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Notes on WikiLeaks

I had to talk about WikiLeaks yesterday, so I did some reading & video watching, again. Things were pretty much where I left them in the spring, but three things struck me this time.

i) WikiLeaks was not Assange’s first leaks project. Before that, there was “Parent Inquiry Into Child Protection”, an Australian organization trying to bring transparency into child custody processes. Just goes to show the path-dependence of things, I guess. A lot of pieces have to click.

ii) I used to think that the Assangean fear that Sweden would extradite him to the US is just paranoia. Like, Sweden, c’mon! They would do this just to promote their progressive legislation, so why wouldn’t Assange go to Sweden, where the WikiLeaks servers are anyhow? But having read again, there are some suspicious details in how Sweden has been handling the thing. First of all, there is the fact that the charges were first dropped, then taken up again. As such, that is not much. But why did the Swedish prosecutor not want to hear Assange through the Scotland Yard or in a Swedish Embassy, something that Assange agreed to do? That would have been easy, normal, and given Sweden all the goodwill it wanted. And then there is this: rumors of talks between Sweden and the US on the extradition. But then again, if the US just wanted to get Assange, they probably could get him from the UK, so why all the trouble. Unless someone in Sweden really wants to give them a present … (It seems to me that the comment by “writerman” in this Independent article has the gist of it.)

iii) The multi-level campaign (in a great article, Yochai Benkler calls it “[an] integrated, cross-system attack”, including, at least, financial, organisational, technical and legal systems) against WikiLeaks after the release of the embassy cables is a wonderful example of the phenomenon that capitalist countries do not seem to need/want/necessitate/desire democarcy and the rule of law anymore. This is something Zizek has had his finger on for sometime, insisting, for instance, that Berlusconi’s Italy is a laboratory of the future, where “democracy with Asian values” (meaning capitalism without democracy) is transformed into “democracy with European values” (meaning the same; capitalism & populism, without the pesky niceties of liberalism). Berlusconi is a prime example: he doesn’t have to censor media, because he owns it. No censorship is needed, because it just so happens that the same people run the state and own the media. In Italy the relationship is very direct & clear, crystallizing in one individual and his immediate family & friends, but similar results can be reached with a wider base of owners/politicians. What is crucial here is that the law is not needed. The co-incidence of political and business power is enough. This becomes crucial in the case of WikiLeaks. As Benkler meticulously shows, the law can not really be used against WikiLeaks, simply because it has done nothing illegal and is sheltered by free speech protections. So the government just lets everyone know – quite vocally – that it hates WikiLeaks. Consequently, big business separates itself from WikiLeaks, and it becomes a semi-official target of all kind of hostility (in this case, also some kind of censorship inside the US government). Interestingly, Benkler reports that some US universities advised their students that accessing WikiLeaks might be detrimental to their future careers and job opportunities. Legal routes to censorship are superfluous, since the govenrment can institute self-censorship and considerebly damage the information infrastructure & access to it needed by WikiLeaks. So we have a case of democracy without the rule of law, and an executive power aligned with economic power, finding effective extra-legal ways of working. (There is also this). Zizek has called the phenomenon also “authoritarian capitalism”, where the presumed connection between capitalism and democracy is broken. (However, I don’t remember Zizek taking this side of things up in the discussion between him and Assange this summer). It is all the more fitting, then, that on the other side of the fence is an anti-authoritarian, non-state organisation dependent on popular support – as the support from traditional media has been half-hearted, at best. Once more it feels that the crucial political question now is between authoritarianism and anti-authoritarianism, and the other dividing lines are side issues (including the dividing line Zizek is trying to set up, the one between revolutionary discipline and liberal consumerism, or, left authoritarianism and right authoritarianism).

2 Comments

  1. tere wrote:

    Boing Boing on Apppelbaum: http://boingboing.net/2011/10/09/secret-us-court-order-demands-email-data-for-wikileaks-volunteer-jacob-appelbaum.html

    ja sama hesarissa: http://www.hs.fi/ulkomaat/USA+vaati+Googlelta+Wikileaks-aktivistin+s%C3%A4hk%C3%B6postitietoja/a1305546902308

    Monday, October 10, 2011 at 9:40 am | Permalink
  2. tere wrote:

    And now it is Google’s turn to cave in: “Don’t be evil”: Google hands over WikiLeaks data to US government without search warrant http://tinyurl.com/3zyj9hk

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

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