I had some discussions with Ned, a Catholic blogger from Australia, in 2008 / 2009, during the American presidential election campaign, and the early days of Barack Obama‘s presidency. This short thread is the only one I can find right now – either way, Ned distrusted Obama’s liberal-asshole background (this is a more complex issue than you might think; he was by no means in love with GWB, Palin, or Limbaugh either), and he distrusted what he referred to as Obama’s messiahdom.
His objections to the hype (that’s how I understand the messiah referral) was something I could always relate to, even though I still believe that America had a choice between two good candidates in 2008 – John McCain and Barack Obama -, and chose the better one of the two, the one who focused on rebuilding America, rather than the world.
But if that hpye angered Ned, why is he silent now, as one of his very Australian compatriots, Julian Assange, has become the global hero?
Assange was interviewed by Russia Today‘s (RT) Laura Emmett earlier this month, and her introductory remark and question seem to be ideal characteristics of an interview with a hyped personality:
Julian, thanks for talking to RT. Now, through the course of your work, it’s reasonable to assume that you have some insight into how political decisions are being made. What do you make of the recent events in the Middle East and North Africa. Do you think that we are seeing genuine social unrest, or are we seeing some kind of orchestrated revolt? And if so, who do you think is behind all this?
Why should Assange have particular insight into how political decisions are made – except for decisions he participates in? He knows how to shed light on confidential “cables”, and he may be called an IT expert. And if I had a chat with someone in a pub and got to hear views like his, I’d think that this is an unusually informed and observing contemporary. But that would be that. I wouldn’t think for a moment that he’d have particular insights into political decision-making, simply because what he says.
That’s not to say that the interview wouldn’t worth to be listened to. From 1’50”, Assange discusses “social networking”, and here, he is involved and both knows more than most people you could ask, and is prepared to say things that many other knowledgeable people wouldn’t be prepared to say.
When listening very closely to Assange’s answer to Emmett’s question – if the UK were still a haven for terrorists (3’10”) -, I seem to understand that Assange believes that it may still be a haven for terrorists. But it’s a quickly-mumbled reply, and he immediately switches to more exhaustive remarks about the UK’s role as a haven for oligarchs and former regime dictators.
Emmett’s next question is about why Wikileaks released Guantanamo information now – is it because Obama has recently announced his re-election campaign, and obviously, closing Guantanamo was one of his main election promises?
Seems that Emmett’s previous question about the UK’s role as a safe haven for terrorism wasn’t that important after all. What really matters is that Obama has “given up on closing Guantanamo”. The reporter is doing little more than throwing in cues for Assange. Many “mainstream media” people would do a better job in quizzing their respondents.
To be fair, the video is edited – from 40 to only 13 minutes. But in short, the only reason to watch the video is that it offers information you may not get elsewhere. If the Guardian (5’59”) sucks, Russia Today sucks even more. Mind you – the Guardian has, according to Assange, reduced the information provided by Wikileaks, beyond the reductions both sides had previously agreed to. The paper has, however, gone far beyond what Russia Today would ever dare, or ever want to do in publishing confidential information.
Confidentiality isn’t merely a tool to keep “common people” uninformed – and it isn’t meant to be such a tool in the first place. The intended structure is that members of the government’s executive branch can expect that they can discuss sensitive issues, such as how to deal with a representative of a foreign state, without having to expect that next time they meet that very representative, he will know exactly how they are viewing him – or his intentions. Another aspect of that structure is that democratically-elected members of parliamentary committees will scrutinize the government’s work and documents – confidential ones included.
Every company of any size has the right to develop strategies without making them public – and every such company will still face some – select – scrutiny. Think of the fiscal authorities. But confidential material only needs to become a public matter when it constitutes an offense. In my humble profession, too, I have the right to talk with one, two, or several colleagues at the same time, to choose my interlocutors carefully, and I’m not obliged to reveal everything we’ve talked about to others. Such rights to confidentiality, too, are limited to what is legal, or in accordance with the rules of procedure. Some confidentiality is essential for decision-making.
Nobody knows the standards by which Wikileaks itself publishes the material it gains from its sources. Wikileaks accounts neither to the authors of its sources, nor to the public. And Wikileaks fans don’t seem to have a problem with that. They let explanations like these suffice:
The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in the 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 adaptation.
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, leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.
But it isn’t the world’s most secretive organizations whose members will be prepared to “leak” information. Don’t hold your breath for leaks from the Chinese bureaucracy, or even from Russia’s. Either members will either be to concerned for their own safety, or too patriotic to leak anything.
Let’s get back to Obama…
There were many reasons as to why he was frequently given messiah-like treatment (hosanna one day one, crucify-that-loser on day 300 (give it a few hundred days either way), and currently he’s-cool-he-caught-Osama). When people believe that a single person or party can solve their problems, they are most probably lazy. If Obama will take care of all that undefined stuff, and we will have full employment, public happiness, or whatever within four years. Be prepared to cry.
Or Assange will take care of all that stuff, and every government will be held accountable. The problem is: everyone who reads easily accessible sources – papers, online articles, and – even if only once a year – a carefully-chosen non-fictional book, will be better informed than anyone who would care to work his way through every damned cable that has been published by Wikileaks since last year. There is no shortcut to a society that holds its government – and its corporations – accountable. It takes more than Assange’s work. And while Obama’s performance does play a certain role after all, Assange’s doesn’t.
Most European societies, plus American society, plus many more around the globe, offer the conditions it takes to be judgmental, and to act in accordance with ones judgment.
Wikileaks is doing more damage than good to such an environment. There is no shortcut to individual judgment. Only the ability to judge, and to act, can hold bureaucracies accountable.
Guantanamo Files, Wikileaks, ca. April 24, 2011