It’s impossible to know how all the drama from WikiLeaks and the arrest of co-founder Julian Assange will shake out. From the freezing of their bank accounts to revenge hackers targeting PayPal, online credit card companies, and banks, from hundreds of sympathetic webmasters mirroring the exposed documents to calls from elected officials for Assange’s (extra)judicial murder, developments occur on all sides quicker than the fastest internet connection and everything that’s happening as I write this in December will have been long superseded by the time this issue is published. What’s important for anarchists is not only how we and our allies dance with the foundational myth of the (now-indispensable?) internet – the alleged free flow of information – but the arguably more important issue of the meaning of accurately exposing the mundane duplicity of government policy-makers and shapers. I wrote this a few issues back:
Secrecy, or the division of labor based on access to information, is a cornerstone of all government, all bureaucracy. The most important function of bureaucracy is self-preservation and the maintenance of hierarchy; restriction of knowledge is the best and most effective guarantee for this… the smooth running of a bureaucracy is based on the self-perpetuating cycle of knowledge and secrecy… Then there is the secrecy necessary for diplomacy and espionage, not to mention war. The obsession with secrecy [is] a standard operating procedure for maintaining government control. (Anarchy #60, Fall/Winter 2005/6)
The predictable hypocrisy of the anti-WikiLeaks chorus is based on much more than their alleged concern with potential future lives lost (they obviously don’t give a shit about the ones for which they already bear direct responsibility). From the time of the initial embarrassments for the US war machine with the release of classified official reports and the horrifying video “Collateral Murder,” through what has been dubbed “Cablegate,” the pro-government cliques have been calling for shooting the messenger, a not very chivalrous act of power-mad oligarchs that fell out of favor somewhere around a thousand years ago. The desire on the part of some US lawmakers to charge Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act (because it has execution as a possible punishment) is only the most recent – and it is certain not to be the last – absurd strategy of a bureaucratic establishment desperate to deflect attention from itself. Blaming the messenger is a well-worn example of an ad hominem logical fallacy, yet in the ultra-patriotic ravings of politicians and pundits it becomes a convenient smokescreen and distraction from the actual content of the documents and the fact that it is their own security apparatuses that are rife with breaches.
And this is what the hue and cry is about: exposure and embarrassment. The sociopath caught in the act of stealing is not embarrassed about stealing, but of getting caught. Anarchists and other anti-statists are already aware that elected and appointed officials engage in mendacity, duplicity, chicanery, thievery, forgery, murder, and every imaginable antisocial act on a routine, almost instinctive, basis; it is just how they work. The old joke about how you can tell if a teenager (or lawyer, or politician, or police or military officer, or mainstream journalist, etc.) is lying is obviously – and tragically – applicable with various official responses to WikiLeaks.
The downside of all this is that information-saturated people are already overloaded with all sorts of real and imagined scandal. Further along in my five-year old essay I wrote, “The Marketplace of Ideas [the place where the internet is supposed to excel] can withstand any and all challenges – disinformation and biased reporting, scandalous insinuations, and outright lies are merely another pile of data to sift through in a search for some kind of overarching Truth. The glut of disinfotainment turns facts into a kind of white noise, which causes just about everything to be ignored and/or forgotten.” In the case of WikiLeaks, it doesn’t matter than the thousands of released and soon-to-be-released documents contain uncensored and unvarnished truth that was never meant to be publicly scrutinized – at least before it had the right spin put on it. Part of the challenge for those who believe that knowledge is power is that the sheer volume of unedited documents is overwhelming. The mythical Public (at least here in the US) is so inured to talking heads spoonfeeding them soundbites that it remains questionable whether or not millions of pages of unfiltered information can be of any actual use for radical challenges to statecraft. The most serious challenges to the legitimacy of government are still to be found in workplace and neighborhood assemblies and on the streets of London, Athens, Rome, Toronto, Oakland, and the thousands of other places where less photogenic resistance to police malfeasance, political repression, economic exploitation, ecological destruction, and the generalized misery of postmodern civilization takes place on a regular basis.