December 13, 2010

5 Things You Need To Understand About Wikileaks Before You Celebrate


this is wikileaks

1.  Wikileaks has made the MSM even more powerful.

The most astonishing thing in those cables appears to be that humans often hide their true feelings; that, and the fact that we have nuclear weapons in the Netherlands.  (Now it makes sense why so many Dutch donate to my site.)

The thing to observe, however, is that I know those things not because I read Wikileaks, but because I read the NYT.  Wikileaks didn't make anything public, in the exact same way as releasing all the clinical trial data didn't make anything public.  There's too much information, we have no strategy for approaching it, and what if we read something that violates our prejudices? Fortunately, the MSM knows what you'll want to hear.



This isn't a trivial point.  When the MSM reports on what Wikileaks says, we might be skeptical of the MSM but Wikileaks becomes the authority.   If Wikileaks/MSNBC says "Russia Says UK Interfered, " then it is a fact that the UK interfered, that's the starting point.  But perhaps Russia is wrong or lying; and who knows if Wikileaks isn't lying?  I'm supposed to trust Assange-- why?  Blondes are more honest? (NOT MY FORENSIC EXPERIENCE.) 

And once it's out, you can't unlearn it.  Pakistani The News ran a story saying Wikileaked documents reveal the Indian government was covertly supplying Islamist militants in Pakistan and committing atrocities in Kashmir.  Whether any of this is true or not I have no idea; but it's not true that it came from Wikileaks.  "Well, ok, maybe that didn't come from Wikileaks, but it's still true."

2.  This statement is factually false: "Assange wants to expose the lies and corruption of the U.S. government; and the byproduct will be that diplomacy will be much more difficult."

He's not doing it to give to uncover the lies and corruption of the of the U.S. Government-- that's the byproduct.    That this will force institutions and departments to wall off and not communicate with one another-- that's the primary goal.   That's why Assange doesn't care whether the cables are salacious or revealing, only that there be a lot of them, leaked slowly over time-- to make people too nervous to work.   His goal isn't to tell you what's in the truck but to stop trucking.  If people know their secrets might be leaked, they'll be reluctant to put their secrets in a truck.  Eventually, they will simply stop trucking.  When they stop trucking, they go out of business.

Will it work?  I doubt it: individual human beings (today) assume they are able to control when and how other people perceive them, which is why even though everyone has cell phone cameras I still see people picking their nose, stealing, beating suspects and masturbating in public. 

masturbating subway.jpg

Even if government employees have the discipline to refrain from using their work computer for personal use (remember Deutch?) they still frequently use their personal computer/email for "light" work ("I'm leaving for Kabul next week, so make sure Jessica doesn't cheat on me.")   Bonus: now Google (aka WikiCache) has that information.

3.  Wikileaks hasn't made leaking documents easier, it's made leaking documents  popular.

There's always been a market for leaked documents-- provided they are worth the risk.  But what Assange has done with Wikileaks, complete with a logo and website and a famous frontman, is brand the illegality.  Only the dedicated whistleblower will risk prison over an anonymous leak.  But how cool is it going to be for a budding narcissist to be a pseudo-anyonymous leak to Wikileaks?  What gets leaked becomes much less important than being a leaker. 

You think a hipster is going to leak to the NYT?  They're closer to the government than their readers, dude.  That would be like leaking your senator's emails to your congressman.  How you gonna get laid doing that?

The problem is actually Assange, not Wikileaks.  It's evident to me that he wanted to become famous, or martyred.   This is a man who clings to secrecy so desperately that he has a myriad of cell phones at multiple undisclosed safehouses that he uses right after he gives an interview on CNN. 

But by making himself and his site as important a news story as the content of the cables, it inspires others to do the same.  Doing what you believe in is never as compelling as doing what's going to get you popular. 

Already the WikiClones are gearing up, and so it will be a matter of personal branding whether you leak your headshot to CNN via Leftyleaks or Rightyleaks.  And the more such sites pop up, the less anyone will believe anything they "leak," but who cares?  Will anyone believe anything about America that comes from IndonesiaLeaks?  Won't matter.   These become opportunities to offer your own opinions.  No one argues about primary sources anymore, we argue the spin about primary sources.  Quoting Baudrillard: "Once the sign replaces reality, you're not going to need Wikileaks."

4.  The answer to this question:  Why is Assange/Wikileaks so popular?

Wikileaks is a symptom of a time looking for an antihero, someone outside the game with enough power to smash the establishment.

You don't care about the exposed secrets; you just want to see the smashing.

That's what forms the basis of our political beliefs: hate.  I could at least listen to communism if it was truly about equally distributing the bananas.  But is seems much more about hating people with the bananas.  A social policy based on hate and resentment is going to get you blood in the streets and then an emperor.  A short one.

Most of the desire to see Assange succeed is based on our own impotence.  You can't effect any meaningful change in the system, let alone in your own life-- and yes, that order is correct-- and so you're hoping someone else punishes the system for being bigger than you.  But meaningful change is done either incrementally, or in revolutions, and I am certain no one has the enthusiasm to riot.  At all.  You can't muster up civil disobedience, let alone civil unrest.  So you hope Assange has the balls to do it.  NB: sex charges.

It was the same with Obama. People expected of him, what?  To radically alter the United States?  He's an entirely competent President, he's doing a reasonable job even as I disagree with almost everything he is and does, but it was obvious to me and it should have been to everyone else that he wasn't Change, but More Of The Same And Less Of Everything.

Things would have been different (NB: not necessarily better) under McCain for the simple reason that Obama didn't have the technical skills necessary to effect a vision that was nebulous to begin with.  (Historically, the phrase "surrounds himself with really smart people" is followed in two years by "has lost his vision and is in danger of having a failed presidency.")   And when you're unsure on a ship you walk very slowly on the quarterdeck, and soon you don't care so much where it goes as long as you don't get blamed for sinking it.  McCain knew how to navigate a ship.  Again, I respect that you might not have wanted him as your captain; but the choice was between McCain's slow course to the Islands, or floating around in the Sargasso Sea for four years.  America voted: lower the sails.  So: Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo, secrecy, extension of the tax cuts, identical immigration policy, government deficits, (soon to be) no change in healthcare...

miss me yet.jpgI'm sorry, I hadn't noticed you were gone

Assange is a hero to everyone who feels the system doesn't care about them.  But as I have indicated with references, graphs, and statistical models, the problem isn't the system, xxx xxxxxxx xx xxx. 

Assange's popularity among Americans should be, but isn't, a prompt for self-reflection.  "Why do I want this guy to succeed, again?"

5. The winner is Big Business, the loser is you.

Back to the trucking analogy.  If the government can't control the cargo or the trucks, it will try to control the roads.  Since it can't, it will get private sector industry to do so.   Ten years ago internet regulation would have been impossible,  but the corporations that could have stopped it-- e.g.  Google-- now would love a way around the net neutrality they thought they wanted a decade ago.  Bonus: if the government imposes the  restrictions, Google et al can't be blamed for making money on it.