-- William Shakespeare, "The Merchant
of Venice." Act II, Scene 2 --
"Is Julian Assange a middle class rebel?"
Thanks for the question, Jane W. It holds the key to how the WikiLeaks affair will end.
My answer: yes, he is a middle class rebel.
Now comes the hard part. Is he a middle class rebel in the traditional sense, i.e., a man who is unconsciously manipulated by an ideology, or is he something else -- "The Fourth Option" discussed in The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion?:
Everybody senses this fourth option is out there somewhere even though nobody has ever found a clear, concrete example of it.
… an ideology is identified by its lack of serious questioning of its own premises and values. It follows that if a rebel questions them, he ipso facto stops being a rebel in the ideological sense explored in this essay. He ceases to be programmed, brainwashed, pre-packaged; instantly, he is over 50% something else. The most powerful way for a rebel to begin that questioning is by admitting what he is. To my knowledge, that admission has never been made. (pp. 169-70.)
By holding ambiguity and ambivalent emotions surrounding it in consciousness -- by not repressing, denying, explaining away, or otherwise minimizing them -- the unnamed fourth option strips unconsciousness of its autonomy over rebellion. Involved therein is not the destruction of rebellion, a destruction that at present is neither possible nor desirable. Rather, the effect would render rebellion more aware, i.e., less ideological. The immediate consequence of that awareness would be that, for the first time in history, we could start to stop rebellion’s control over us. (p. 375.)
Not programmed, not pre-packaged: Julian's supporters swear he is something new in the world. Are they right?
WikiLeaks has only just begun; the organization is a rambunctious four year old. In truth, I have yet to see a single instance of Julian questioning his own premises and values. In fact, according to WikiLeaks insiders, au contraire:
Julian told one internal critic, "I am the heart and soul of this organization, its founder, philosopher, original coder, organizer, financier and all the rest. If you have a problem with me, piss off." Doctrinairism is a defining trait of the traditional middle class rebel. He cannot escape it; if he comes to be anti-doctrinaire, he is doctrinairely so. (The Source of Terrorism, pp. 265-303.)
Will Julian come to question his own motives, assumptions? Stay tuned: a Shakespearean drama is unfolding.
Other initial indications are deeply troubling …
I was a TV station's political consultant. One sweltering July afternoon, I got a panicky phone call. The news director said a senate candidate wanted to slip the station the results of two questions from a secret poll, which of course put the candidate in a good light. The race was hot. What should she do? OMG! The candidate was knocking on her door. I had 3 seconds.
I said, "Tell him to give you the WHOLE poll or to get lost." She did it. The candidate got lost, and in more ways than one.
In Julian Assange's case, the WHOLE truth is weighty indeed. Maybe, Titanic.
WikiLeaks set sail with a cargo of 250,000 diplomatic cables from 1966-2010. Wikipedia: "Over 130,000 of the documents are unclassified, some 100,000 are labeled 'confidential', about 15,000 documents have the higher classification 'secret', and none are classified as 'top secret' … WikiLeaks plans to release all the cables in phases over several months at a pace of about 80 cables per day."
Julian weighed anchor with missing containers in the cargo hold. WikiLeaks doesn't have "top secret" cables. What if those cables contradict the ones we are seeing? How many top secret cables exist for the 44-year period? 3,000? 300,000?
And so, from the get go we are not getting the full picture, the whole truth of what the State Department is saying, much less doing. That deficiency of course is not the fault of Wikileaks; it gets only what people give it. However, WikiLeaks has a professional and ethical obligation to acknowledge the gap -- or is it a gulf? -- preferably in boldface type. That is not happening at present.
Other dangers lurk in the murky waters ahead:
Will WikiLeaks keep its word and leak all 250,000 cables? As with the senate candidate's poll, cherry-picking = censorship. However, in WikiLeaks case, we are talking about behavior that is not just desirable but necessary. WikiLeaks' identity is at stake; delivering the WHOLE truth is WikiLeaks' self-assigned role: "We are at the forefront of anti-censorship."
Here WikiLeaks faces a singular dilemma it created for itself. On the one hand, it is morally obligated to leak all the cables, i.e, to be at the forefront of anti-censorship. On the other, here is WikiLeaks purpose: "We are of assistance to peoples of all countries who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and institutions."
Reveal unethical behavior. Question: If a cable shows ethical behavior by the State Department, will WikiLeaks violate its purpose and release the cable anyway, in order to meet the other ethical demand to release ALL cables?
The dilemma is actual, not hypothetical. The BBC asked Julian if WikiLeaks' publication of cables would stop diplomats from writing their honest opinions. Julian answered, "No, they just have to start committing things to paper that they're proud of." Julian, are you saying that in all 250,000 cables there is nothing diplomats can be proud of? Come on … I suspect that if we see nothing positive, we aren't seeing all the cables.
The wind picked up; the sea is churning.
The iceberg of censorship won't melt away simply by releasing every one of the 250,000 cables. The question about diplomats' pride raised another issue: the cables' contents.
A BBC report noted of cables discussing Fidel Castro's health problems: "The names of the sources of information reported in the cables have been redacted by WikiLeaks, but some apparently knew people who were close to the Cuban leader, or had access to his medical records."
Redacted? Do you mean, blacked out -- censored? Wait a second. I thought Julian was going to give us the whole truth. Or, in WikiLeaks' words, "We are fearless in our efforts to get the unvarnished truth out to the public." Unvarnished truth. Fearless. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead! Truth will out. That's the WikiLeaks spirit.
Or is it? According to Julian, the State Department's allegation that WikiLeaks is endangering lives is false. But even if WikiLeaks is right up to now, the contradiction is not thereby resolved forever. I ask Julian directly: what will you do if a cable presents you with the choice of either publishing the unvarnished truth or varnishing it and saving a life?
The Castro health cables, as well as the war logs, provide the answer. The leaking of cables has only just begun, and already we're seeing something other than unvarnished truth and fearless.* Has WikiLeaks been torpedoed and nobody noticed? It looks like Julian's lawyers are whispering in his ear, domesticating him. A stay at a mansion can work wonders.
Now that we know WikiLeaks is redacting some names and not others, we need to ask: Is there anything else WikiLeaks is redacting, i.e., censoring? Incredible, but true: today, WikiLeaks and the State Department have something major in common: only they know the answer. This budding mutuality merits watching.
Especially disturbing is Julian's announcement that forthcoming leaks "could take down a bank or two." Albert Camus had the insight that monologue precedes death. Puffy pronunciamientos like Julian's have signaled the top of more than one fast and furious career in the public eye. He who lives by the media, dies by the media.
Did I just see a whitecap?
We come to WikiLeaks spiritual calling. "As US founding father James Madison famously said: 'Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.' This basic philosophy of the American revolution inspires all our work."
First, knowledge does NOT forever govern ignorance. Madison didn't live to see the 20th century and its two world wars, its genocides, its revelations of the dark unconscious corridors of the human mind. Did Hitler shut Madison's mouth?
Second, via oversimplification Julian severely distorts the "basic philosophy of the American revolution." Like most people, Julian thinks the founding fathers set up a democracy, when in fact they built something else -- a polity, or hybrid system.
As for Madison, he was as complex as the system he helped create; in particular, he had a superb grasp of ambiguity and how to manage it to achieve new, constructive results. To show what I mean about complexity and ambiguity, the same Madison who Julian thinks is an unqualified, let 'er rip, power to the people, fire-breathing democrat, made this statement: "In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob." (Federalist Paper 55.)
Third and finally, even if knowledge forever governed ignorance, the leaks are not knowledge -- they are information. The two are easily confused, which is understandable due to the fact that with every passing minute, information is replacing knowledge. Such is the postmodern world we are immersed in. "Drowning in," some would say.
I think Julian would agree that knowledge requires that facts, such as WikiLeaks' leaks, be put in context. (see this blog, Nov. 9 and Nov. 7 posts.) Who, then, will furnish context?
Julian's answer: (1) WikiLeaks' own journalists and (2) the American mainstream media to which WikiLeaks provides leaks.
The sea suddenly got choppy; a storm is brewing.
(1) WikiLeaks own "Descriptions" and "Summaries" exist for many but not all 250,000 cables. With a load like that, how could it be otherwise? I invite you to read WikiLeaks staff reports and decide for yourself if they are objective, viz., free of any political agenda.** (To do so, go to one of the "mirror" sites for WikiLeaks such as http://mirror.wikileaks.info/, then to "Latest Leaks and Censored Data," click on "Cablegate" or any of the other entries.)
Oh oh. Sharks.
(2) As for Julian's second supplier of context, the mainstream media, we're back to the same old same old. If talking heads and talk show hosts put the wrong spin on things, or decide not to release certain leaks, who will correct them? WikiLeaks is depending on an actor that is not dependable. After all, if the actor were trustworthy, there would be no need for WikiLeaks.
At bottom, Julian Assange is a pioneer with all the faults and merits, weaknesses and strengths that pioneers have. Abnormal by definition -- brave, naïve, bullheaded, creative -- pioneers are not always likeable or stable. That is why it usually takes one type of person to found an organization and another to maintain it. History shows that both types rarely exist in one individual. It is not suprising that WikiLeaks, which Julian founded, has cracks.
Ethical duties colliding; human rights conflicting; international laws clashing: WikiLeaks is sailing into dire straits. A slip of the lip can sink a ship. Jane W., we'll see in the coming days and months how Julian navigates wave after wave of dilemmas and paradoxes. They will show if, like Madison, he is conscious of ambiguity and ambivalence, so that he steers them instead of them steering him. Shakespeare would have loved it.
Is Julian's rebellion something new in the world -- "The Fourth Option"? At length the truth will out. If his rebellion is the traditional one created and controlled by an unconscious ideology, he will get lost, and in more ways than one.
*I am not recommending that Julian release every name. The dilemma is his; by making certain claims and promises, he created it.
**The task of furnishing objective context for diplomatic messages is easier said than done. For an example of unbiased yet compelling editing, see Lester J. Cappon's work, The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams, The University of North Carolina Press, 2005. In particular, look at the period when Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were diplomats. Without Cappon's explanatory notes, you would be reading , more often then not, something resembling reverse Polish.