December 29, 2010
While I was at the beach Wikileaks and Assange went stratospheric. I haven’t caught up on most of the details, but had been keeping an eye on it before I went away. Here are some musings.
Julian Assange has WMD
Regardless of their truth value, the sexual misconduct claims against Assange are being used politically to distract the discourse from the revelations of wikileaks. Sex scandal is easier to write about than the detail of political machinations which go against the prevailing propaganda line.
And, like WMD in Iraq, it is a politically acceptable solution, to allow the targetting of an anointed and demonised “bad guy”; in this case to enable a chain of extradition of doubtful legality in the name of vengeance and to protect the freedom to conduct lawless wars.
Remember, Iraq could be invaded by simply being mentioned in the same sentence as Al-Qaeda and 9-11 often enough for a majority of americans to think they were related, and that Iraq was even responsible for 9-11. In the same way, wikileaks, Assange, sexual assault are being deliberately associated.
However, Assange’s alleged sexual misconduct, and what wikileaks is and does, are two totally different things. It feels ridiculous to need to make the distinction, but the discourse needs clarity.
As Anonymous points out, “Neither Wikieaks nor its founder have been charged with any crime in connection to any of the published leaks.”
(Rape and sexual violence, etc, is a serious thing in society, and a conversation that needs to be had; but it is a separate conversation from Wikileaks.)
Wikileaks: Right or wrong?
Wikileaks is not perfect. But perfection is an unreasonable standard, invoked by those choosing to ignore the staggering systemic imperfections they can live with daily as the status quo. Reality is a moral quagmire of grey zones. You do your best, operating in an imperfect world.
If there was nothing to hide, wikileaks would not exist. Those who live in glasshouses are in no place to cast judgement.
Wikileaks is a response to the twisted reality we live in. As it holds up the mirror, do you complain too loudly about what you see?
Wikileaks = napster.
Sharing digital media online has increased exponentially since napster was taken to court.
The attempt to punish wikileaks will fail to achieve its actual goals of stopping leaks. It is the blind reaction of a wounded monster.
The genie is out of the bottle. There are many other leak sites. The principle is established and the means will increasingly be in our hands. The pace and intensity of leaking – of truth coming to light – will increase. And this is on average going to be a very good thing.
What I want to see is ChinaLeaks. NorthKoreaLeaks. RussiaLeaks. Let’s truly globalize and democratize this openness.
The End of Make Believe
I am coming to view the fable of the Emperor’s new clothes as one of the most important statements about human psychology ever made. (The earliest recorded form is actually a very old Arab story, from, if memory serves, the 12th century, or possibly 1200 years ago, memory being funky like that; I am tempted to apocryphally attribute it to the Sufis, who have a way with such tales.)
In ‘Here Comes Everybody’, Clay Shirky talks about the phenomena of “everyone knows everyone knows everyone knows” as a metric of when change happens. This means, for example, I know something, I know you know it too, and you know I know you know it. At this point, the pretense cannot continue. (He gives the example of the year the Berlin wall came down. Everyone knew the situation was fucked, everyone knew that everyone knew the situation was fucked, but when a stream of unchallenged public protests went on, everyone knew that everyone knew that they knew, too, and then it changed.)
Wikileaks achieves the state of everyone knows that everyone knows that everyone knows.
Wikileaks is not revealing anything new, or at least surprising, to informed observers. Yes, US conduct in Iraq has been appalling. What is new is now we can’t pretend it isn’t, reassured by official spokesmen. We can point to the proof. Yes, the US puts inappropriate diplomatic pressure on other countries, and what is said in public does not match what is said in private. Now we can’t pretend. We can point to the proof. Etc.
Wikileaks makes it hard to pretend not to know – by providing proof of reality, it changes the stakes, and the perception of reality. This is the revolution it poses – a means for the child to say the emperor has no clothes, and for all to hear.
Truth vs Illusion
Thus ultimately, the Wikileaks saga is about truth vs illusion in the modern world. And I am on the side of truth, because, ultimately, illusion kills, and living under illusion brings suffering. Truth kills and brings suffering, too, of course, for that is the nature of our world. But such deaths and suffering by truth are unavoidable; deaths and suffering by illusion are avoidable.
[Edit: this is the most interesting thing I have read about the what and why of wikileaks, and particularly where Assange is coming from. A must read if you are interested in this.]