Aug 182012

I just tweeted the following thought:

WikiLeaks, as a publishing model, made two-faced politics (as well as business, let’s not forget) very challenging. It deserves fresh look.

And I think it’s true.  Whistleblowing in many large organisations is strongly supported and part of continuous-training programmes for all workers – certainly, the theoretical message we often get from HR departments leads one to believe that such an act is an honourable and sometimes all too necessary one.

And WikiLeaks has been nothing more nor less than a virtual implementation of a real-world instinct which perhaps more of us should take on board and exhibit.  That its very visible editor has allegedly fallen foul of the law shouldn’t allow those of us interested in the wider issues of publishing in the 21st century to forget that WikiLeaks offers up an interesting challenge to what was clearly un secreto a voces: those who occupy the top and middle-range echelons of power quite casually lie to their voting publics about sincerely serious and significant issues.

But, perhaps more importantly where the private sphere impacts on the public, this two-faced behaviour, so casually redolent of corrupting Communist regimes of the 20th century, and where allowed to take place, is permitting the private sector – in some cases literally – to get away with murder.

Yes.  WikiLeaks was unfair, in one very important sense.  Everyone knew they could speak their mind behind the closed walls of supposedly democratic government.  And speaking one’s mind is sometimes not a pleasant moment to witness – even as it may be appropriate and, perhaps, inevitable.  Yet what WikiLeaks did was to radically change the ground rules without warning the participants that a smoke-and-mirrors operation was suddenly to become a goldfish bowl of revelations.

If we were to contemplate anew a fresh sort of WikiLeaks, where to some degree democratic government understand the value of an almost absolute public oversight of almost all democratic deliberations, and where it was also judged and agreed that private industry should be submitted to the same rights of whistleblowing access in order to prevent abuses of power and quasi-criminal activity, then perhaps we could move on from what has clearly become a series of personal questions – questions where the behaviours of one individual have come to represent and substitute reasoned argument about the institution in question as well as its philosophy and mission.

I would go further, in fact.  I would submit that if we are to have half a chance in the next decade of rescuing representative democracy from the clutches of private fascism and individually motivated and levered criminality, we will need the kind of constructively merciless and truthful institution which WikiLeaks could quite easily have become.

And if you feel I’m wasting my time on this matter or can’t see the need for modern politicians and businesspeople to hide behind their expensively mounted façades of PR-engineered realities, just take this final thought away with you: how many traditional politicians and businesspeople who you know would be happy, comfortable and in favour of working in the limelight of an independent and exclusively information-dumping organisation run along the conceptual lines of a WikiLeak’s publishing model?

And if the number collapses to fewer than the fingers on one hand, ask yourself exactly why.

Before, that is, you ask that the hand in question be cut off.

Aug 182012

Mark comments interestingly on a previous post of mine:

When social media does work together, as you noted, it does work but in a vindictive nature. Again, the problem seems to be mass opposition with few solutions. Could we get a “thinking” collective Web? That must be the goal. There are enough people to get a thought out consensus.

By the by, he goes on to point out that:

The problem is social media incorporates family and friends as well as the collective. People, like I, who have this set up will refrain from bringing that “thinking” into my private circle. Maybe people like me should be more honest to ourselves and family and open everyone to thinking.

He’s right on both counts.  Firstly, the vast majority of social-media actions – whether organised by Avaaz, 38 Degrees or your mate round the corner – are indeed examples of a flocking web.  Whether you judge the objective to be good or not, the reality is they involve fairly impulsive responses to short, generally sloganised, virtual commands and instructions – instructions which proceed from elites high up on the online tree who know exactly how to press your buttons.  We may be right to want to save Britain’s forests or school playing-fields or Turing’s reputation for posterity – but the means being used are not all that different from quite reprehensible dark arts of propaganda which other highly tainted regimes have used in the disgraceful past.

The other issue he raises is equally complex and challenging: how to make coincide more comfortably our online personas with our offline realities.  That we talk of things to those in the online world which our local communities or families or circles of friends would not expect of us clearly creates its own stress lines – stress lines which mean that more transparency and guilt-free discussion can be difficult for some of us to achieve.

A flocking web is what we currently have: and the conditions which engender it exist in fairly industrial quantities.  A thinking web, on the other hand, requires an absence of fear from erstwhile defenders of free speech (here I am thinking of my own government and country in particular – but I guess, sadly, this can be taken as read for most allegedly liberal regimes across the Western world these days); defenders who in other times might have understood the importance for the future social and technological wellbeing of our society of an easy transmission of thought but who now, sclerotic in their power-building reflexes, cannot understand that their long-term downfall lies in precisely their own latterday instincts.

That social media should now be seen as a dangerous challenge to the existing order by those who benefit most from that order indicates how unthinking our leaders have become.

And if our web has become – to use Mark’s terminology – a vindictive web of self-censoring and coordinated waves, we have only those leaders, who so generously provide us with their templates, to blame for this sorry state of affairs.

Yes.  Mark is right.  We should have as our goal a thinking collective web.

We have the tools to achieve this too – even if we still have not learned to employ them with sufficient subtlety or finesse.

The question is whether we will be able to shrug off our leaders’ bitter preconceptions – and create different societies based on the affectionate intelligences all human beings could share, if so minded to do so.

Aug 182012

There’s a simplistic piece over at Labour List today where those who dare to defend – even if only partially – the non-extraditing of Julian Assange to Sweden are defined in this easy and casual paragraph:

When it comes to the United States there are some on the left who adopt the very same “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” attitude that the US government itself held as a central tenet of its foreign policy during the Cold War; a policy that caused untold misery and bloodshed in Latin America.  There’s another irony in there somewhere.

There may be some on the left who adopt this attitude – my disagreement with such an extradition lies, however, elsewhere.

If Assange needs to be extradited to Sweden to face accusations of sexual misconduct – accusations I feel natural justice demands he face – why doesn’t the US government come out in public and say it will then not proceed with any moves to extradite him onwards to the US at a later date in relation to the WikiLeaks case?

Whilst all of us who care about freedom of expression find it difficult within ourselves to be entirely in favour of such a move to Sweden, and in the meantime get accused of double standards – or even worse – by simplistic deniers of Realpolitik everywhere, the circles in question could easily be squared if the US laid its cards clearly out on the table.

I’ve got no problem with Assange facing justice in Sweden for alleged rape.

I do have however, if the US is deliberately being quiet about its intentions in relation to the diplomatic cable publishing saga which in some way brought us all here in the first place – a saga which surely deserves a profounder, as well as parallel, analysis than Assange’s rape case is currently allowing for.

If Assange’s alleged victims deserve justice, it is surely not that of seeing their alleged rapist whisked away from Swedish process to the deep, dark and unpredictable entrails of US maximum security injustice.  And that – I would suggest – is what those of us on the left most fear about this case; it is certainly what personally I would be unhappy to witness.