JR Max Wheel
14 February 2011
Everything about Julian Assange looks strange to me. His forename is a slightly pretentious middle class Australian/English and his surname irritating and nasally Francophone. He can look both young and old, fair–haired, yet in some light almost grey-haired. He is both softly spoken, but when pushed can sound strident. Is he a seeker after the truth, a zealot who will harry Governments and their guilty secrets or an opportunist? Is the case in Sweden of errant sexual behaviour evidence of a collective Government stitch-up or is this self-appointed guardian and secular saint actually a real sinner?
Nothing really fits; he seeks privacy from the current media scrum, yet simultaneously seems to court it- a touch of Diana syndrome there.
If his life story is as reported*, he seems to have lived a rackety life in Australia, as an ethical computer hacker, a real oxymoron with the wonderful handle of splendide mendax. This idea of “noble untruthfulness” seems to have infected the whole WikiLeaks project. Who is behind it? How is it funded? Assange is self–styled editor-in-chief, not founder as frequently reported.
There is little doubt that awkward and embarrassing and necessary information has been brought forward, famously the dumping of toxic waste in Cote d’Ivoire, but now infamously with the huge leak of cables via the US soldier Bradley Manning. Whilst there is unquestionably material here to embarrass Governments by revealing private briefing notes as well as those moments of revelation which are in the class of what we have always suspected but has now been made public. There is a real dilemma here, is Assange ultimately a force for good, no matter how troubling that might prove for Governments or is he a dangerous maverick as capable of sowing lies and discord or having some control agenda?
Most living in a democratic society will accept a degree of trade-offs over secrecy vs. openness, recognizing that not all the work of Governments can stand the light of day. “Humankind cannot bear very much reality”, observed Eliot in the Four Quartets. This is not a carte blanche for any Government, rather a recognition that human relationships of whatever kind need some discretion and room for manoeuvre.
Assange has recently fallen out with his former number 2 in Australia; the interchanges seem both acrimonious and even threatening.
Assange seems to me like some Dostoyevskian “outsider”, amoral, yet not apolitical. He seems less a bumbling Prince Myshkin from “The Idiot”- a holy fool: more likely a darker and manipulative, Nikolai Stavrogin from “The Possessed”, a tortured soul with a real capacity to foment trouble and with a definite agenda?
One obvious lesson is that Governments will have to recalibrate what is in the public interest and be a great deal a more “open” in their dialogue with their electorates; paradoxically WikiLeaks may have made open dialogue more difficult between countries for fear of leaks.
If, as a society we are rightfully concerned with concentration of media power, then we should also be concerned about who is behind WikiLeaks and what is their agenda. Assange has become his own story and the obscure nature of WikiLeaks organisation should make us very uncomfortable.
*Wikipedia and The Australian