Distractions and derailments

Paul Raven @ 08-12-2010

There are so many damned layers to the Wikileaks story that it’s getting hard to keep track of them all. Assange’s arrest yesterday here in the UK has – quite naturally – refocussed attention on the figurehead rather than the phenomenon, and my inner conspiracy theorist – along with that of about half the internet, so far as I can tell – can’t help but think “well, that’s convenient”.

Complications arise from the nature of the accusations levelled at Assange, however; rape is a contentious issue at the best of times, and when combined with a highly polarising political story like Wikileaks… well, let’s just say there’s a whole lot of FAIL going on, mostly involving pro-Assange folk leaping to the assumption that the charges are trumped up, and a subsection of those folk springboarding from there into the realms of casual and institutionalised misogyny – you know, “liberal laws mean women can call rape whenever they’ve decided they didn’t like the guy after all”, that sort of thing. Assange becomes the victim of the narrative, while his accuser becomes a lying manipulative cock-tease… which is pretty much the standard narrative surrounding rape cases of much smaller profile than this one, sadly. So here’s some much needed sanity from Kate Harding at Salon:

Look, for all I know, Assange’s primary accuser does have CIA ties. Perhaps it was all a setup from the beginning. Perhaps she is lying through her teeth about the rape. Anything is possible. But in the absence of any real evidence one way or another, we’re choosing to believe these guys? Or at least this guy at Firedoglake, who says he’s “spent much of [his] professional life as a psychiatrist helping women (and men) who are survivors of sexual violence” — giving his post a shiny veneer of credibility, even though it’s a pure regurgitation of Shamir and Bennett’s — but segues from there into an indictment of the accuser’s post-rape behavior. She socialized with her attacker again! An expert like him can tell you that real victims never do that.

The fact is, we just don’t know anything right now. Assange may be a rapist, or he may not. His accuser may be a spy or a liar or the heir to Valerie Solanas, or she might be a sexual assault victim who now also gets to enjoy having her name dragged through the mud, or all of the above. The charges against Assange may be retaliation for Cablegate or (cough) they may not.

Public evidence, as the Times noted, is scarce. So, it’s heartening to see that in the absence of same, my fellow liberal bloggers are so eager to abandon any pretense of healthy skepticism and rush to discredit an alleged rape victim based on some tabloid articles and a feverish post by someone who is perhaps not the most trustworthy source. Well done, friends! What a fantastic show of research, critical thinking and, as always, respect for women.

As hinted at above, I’m very much of the instinctive opinion that the charges against Assange are dubious, if not completely fabricated; it really is astonishingly convenient for a lot of people who’d like him out of the way, and the inherent controversy of the crime he is accused of makes it even more so – just look at how the “did he/didn’t he?” aspect of the story is taking the foreground, not to mention providing great ammunition for Assange’s enemies.

But as Harding points out, we don’t actually know… and as such we should STFU and let the law run its course, while keeping a keen eye out for dodginess. My message to pro-Wikileaks people would be this: talk about the leaks, talk about the legality of the leaks, talk about the wrongdoings they expose, but shut up about Assange’s charges. Although the relationship is complicated, Wikileaks != Julian Assange – what the organisation does and what its figurehead does are not necessarily connected. And if you really believe the guy is being framed, then surely you’re playing into the hands of his framers by letting them steer the dialogue and turn it into a very public pillory?

For the sake of clarity: heroism isn’t a get-out-of-jail card. If Assange did what he’s accused of, then he should pay the price for it in the same way anyone else should. Just because he’s doing things you think are important to the world doesn’t make him any less flawed or human than the rest of us. So stop assuming his innocence – if you think about it, to do so is completely contrary to the philosophy of Wikileaks itself.


Assange essay reveals motivation behind Wikileaks

Paul Raven @ 01-12-2010

Yup, still talking about Wikileaks; even if the content of the leaks is boring you, their existence is one of the biggest sociopolitical stories of the moment, and as such it’s gonna be a while before I stop thinking about them. So here’s a link for those who’ve asked “what’s this Assange character’s motivation, anyway?”, via the double-Boing; Assange wrote an essay in 2006 entitled “State and Terrorist Conspiracies” [PDF link].

It’s the sort of document I’m going to need to spend some time with before I can offer my own opinions on it, but I’m immediately getting serious harmonic chiming with a lot of my own (admittedly far less thoroughly baked) theories on the-state-as-sytem. In the meantime, it is analysed in detail at ZunguZungu, offering an insight into the philosophies that inform Assange’s projects.

[Assange’s] model for imagining the conspiracy, then, is not at all the cliché that people mean when they sneer at someone for being a “conspiracy theorist.” After all, most the “conspiracies” we’re familiar with are pure fantasies, and because the “Elders of Zion” or James Bond’s SPECTRE have never existed, their nonexistence becomes a cudgel for beating on people that would ever use the term or the concept. For Assange, by contrast, a conspiracy is something fairly banal, simply any network of associates who act in concert by hiding their concerted association from outsiders, an authority that proceeds by preventing its activities from being visible enough to provoke counter-reaction. It might be something as dramatic as a loose coalition of conspirators working to start a war with Iraq/n, or it might simply be the banal, everyday deceptions and conspiracies of normal diplomatic procedure.

[…]

He decides, instead, that the most effective way to attack this kind of organization would be to make “leaks” a fundamental part of the conspiracy’s  information environment. Which is why the point is not that particular leaks are specifically effective. Wikileaks does not leak something like the “Collateral Murder” video as a way of putting an end to that particular military tactic; that would be to target a specific leg of the hydra even as it grows two more. Instead, the idea is that increasing the porousness of the conspiracy’s information system will impede its functioning, that the conspiracy will turn against itself in self-defense, clamping down on its own information flows in ways that will then impede its own cognitive function. You destroy the conspiracy, in other words, by making it so paranoid of itself that it can no longer conspire…

[…]

Because we all basically know that the US state — like all states — is basically doing a lot of basically shady things basically all the time, simply revealing the specific ways they are doing these shady things will not be, in and of itself, a necessarily good thing. In some cases, it may be a bad thing, and in many cases, the provisional good it may do will be limited in scope. The question for an ethical human being — and Assange always emphasizes his ethics — has to be the question of what exposing secrets will actually accomplish, what good it will do, what better state of affairs it will bring about. And whether you buy his argument or not, Assange has a clearly articulated vision for how Wikileaks’ activities will “carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity,” a strategy for how exposing secrets will ultimately impede the production of future secrets. The point of Wikileaks — as Assange argues — is simply to make Wikileaks unnecessary.

And as an added bonus (not to mention yet another reason for any right-leaning pro-nation types still reading to write me off as a mad raving lefty pinko), here’s arch-academic Noam Chomsky pointing out that the most interesting thing about the Cablegate material is the subtext [via BigThink]:

… the main significance of the cables that are being released so far is what they tell us about Western leadership. So Hillary Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu surely know of the careful polls of Arab public opinion. The Brookings Institute just a few months ago released extensive polls of what Arabs think about Iran. The results are rather striking. They show the Arab opinion holds that the major threat in the region is Israel — that’s 80. The second major threat is the United States — that’s 77. Iran is listed as a threat by 10%.

With regard to nuclear weapons, rather remarkably, a majority — in fact, 57 – say that the region would have a positive effect in the region if Iran had nuclear weapons. Now, these are not small numbers. 80, 77, say the U.S. and Israel are the major threat. 10 say Iran is the major threat. This may not be reported in the newspapers here — it is in England — but it’s certainly familiar to the Israeli and U.S. governments, and to the ambassadors. But there is not a word about it anywhere. What that reveals is the profound hatred for democracy on the part of our political leadership and the Israeli political leadership. These things aren’t even to be mentioned. This seeps its way all through the diplomatic service. The cables to not have any indication of that.

When they talk about Arabs, they mean the Arab dictators, not the population, which is overwhelmingly opposed to the conclusions that the analysts here — Clinton and the media — have drawn. There’s also a minor problem; that’s the major problem. The minor problem is that we don’t know from the cables what the Arab leaders think and say. We know what was selected from the range of what they say. So there is a filtering process. We don’t know how much it distorts the information. But there is no question that what is a radical distortion is — or, not even a distortion, a reflection — of the concern that the dictators are what matter. The population does not matter, even if it’s overwhelmingly opposed to U.S. policy.

Cue lots more stuff about Israel/Palestine… you can say what you like about Chomsky, but at least the guy’s consistent, AMIRITES? 😉

But this all kind of underlines the point I’ve been trying to make about Wikileaks-as-phenomenon, which is to say that waving it off as “an attempt to embarrass the United States” is to engage in exactly the same myopic narcissism that it’s trying to destroy. Whether you think destroying that narcissism is a good thing is different question entirely, of course…


Wikileaks making the news rather than breaking it

Paul Raven @ 15-07-2010

Everywhere I look, I seem to see Wikileaks. The site’s founder, Julian Assange, appears at The Guardian and delivers a cautious guess at the shape of world media after another decade:

Is WikiLeaks the journalistic model for the future? He gives a characteristically lateral answer. “All over the world the barriers between what is inside an organisation and outside an organisation are being smoothed out. In the military, the use of contractors means that what is the military and what is not the military is smoothed out. Newswise, you see the same trend – what is the newspaper and what is not the newspaper? Comments on websites from the general public and supporters . . . ” His point trails away, so I press him to make a prediction about the shape of the media in a decade or so from now. “For the financial and specialist press, it’ll still look mostly the same – your daily briefing about what you need to know to run your business. But for political and social analysis, that’s going to be movements and networks. You can already see this happening.”

An insight into his stated political stance (or lack thereof):

In his talk, Assange had said that he is neither of the right nor the left – his enemies are forever trying to pin labels on him in order to undermine his organisation. What matters first and foremost is getting the information out. “First the facts, ma’am,” is how he summarises his philosophy to me. “Then we’ll get down to what we want to do about it. You can’t do anything sensible until you know what the situation is that you’re in.” But while he rejects political labels, he says WikiLeaks does have its own ethical code. “We have values. I am an information activist. You get the information out to the people. We believe a richer intellectual and historical record that is fuller and more accurate is in itself intrinsically good, and gives people the tools to make intelligent decisions.” He says an explicit part of their purpose is to highlight human rights abuses, no matter where they are carried out or who perpetrates them.

And some sidebar from Wired UKWikileaks runs pretty frugal for what is, in some respects, a new media non-profit startup:

Wikileaks has received 400,000 euros (£333,000) through PayPal or bank money transfers since late December, and spent only 30,000 euros (£25,000) from that funding, says Hendrik Fulda, vice president of the Berlin-based Wau Holland Foundation.

[…]

The money has gone to pay the travel expenses of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and spokesman Daniel Schmitt, as well as to cover the costs of computer hardware, such as servers, and leasing data lines, says Fulda. Wikileaks does not currently pay a salary to Assange or other volunteers from this funding, though there have been discussions about doing so in the future, Fulda adds. The details have not yet been worked out.

“If you are drawing from volunteers who are basically doing stuff for free and if you start paying money, the question is to whom, and to whom not, do you pay, and how much?” Fulda said. “It’s almost a moral question: How much money do you pay?”

The big question here is whether the organisation can keep itself small enough to stay free of spook infiltration, and keep close enough to its core ethics that they don’t suffer a serious case of mission slippage or internal fraud. It’ll never be a big-bucks business, I’d guess, but the accrued counter-authority power and kudos will appeal to a lot of people with axes to grind. But what if they manage to make it an open-source process, so that the same work could be done by anyone even if Wikileaks sank or blew up? An amorphous and perpetual revolving-door flashmob, like Anonymous without the LOLcats and V masks? It’s essentially just a protocol, albeit one that runs on human and electronic networks in parallel.

That Assange is a real character, though; wonder how much he’s playing on the Warhol similarities deliberately? Strikes me as the sort canny enough to play the media on the symbolic level, that’s for sure. Definitely a name to watch out for.