distorting glare on their teleprompters – Wagenhoffer, 52, obviously was one of those extremely rare American men of conscience.
As revealed on his recorded cellphone video the longtime License&Inspections employee felt he hadn’t done his job. The result was six people killed – with another pending—and 12 seriously injured when a haphazardly-demolished building collapsed on them.
Conscience, as defined by Merriam, inhabits a person, who by reason of his noble inner senses, has a conscious understanding of right and wrong
But of course!
Allow me to pause a nanosecond while you process that. And put it in perspective of those congressmen and senators caterwauling over Edward Snowden. He’s the 29 year old former employee of the National Security Agency (NSA) hiding out in Hong Kong after releasing to the Press about NSA’s unconstitutional eavesdropping.
That is, invasion of the privacy of its own democratic and republican citizenry.
In case you’ve been sick or abroad or in need of a proctologist, the NSA has been swooping up hundreds of millions of our phone, text, fax and internet messages as part of its anti-terror campaign. And our oxymoronic congressmen, representing our government of the people, by the people and for the people, were aware of this. But we, duh people, weren’t. Even if we did have more than our wary hunches.
(I know, I know…you naively thought wiretaps had to legally require probable cause. Obviously our governmental checks and balances have long gotten tossed into the virtual reality of cyberspace trash, where they may be lost, but never be deleted.)
I am absolutely confident those same congressmen didn’t know of Snowden —not to mention Wagenhoffer – before each got caught up in dramatic situations. But certainly these elected and appointed members of our august government body should. And perhaps instead of looking to crucify the messenger pigeon they should follow both of these men’s self-sacrificing – if not gallant leads.
And by that I mean — believe it or not — there is actually a much higher court than the courts of justice. And that is the court of conscience!
In other words: Never do anything against conscience, even if the state demands it.
And let me three-peat this profundity by stating something on the order of what was once uttered by an American even more famous and outspoken than moi.
An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.
Both Snowden and Wagenhoffer — as imperfect as all men are — acted out of principles. And now one of them has killed himself, while the other is trying not to be killed by our own government. Both for telling the truth. Both for exemplifying what is most admirable and appealing about America: Our freedom – actually it is our responsibility — to speak up and speak out. It’s called: Truth. Justice. And the American way!
It’s a noble quality (despite the Patriot Act) that makes us a living, pealing bell of liberty and its democratic ideals to the world. It is our greatest of freedoms that cause us to be both greatly revered and reviled.
What we don’t seem to understand is that our government folks doing something unconstitutional — or something opposed to America’s standard of ethics — is even more heinous, than when our government lapel-patriots accuse or indict any one of us for putatively being an egregious traitor.
As history has demonstrated: All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.
And keep in mind that a lot of people mistake a short memory for a good conscience!
I am not divulging anything that USA TODAY didn’t already disclose the other day under the headline of “We told you so!” The story is of three formerly deposed NSA employees. In previous years each had conscientiously attempted to work through the bureaucracy of their totalitarian superiors to remedy such ‘government misbehavior’ as Snowden documented. Instead, they had their own lives and careers destroyed – and by much more than the perfidious, and now tainted, IRS!
I have little doubt that NSA’s anti-American surveillance program has helped prevent a handful of terrorist acts. Yet, on the other side of the record many of these acts may or may not have been prevented by a multitude of other ‘legal’ and constitutional American ways.
I mean, wouldn’t you concur that putting every American in prison today would make America crime free tomorrow? Just as prohibiting alcohol in the 30s stopped the flow of alcohol, didn’t it?
Keep in mind we all have agendas. We all lie for one reason or another. We all think we hold the Ace of Truth.
Did we ever find those WMD’s? And now with new leadership elected in Iran, are the sirens still blaring that they are going to nuke us? And if Gays are allowed to get married, is that going to stop all the world from procreating? And which Syrians are the Rebels and which are the Yankees in that unCivil War? And didn’t that “Brotherhood” we’re now supporting in Egypt used to be our avowed enemy?
I swanny, folks… This venal, vapid world seems to have the conscience — if not the ‘immorals’ — of money.
Hmm… I wonder what I meant by that? But I do know that when someone tells us there is ONLY one-way to do something, I suggest we follow his one-way entrails to the money.
Right now a whole lot of us beneficiaries are parsing and dissecting whether what Snowden (and on a lesser scale, Wagenhoffer) did was right or wrong; legal or illegal; punishable or not… And some half-Twittered polls are suggesting that a slight majority of us favor smacking Snowden into jail. Or worse.
For what?! For being the only honest man Diogenes The Cynic could find? For being a low-ranking geek and high school dropout instead of being anointed with a cosmopolitan, Ivy League pedigree?
Hmm… Don’t you wonder what Jesus would say about this?
Look, let me put it to you so that even folks who get no closer to the news than the comedy channel will understand: The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.
There is all this talk – especially on Capitol Hill – by goose-stepping bellicose chauvinists, of Snowden betraying his country. That he actually awakened all the terrorists in the cemetery with the news that we are listening in on them.
Stop the presses! Did the better part of us run down our old man’s leg? Are we nothing more than a confederacy of dunces Mummer-stepping naked up Pennsylvania Avenue? Do we not have ears to hear — to keep us from being lower than the shadow of a snake? Or have we been blinded in the tanning glare of our grandiose limelight!
In case you haven’t noticed, our world is in a constant conspiracy against the brave. It’s the age-old struggle: the fuming roar of the drunken sots on one side, and the voice of your conscience on the other.
The mob spews about a man purportedly betraying his country, his parents, his sweetheart, his friends… Hey folks, listen up, here: There must be a moral bond first. All a man can betray is his conscience.
In Philadelphia the controversy isn’t over whether Wagenhoffer was a man of conscience. But of whether he said, according to the rendition by the Mayor’s office that: “It wasn’t my fault.” Or according to a TV news station that he uttered: “It was my fault…” in his recorded video.
No matter the controversy, the 52-year old Wagenhoffer still put a gun to his heart and pulled the trigger. With 16 years on the job, he actually did say that he wished he would have done his job better.
And that’s precisely what I wish for all of us Americans.
It’s been said that if we are to continue to survive, and be the beacon of hope to the world, we must have ideas, vision and courage. These things are rarely produced by committees. Everything that matters in our intellectual and moral life begins with an individual confronting his own mind and conscience in a room by himself.
And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…