Thursday, December 16, 2010

A General Note About WikiLeaks

I honestly haven't seen an attack on the concept yet that didn't boil down to "all you proles should shut the hell up and go back to work". That's what all that "sometimes there needs to be secrecy" stuff generally boils down to.

Sure, diplomacy must have a secret component. Sources and methods should be protected, for example. But it's transparently (heh) obvious that there is far more secrecy than there needs to be. The reason is equally transparent: because in a democracy, the very last thing you want is for the voters to know what they're actually voting for. Keep the reality of the situation secret, lie to them with every breath, and hope that the lies are consistent and attractive enough that they'll go along with it.

See, if they knew what they were voting on, then they'd know what they can't vote on. All those bits of government that keep on rolling no matter who won the election? The ones that usually have something to do with blowing up random bits of the planet for "America's interests"? HELL no, you folks ain't going to be voting on that stuff. Democracy isn't supposed to go THAT far...Americans might disagree with what "America's interests" are, and then where would we be?

But just telling them "no, screw you, that stuff isn't up for debate" doesn't work. People can get annoyed when Their Betters make these sorts of decisions for them. So you keep them in the dark. Don't let them know that the decisions even exist, let alone how they've been made. That keeps them under wraps.

The sad thing is that the same people who defend this nonsense are the ones who rail against utterly open processes like the development of scientific consensus, or equally open government programs like food and drug safety. If you want to know how you're protected from horrible food poisoning, the information is out there. If you want to know why global warming is a threat, the information is out there. And if you want to know why those guys in the white suits came and removed the asbestos from your office, the information is out there too. And, hey, if you REALLY think it's bullshit? You can vote on it.

But not defense and foreign relations. Never that. Defense against food poisoning is one thing. Defense against, say, terrorism or instability is quite another. That's all supposed to be done FOR you, at great expense, while they snow you with a steady drumbeat of jingoistic nonsense and misplaced patriotism.

Certainly that's the press's reaction as well. THEY are allowed to know the truth. They are (or obey) Very Serious People. They ask The Right Questions, get The Right Answers, and tell all you idiots The Right Way To Think. And when The Right Way To Think turns out to be wrong, as is inevitably the case these days? Well, there are new Right Questions, new Right Answers, and new Right Ways To Think.

So you get assholes like Paul Carr, who say things like this:

I hate the fact that he’s trading on a myth that We The People have a right to know everything our governments are saying and doing in our name when, in fact, we elect people to act in our best interests on a global stage without necessarily giving us a heads up every time they want to have an off-the-record chat with a dictator.
 This is Right Thinking in spades. This guy is a tech columnist, one who clearly hasn't the faintest clue whether or not he's elected someone who will "act in our best interests". Certainly, if he either in Britain or America, the overwhelming tide of evidence suggests that they are NOT "acting in our best interests", never have, and arguably never will unless something seriously changes.  Like it or lump it, that's what WikiLeaks represents: a serious change.

How anybody, even someone this clueless, could even BEGIN to make this argument after the Iraq war is beyond me. I suppose he was too busy exulting in the the glory of having Steve Jobs dictate how he uses his computer, and thought that the same should apply to governance as well. Well, that, and trying to be some kind of Ellis-like cranky British scribe. Except without the talent. Or sense of humor.

Then again, maybe that's the issue, isn't it? The people who are crafting and repeating Right Thinking never live up to the responsibility. You're frankly doing a crap job. So why not let the rest of us decide?

Edit: Good bit on this was put up in, all of all places, The New Republic. Yeah, Peretz's rag. No, I don't get it either. But here's David Rieff, breaking it down in the midst of a weird Clay-Shirkyesque piece that somehow doesn't mention Clay Shirky:
In reality, there was only one group that was not privy to this information released by Wikileaks: the general public. And we can’t have them properly informed, now can we? Father (or, in the case of Secretary Clinton, “mother,” I suppose) knows best. I do not often agree with Noam Chomsky, but it seems to me that he was exactly right when he said that “one of the main reasons for state secrets is so that the state can defend itself from its citizens.” But, regardless of Washington’s motives, stopping Julian Assange (which, in any case, is not the same thing as stopping Wikileaks, as we are all starting to discover) will not be a victory over terrorism, as Senator Mitch McConnell has suggested so preposterously, for the simple reason that the one group we can be sure had the information in the cables before the Wikileaks are the terrorists.
In contrast, powerful people hate being shown up as much if not more than they hate failure, and people with insider information that gives them special status hate losing their intellectual monopoly, since they know that, if they do, loss of status will not be far behind. In this sense, the back-story of Wikileaks is not that American diplomacy is threatened or that Al Qaeda has been strengthened but that American diplomats have lost face, and American policy intellectuals have been confronted by an existential threat to their priestly monopoly on inside information. Oh, the pity of it!
That's something I've been banging on for a while. All these statements that "we elect our leaders to make these decisions for us!" miss the point that the people with the greatest say are not elected at all. The "priestly intellectuals" that set the ground and decide what the options are have never been elected by anybody but their colleagues and/or co-conspirators. They aren't even bureaucrats; at least bureaucrats are accountable to somebody. These jokers aren't really accountable to the people at all.

Which is probably why they keep showing up despite being wrong damned near 100% of the time.

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