WikiLeaks: the Internet Age Jumps the Shark
The drive for transparency and openness has revolutionized communication, but can we reach a point where it becomes too much of a good thing?
December 2, 2010 - 12:00 am
It’s another “What is this world coming to?” moment — something we should be getting used to with Barack Obama and the Democrats in charge of the government. Alas, the human imagination has its limits and contemplating the possibility that all our dirty diplomatic laundry would be hung out to dry so that friend and foe alike could take note of the holes in our bloomers just never occurred to us.
The unscrubbed, untreated thoughts and daydreams of many of our embassies around the world are now a matter of public record — cataloged, indexed, sorted by nation, and available with the click of a mouse. Ain’t the internet grand? This kind of stuff usually doesn’t become available until 100 years or so after the fact. By that time, everyone who made an idiot of themselves by dissing a head of state with mental problems or was proved spectacularly wrong in some wayward analysis would be long gone and turned to dust.
Welcome to the Instant History Channel brought to you by Julian Assange. Why wait on the passage of time or fading memories when you can immediately and spectacularly zing evil America by revealing all the backroom wheeling and dealing, lobbying, pleading, begging, stabs in the back, and political gossip that, taken together, make up our foreign policy?
Mr. Assange is evidently some kind of anarchist with the emotional maturity of a teenage hacker stuck in the body of a monstrously arrogant man. Imagine someone like Assange getting his hands on a nuclear weapon some day. With his kind of fanatical devotion to an ideal — openness and transparency — there is no telling how he would use the device, only surety that he would. Anyone with that kind of burning desire to expose “the truth” as he sees it could justify anything — including the incineration of millions.
Then again, in the case of Mr. Assange, one wonders how truly devoted he is to that “truth” in the first place. Perhaps when we see the nuclear secrets of Iran and North Korea on the WikiLeaks site, then we can at least be assured of his sincerity, if not his sanity. Until then, he can be pegged as another anti-American, anti-capitalist, anti-authority juvenile delinquent — except he has a website and a knack for playing on the emotions of vulnerable people in positions to help him “expose” his targets.
James Dean or Sal Mineo he is not. His actions are reminiscent of Malcolm McDowell’s horrifically violent Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange. The mayhem caused by Alex had no purpose save nihilistic pleasure, an orgiastic descent into the depths of bloody depravity — a desire to watch the world burn. One gets the same sense about Mr. Assange when he calls on our secretary of State to resign. He has no interest in the wider world around him or how it works. He wants to smash things, and the idea that he cares whether Hillary Clinton remains secretary of state is ridiculous. No doubt, the man-child got a secret laugh when contemplating that people took his views seriously about Hillary’s future.
Mr. Assange, however, is just the symptom of a much broader and deeper problem: a kind of internet Armageddon to which we are headed unless we can figure out how we can be free without immolating ourselves at the same time.
I would imagine most of those reading this article treasure the idea that the internet is one of the last bastions of almost total freedom on earth — a place where anything and everything goes, where the sublimely beautiful rubs elbows with the most profoundly depraved, and where radiance and raunch can occupy the same space, at the same time, thus defying the physical laws of the universe.
It is the the last outpost in the Wild West complete with gunslingers, banditos, highwaymen, and the occasional offended aboriginal. All of this freedom and openness comes at a huge cost, however: we, the meek and mild-mannered townsfolk, have yet to get around to appointing a sheriff in a white hat to protect us from the likes of Mr. Assange and his merry band of nihilistic knaves .