A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
I’ve lived long enough to understand that most things in life are black and white. There is a good; there is an evil. There is justice; there’s injustice. There’s pregnant and there’s not. There’s almost never an “almost” anything. There are people who do deal in endless shades of grey and so be it. I find these people are mostly lazy, sometimes stupid and — far too often — both — a deadly combination. However, every once in a while, a situation will hove up on the horizon that has enough nuances in it to make me stop and consider. WikiLeaks is that kind of a two-handed problem. On the one hand, it could be a good thing; on the other, it might prove to be bad. But, in the end it has to be something because it can’t be both.
The good side of WikiLeaks is pretty obvious. First of all, it’s nice to have somebody out there watching the workings of government – any government. We need independent structures and institutions that keep a wary eye on the people who wield enormous power. When this task falls into the lap of ordinary people, I’m always glad when they step forward, place the whistle to their lips, and blow, long and hard. Secondly, I’m glad that the Internet is still the big dog on the planet. Its democracy is going to save us — believe me. It’s good to see that — despite every attempt to chain it up — the Internet’s numerical superiority seems to be able to carry the day – so far, anyway. Finally, and way more important than everything else, I’m so relieved to know that the world’s diplomats are not as stupid as they always appear to be. In one cyber-flash, the folks who are running the world went from bumbling dolts with PhDs in naive to hard-working men and women with a fairly astute grasp of the international situation. I don’t know about you, but I’m as happy as a puppy with a tail, to find out that the powers that be are as worried about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons as I am. It’s totally reassuring to me to know that everybody thinks Karzai is a crook. And as scary as the situation in Iran is, I’m ecstatic that a whole pile of people realize just how godawful scary the situation in Iran is. It’s great to have a no-holds-barred assessment; a genuine look at the world — unfiltered by Anderson Cooper or anybody else who has better hair than Barbie. I didn’t know the real story before, but I’m glad I do now. If nothing else, I sleep better.
Of course, the first question is do we need to know this stuff? The answer is no. In the great scheme of things, regardless of how much superdemocracy we think we need, there is no reason for ordinary people to know any of this. In a more civilized time, governments carried on their discourse behind closed doors. There’s nothing wrong with that. Looking over a mechanic’s shoulder while he fixes your car doesn’t do anybody any good. Besides, one of the major problems of our democracy is that it’s currently getting micromanaged by lobbyists, activists and special interest groups. The WikiLeaks are just going to add fuel to their power-grabbing fire.
The next question is why publish this stuff in the first place? Some are favourably comparing WikiLeaks to the Pentagon Papers. This is apples and oranges with a banana thrown into the mix. Folks, the world has changed exponentially since the Sacred 60s. The Pentagon Papers were an attempt to thwart the US government, who were actively lying to the American people. The WikiLeaks are exposing nothing more than day-to-day exchanges between government employees. No, I don’t want my government to lie to me, and if they do, I want to know about it, but in actual fact, I don’t care if they lie to folks like Karzai and Ahmadinejad – or Hilary, Bill and Chelsea, either. Nor do I have a burning need to know about it. In the real world, international diplomacy is a serious business, and everybody should know the rules. There are no rules. Get used to it.
Finally, does publishing this stuff do any good? No. In fact, it does a lot of harm. Suddenly, private assessment and analysis is available to anybody with a mouse and a modem. Even Hannah Montana knows that there are certain things the whole world doesn’t need to know. She also understands that being brutally honest — even selectively — can jeopardize your whole way of life. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that when you do this on a global scale, you’re just asking for trouble. I don’t want the people I’ve hired to keep my world running smoothly looking over their shoulders and mincing their words. My personal thought is that Julian Assange is like that smarmy kid in high school who always acted like a jerk, for no reason, just because he could.
So, on balance, WikiLeaks is not that hard a problem. On the scale of good and evil or right and wrong, it’s wrong – full stop. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m going to quit reading them.