I’m not sure what to think about Wikileaks. I know that they make it much harder for countries to fight wars and conduct realpolitick diplomacy, but I’m not sure that that’s always a bad thing.
Sometimes it is. Injudicious leaks jeopardize lives; they are also open to manipulation. I keep thinking about the secret meetings between Gerry Adams and Margaret Thatcher’s government–had either side been exposed, their eventual accord would have been delayed by years (not to mention that Adams might have been killed). And what if Wikileaks’ sources are feeding them stuff selectively, with a specific agenda in mind, just like they feed stuff to friendly reporters at Fox News and the New York Times? These are real worries. Still, sometimes leaks are the only recourse that a free society has against a government, or a faction in a government, that’s out of control. How are elections going to change anything if the government chooses the message the voters receive? We’re a better country for having had a Daniel Ellsberg, even if he did make us look bad.
A couple of weeks ago, I watched a rerun of an old Law & Order episode in which some of the action took place at a support group for sex offenders. “One way of managing your compulsions,” the counselor advised them, “Is to imagine that your bad thoughts are being broadcast out loud, that everyone around you can hear them.” I imagine that’s something that therapists really say; it’s advice that applies to anyone who’s in a position to abuse their power and inflict terrible harm. The fear of being found out–of whistle blowers–probably discourages many wicked thoughts from ever being spoken out loud. Thoughts that aren’t communicated (“Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”) are that much less likely to be actualized.
I read Assange’s articles on conspiracy, terror, and governance and though they’re annoyingly abstract and jargony they do make a kind of intuitive sense. And then there’s this four-year-old blog post, headlined “The non linear effects of leaks on unjust systems of governance”:
The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption.
Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.
Only revealed injustice can be answered; for man to do anything intelligent he has to know what’s actually going on.
Part of what’s interesting to me about this newest round of leaks is how witty and trenchant some of the diplomatic posts turn out to be–it’s kind of a relief to know that these guys are as edgy as they are, even when they’re wrong, or when they’re talking about people that a great democracy shouldn’t exactly want to have on its team. Quentin Hardy at Forbes argues that their aggregate (if unintended) effect is to make America look good.
Assange is an egomaniac and a dangerous man, but I’d rather have him than totalitarianism. Sarah Palin’s take on the issue–that what matters isn’t what’s in the leaks but the leaks themselves–that, had Obama not been so incompetent and feckless, he would have brought “diplomatic pressure….to bear on NATO, EU, and other allies to disrupt Wikileaks’ technical infrastructure” speaks for itself, no less than Jeffrey Kuhner’s far more intemperate call for Assange’s assassination.
I’ve been looking at what they’re saying about Assange on the Conspiracist websites. A lot of them are so angry at his stance on 9/11 that they’ve convinced themselves that he’s an agent of disinformation. Last summer he told the Belfast Telegraph that “I believe in facts about conspiracies…..Any time people with power plan in secret, they are conducting a conspiracy. So there are conspiracies everywhere. There are also crazed conspiracy theories. It’s important not to confuse these two. Generally, when there’s enough facts about a conspiracy we simply call this news.”
What about 9/11? he was asked.
“I’m constantly annoyed that people are distracted by false conspiracies such as 9/11, when all around we provide evidence of real conspiracies, for war or mass financial fraud.”
And what about the Bilderberg conference?
“That is vaguely conspiratorial, in a networking sense. We have published their meeting notes.”