08 December 2010

My apologies for a long absence, but I'm making up for it!

Indeed, I haven't updated this blog since Thanksgiving! Gracious. My sincerest apologies to my gentle readers; I do intend to rectify this. My only excuse at this point must be the final exams which loom darkly on next week's horizon.

I've been following the WikiLeaks / Obama Administration with some considerable interest, but I have to admit to being not entirely sympathetic with either side. On the one hand, I detest the way that all too many commentators on the political right have been calling for Assange to be punished with every possible punishment short of 凌迟 (execution by slow torture); though a few of the more repugnant commenters have not strayed too far from such a prescription: here is a particularly egregious example of such disgustingly hyperbolic vindictiveness from noted neo-'conservative' arse-trumpeter Jonah Goldberg, and an only-slightly-less disgusting example from Marc Thiessen.

On the other hand, I also cannot help but look askance at the complete lack of accountability and the distorted worldview promoted by WikiLeaks and by Assange himself. All of the media coverage has led me to view him as a practiced manipulator: he uses his Internet presence and high media profile to portray himself as the victim of an international conspiracy to cover up the misdoings of the US government. However much his followers rail against corrupt politicians, though, it seems like Assange has elevated political linguistic manoeuvre into a high art form: every action Assange is taking, every word he says, seems perfectly tuned to undermine the basic functioning legitimacy of his opponents and to cover his own arse from criticism. That is worthy at least of my own grudging admiration of his 1337 5k1llz.

Let's be clear here: I myself am not that great a fan of everything the United States government does, and I'm certainly not a fan of the neoliberal economic ideology espoused by its habitual establishment, but at the very least I recognise the necessity of having a government which can function with some guarantee of the privacy and integrity of its civil service. And I tend to prefer political leaders we get, at least nominally, to choose by virtue of the communities in which we live - and however much people like Assange may loathe Obama, he was in fact duly elected. Assange was not. WikiLeaks is not a democratic institution; the body politics affected by any particular leaks do not have say in whether the leaks are leaked. Therein lies the fundamental contradiction of the kind of info-anarchism represented by Assange - though they claim the mantle of participatory democracy, they nevertheless exercise a form of political power for which (unlike governments) they are not ultimately held even indirectly accountable. It's the 'who watches the watchers' watchers' question.

EDIT: I started writing this article before I was directed by Bill, one of my friends from S. Stephen's Episcopal Church (and also a blogger), to this op-ed piece by Thomas Watson (author of the book CauseWired), which reflects many of my own concerns. Good to know I'm not alone on this one!

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