A Brief WikiLeaks Comment

18:25 Sun 05 Dec 2010
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I’ve been following the situation with WikiLeaks’ release of diplomatic cables fairly closely, and find it rather interesting as an effective use of the internet to fight government control of information. In that sense, it’s a hopeful sign, a demonstration that a relatively small group of people can still resist the forces of the powerful.

On the other hand, the reaction to the release, particularly in the mainstream press here, has been an appalling if unsurprising demonstration of the servility of our political culture.

If you’re an authoritarian, objecting to the release of the cables makes perfect sense. You believe in the right of the state to not merely have but also to impose secrets, and are happy with the contrast between the right of the state (and its agents) to secrecy and the lack of similar rights for individuals.

If you’re a “patriot”, there’s a similar consistency, in that you’re happy to assail those who make your country “look bad” and to reflexively look away from what they may reveal about your country and instead focus on whatever negatives you can come up with about the critics.

If you’re neither power-worshipping authoritarian nor chest-beating “it’s the best because I live here” jingoist, however, I don’t see many rationales for not supporting WikiLeaks’ efforts.

Much of my take on it comes down to this: the powerful already have tremendous advantages due to their power. They must be subject to scrutiny, as this scrutiny is one of the very few things impeding their drive to accumulate more and more power. In ostensibly democratic nations, that power is supposed to derive solely from what is necessary to serve the people; telling the powerful “hey, we want to keep an eye on you, but we’re going to agree to let you operate in total secrecy whenever you assure us in good faith that it’s totally necessary for everyone’s benefit” and expecting anything other than rampant abuse is just stupid. Yes, stupid; I reserve the term “naive” for not realizing that such abuse has been going on for centuries and that it has in fact become a finely-honed art.

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