Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Julian Assange

I've been quiet on this guy.  I've been busy working on other things.  I've read the headlines and the interview published recently.  I'm not going to rehash anything you've seen elsewhere.

I'm not including any links in this article because there are serious problems with the media coverage on this guy--more on that below.  Julian is the internet's first real lightning rod, and I'm afraid that he will soon be it's first martyr.

Julian's idea is that the powerful (people/companies/nations) are abusing those without power, and that he can end the abuse if he exposes enough of the powerfuls' secrets.

I heartily agree with him that the powerful are abusing the powerless.  I'm not sure if Julian understands that this has been going on since the dawn of civilization, and that the abuse is trending down.  I don't think he cares about that.  I think he is only fixated on the current situation--which is pretty good by historical standards, but still quite awful in absolute terms.

Exposing the deceits and deceptions of the powerful will definitely hurt them.  And since I am powerless, at some level I am inclined to cheer that.  But I do not follow the chain of logic from hurting the powerful to improving the lives of the powerless. In fact, I have grave doubts that hurting the powerful will accomplish anything useful.

For example, the US government is powerful.  The US government is an easy target for Julian because it employs so many potential whistle-blowers, and it contains many potentially embarrassing secrets.  The best result that Julian can hope for is the utter collapse of the US government.  That seems to be the limit of his vision.  But what will actually happen if the US government collapses?  Will the world be better or worse off?

Total collapse is unlikely, even though it seems to be Julian's ideal goal.  A more likely outcome is (a) a diminishing of the power of the US government, (b) some sort of reforms to how the US government wields (abuses) it's power, and (c) some serious improvements in the way that the powerful guard their secrets.  Will that actually benefit the powerless?  I say no, it won't.  I have two reasons for that opinion:
1. Diminishing the power of the US government leaves a power vacuum that will be filled by someone else.  All of the candidates for filling that power vacuum have much worse track records of abuse.
2. The power abuse reforms will probably remain limited to the US government, but the improvements in secret-keeping will accrue to all of the powerful.

If I thought his actions would achieve his intentions then I would join his team.  But I am convinced that his actions will result in the opposite of what he intends.  So I must oppose him.

Attacking the US government in this way challenges it to defend itself.  It will establish laws, treaties, and technologies to protect itself.  Those laws and treaties will, unfortunately, protect all of the other powerful also.  We're only seeing the beginning of that.  The trumped-up rape charges are a sham.  Hopefully some whistle-blower will expose that particular abuse of power soon.  But it doesn't really matter what they grabbed him for.  Now they have him.

I imagine that the CIA (with the cooperation of every security service in the western world) is hacking every part of Julian's life while he cools his heels in isolation.  They will have all of his secrets before they release him.  If they are as good as they advertise then they will find his poison pill and delete it.  I'm not sure if Julian adequately planned for that, but I expect that he did.  In fact, I expect that the security services are walking into a trap that will expose their illegal hacking of Julian's life.

This type of whistle-blowing is going to increase.  The internet just makes the free-flow of information too easy.  Most of the journalists in the mainstream media are crying in their drinks that they don't have Julian's cajones and data.  That's why the mainstream media has cooperated with him so far.  Expect the powers-that-be to get their ducks in a row and put an end to that soon.

This ideal of activism is exactly what sends most journalists into that profession in the first place.  Expect serious journalists to buck the new world order that is coming for them, and leave for independent pastures.  Even if they throw Julian into Guantanamo and delete all of the secret data he has, another Julian will rise up soon enough.  The whistle-blowers are clearly willing to dish their dirt.

Right now the best discussions of wikileaks are happening out on the fringes of the internet where polite society fears to look.  Those are sites that I will not link for various reasons.  But the biggest reason is that I expect the US government to soon go into full attack mode against anyone who keeps a copy of the leaked data.  I don't have a copy, and I won't link to it because getting caught up in that mess is counter to my future plans.

If there were some way that Julian could have attacked smaller targets first, and built up to the more powerful targets later, then that strategy would have been better.  But there was no way to establish his bona-fides and launch his project on small targets.  I expect the next Julians to start smaller.

My own strategy is to develop alternatives to the abuse of power.  Democracy 2.0 is all about reducing the powerfuls' abuse of power.  But I'm coming at the problem from the opposite direction.  I'm avoiding challenging the powerful directly.  I'm keeping the discussion as hypothetical as possible.  I'm idealistic instead of accusative.

I do hope that Julian survives and learns to improve his strategy.  But I don't expect him to.  I expect the powerful to kill him.  Power corrupts, after all.

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