Saturday, December 04, 2010

My WikiTake on WikiLeaks: Assess Before Assassinating Assange

The big buzz worldwide this last week, more or less a week after the leakage of the Radia tapes in India, was around the WikiLeaks controversy. Even as I write this blog entry, opinion clouds in cyberspace continue to be agog with the good the bad and the ugly about it. Julian Assange's face is now recognizable by more people than Lady Gaga's and people all over the world are learning to spell and pronounce his last name, albeit with some difficulty.

The WikiLeaks phenomenon has not only piqued my curiosity but, being unprecedented in many ways, has also challenged my ability to make quick moral assessments -- I can't readily say if this is a good thing or a bad thing. According to Will Wilkinson, writing in The Economist, this is really not important. However, it is difficult to ignore the urge to develop an opinion on as provocative a phenomenon as WikiLeaks, especially if, as Wilkinson predicts, we are going to see more of the same in the future. Having kept an open mind from the word go, I find that while I don't really support what WikiLeaks stand for (as it appears to me: a kind of information anarchy; I don't eagerly support anarchists of any kind) I am not really against it either. If this suggests that I am being morally ambivalent or noncommittal, then let me clarify: it is just that there are no precedents to WikiLeaks  in terms of the nature, scope and scale of public disclosures of secret information and I don't believe we have adequate information to take a position on whether or not this is a good thing from the point of view of the long-term common good of the whole world at large. I believe we should remain circumspect and patiently await revelations and other emergent data before forming opinions on the subject. It would be interesting to observe the trajectory of Wikileaks over the next few years, assuming they're allowed to function unencumbered and unfettered. Frankly, I suspect we have yet to see WikiLeaks in its full glory. Equally frankly, I also suspect that the global powers that be may not allow that to happen in the first place, going by some of the comments that have started to appear in the media. (Links shared by Shefaly Yogendra on facebook.)

Be that as it may, as the future unfolds and (assuming) more disclosures happen and we learn more about the motives and modus operandi of WikiLeaks, I believe we may be in a better position to make an assessment. My proposed assessment criteria would be: (a) intent (b) method (c) outcome and (d) impact. I would want to test WikiLeaks for each of these criteria against the principles of sustainability. In other words, determine whether Wikileaks: (a) aims at the "right" things (b) goes after them in the "right" manner (c) achieves the "right" results, that (d) bring about the "right" state transitions to the world's political status-quo (where "right" is defined as "aligned with progress and prosperity of all mankind for the present and also for future generations"). OK, that may sound like motherhood and apple pie, but I really have no other way of assessing questions of moral rectitude that are not supported by precedent. The alternative being to rely on the opinions of those whose opinions on such matters tend to be pretty close to mine ("those who bought this also bought ...") but that's simply not my style.

Meanwhile, Assange's "boil the ocean" or "have secrets -- will expose" approach has me a bit confused. There seems to be no selectivity, no filtering, no targeting ... any disclosure of any secrets will do, it seems, as long as some part of it or the other stirs some pot or the other in some part of the world or the other. I am assuming that their long-term mission is not specifically targeted at the US, though the recent leaks seem to point in that direction. Before WikiLeaks became infamous recently, for blowing open the lid of the Pandora's box of US diplomacy, WikiLeaks had already uncovered secrets elsewhere -- notably, Kenya. Exposing US Govt. hypocrisy is to an extent quite fashionable among some political observers and analysts (especially those who are not American), and in that sense Assange is not alone, if that is what he is after. Few can resist biting into the meaty steak of American doublespeak, especially if it is served up on a platter au jus. And there has been so much of it over the last decade or so. What would set Assange up as a truly nation-agnostic information anarchist would be if he repeats this number with any or all of countries like Russia, China, Iran, N Korea, Myanmar, Pakistan, Israel, Palestine and so on.

As may be evident from my last post at this blog (in which I severely criticized Arundhati Roy for being an anarchist), I classify anarchists into two categories -- the deontological anarchists, for whom anarchy is the means as well as the end, and the teleological anarchists, for whom anarchy is a means to a "higher" goal. Assange's last comment in the Guardian Q&A:
‎"History will win. The world will be elevated to a better place. Will we survive? That depends on you." 
seems to suggest that he's the latter kind of anarchist. On the other hand his utterance might simply be an appeal to crowd-source support for his cause, a swan song for survival.

Not sure if history will win -- history tends to be written by the victorious. But time will tell, for sure.

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