by Doctor Science
On Monday, zunguzungu posted a widely-linked and ground-breaking analysis of Julian Assange's stated philosophy behind Wikileaks:
to summarize, [Assange] begins by describing a state like the US as essentially an authoritarian conspiracy, and then reasons that the practical strategy for combating that conspiracy is to degrade its ability to conspire, to hinder its ability to “think” as a conspiratorial mind. [bold mine]
Assange says (PDF):
Authoritarian regimes give rise to forces which oppose them by pushing against the individual and collective will to freedom, truth and self realization. Plans which assist authoritarian rule, once discovered, induce resistance. Hence these plans are concealed by successful authoritarian powers. This is enough to define their behavior as conspiratorial.And he quotes Theodore Roosevelt:
Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul this unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of statesmanship.In a nutshell:
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.In other words, Assange (and I presume Wikileaks as a whole) are publishing bulk-leaked documents because:
Only revealed injustice can be answered; for man to do anything intelligent he has to know what's actually going on.
- Authoritarian organizations (including most present-day national governments and large corporations) are naturally unjust, secretive, and conspiratorial.
- The networks of information and influence inside such organizations are less stable to leaking than the corresponding networks inside open, just, and non-authoritarian organizations. They will either become hardened and (even more) inefficient, or they will become more open, less authoritarian, and more just. Either result is a win.
This is not journalism, this is meta-journalism. This is revolution -- or at least, it's trying to be.
That's why Wikileaks isn't doing what some people want and editing the dumps to include only the important stuff. In the other thread russell and liberal japonicus, among others, say they distrust Assange because he has no "accountability" -- but he is, in fact, putting his life on the line by his actions. Assange may not officially report to anyone, but he is far more likely to be held to account for what he does than are any of the powerful people who plan and wage wars, behind their barriers of official secrecy.
I don't know what kind of label Assange gives his political philosophy, but I get the feeling that -- like me -- he's an anarchist. I think of myself as a LeGuinian anarchist, basically: "one who, choosing, accepts the responsibility of choice." So, I agree with him on basic goals. I don't know that I agree with his basic premises for action, though.
Most importantly, I don't see how secrecy is necessary for illegitimacy, or for evil.
For instance, the Project for a New American Century was a forthright, open collaboration for imperialistic warmonging. If conspiracies require secrecy, it was no conspiracy. And then there are injustices like racism, overt or structural. People's actions can match up to promote injustice without there ever been overt, or even conscious, collaboration: it's a conspiracy of *culture*, not secrecy.
Eric at Edge of the American West posted about this, and zunguzungu showed up in the comments section. When I asked him about this point, he said:
I wonder if part of it might be the difference between a necessary connection and a correlation that is sometimes (but not always) true? Given that bad governance creates resistance, one of the ways that an authoritarian government will sidestep that resistance is by hiding what it does. In such a situation, leaking what is secret will impede the conspiracy’s ability to function, therefore not as a general necessary so much as something that is true in this particular case.Frankly, my experience during the Bush II years is that bad, authoritarian government does *not* necessarily create much resistance, and that there is no true need for a "conspiracy of the powerful". Many people observed that the Bush/Cheney regime was notable for poor information flow, trusting only an inner circle which told them what they wanted to hear. But that merely made it hard for them to do what was actually best for the country, it didn't seem to prevent them from getting what they wanted (money, power, war).
In comments to the discussion at Making Light, Teresa Nielsen Hayden said:
Two or three million people had unchecked access to this material, but my government is outraged that I can read it? What am I now, a peasant?I think it's even worse than that: it's about caste-based access to information, without regard to its importance. The fact that something is Top Secret and thus not available to just anyone makes it special and significant, and makes the vetted clearance-holder feel special and significant, too. And the social cachet of Secret Knowledge completely overwhelms the fact that non-secret knowledge (a.k.a. "Science") is, scientifically speaking, objectively *better* knowledge.
If the matters discussed in these cables were fit subjects for genuine operational security, no way would millions of government employees have unchecked access to them.
This isn't about security. It's about caste-based access to information about the world and how it works.
For heinous example: the people who were on the inside of the US security apparatus, who had the clearances and the military knowledge and the inside intelligence, were *more* eager to support the run-up to the Iraq War than many of us on the outside. We were working only with public, non-secret information about history and warfare and the track record of land wars in Asia, yet we could recognize a really, *really* bad idea -- and, you know, a war crime -- when it was bearing down on us.
Longer ago, I seem to recall an interview with John Le Carre from around 1990. The Soviet Union had just fallen apart and the Cold War had ended -- yet the CIA, NSA, MI6 and their ilk hadn't seen it coming. An enormous intelligence and spying apparatus had built up during the Cold War, yet it missed the most important development of the whole thing. Le Carre said, IIRC, that the intelligence industry became so caught up in its own importance -- spy versus spy, counter-intelligence and counter-counter-intelligence and all the rest -- that it didn't pay enough attention to the kind of non-covert events that actually move history.