Sunday, December 12, 2010

Setting Off a Bomb of Revolutionary Ideas

When WiliLeaks began releasing its latest batch of documents, 250,000 US diplomatic cables, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the act an attack on the US. Since then the US has been trying to find a way to prosecute WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange. There has been talk of using the Espionage Act. There is proposed Senate legislation targeted at Assange. The Justice department is said to be scrambling, trying to find legal grounds to get him.

The dubious Swedish sex charges appear to be part of plan - the idea being that once Assange is extradited to Sweden, it will be easier for the US to extradite him to American soil. Or maybe they're purely designed to discredit, distract and embarrass. Whatever the intent, the plan seems to be going off the rails a bit, with a Swedish police leak ironically providing proof that the charges are bogus.

But you have to wonder how clearly the Americans are thinking. If they manage to find a way to try Assange in the US, they provide a bully pulpit for him to communicate with the American people. Currently, most Americans dismiss Assange as an egotist, an anarchist, a criminal, a hacker. Even if American prosecutors managed to muzzle the man, journalists could find his voice in his published writings: his blog from 2006-2007, his articles, and a growing host of interpretations of his work.

I've been dipping into the Assange oeuvre this week, and even if his enemies killed him today, he has written enough to change the world. In fact, killing him could be the second most effective way to rapidly disseminate his thinking (not that I'm advocating it, mind you) - but trying him in the US would be the most effective dissemination method ever. That would ensure that his ideas are popularized in the country he is most targeting for change.

It's not that Assange's ideas are particularly new. I think he's brilliant, but it's not even that. He is very thoughtful, and he describes his theories in a compelling way. His importance is that he's inspiring. Assange's thoughts could form the basis of a powerful popular movement.

Assange doesn't just write about how to save the world, he writes about what it is to want to save the world. He muses about his personal valuation of idealistic activism over moral agency. He sometimes falls into a mystical way of talking, and even writes political poetry.

Assange creates new language for political analysis. Legitimate forms of government are described with the terminology of illegitimate forms, which allows us to be more objective about how they work, how they do bad things, and how to force them to change. He uses popular analogies to explain his thinking. For example, he compares the US government to a group of drug dealers in the TV show The Wire... and he does it very well.

Assange's goal is not regime change, but regime behavior change. It's not anarchy and it may just be doable. In fact, you might argue that if it's not done, the US will decline into an impoverished, despotic, desperate superpower that is ultimately the greatest threat to freedom in the world.

I can't claim to understand him yet. I'm not even sure if Assange sees the leaks as a way to force change in the behavior of governments, or whether he sees them as an end in themselves - an extension to freedom of information laws.

But I betcha we'll be hearing a lot more about what he thinks we should do. Jail is not the end of Assange; it's the beginning.



Anonymous said...

Or just maybe he's off his rocker.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your support