02 December 2010

Assange's Theory

I came across a link to a couple of articles by Julian Assange (from late 2006) detailing his motivation (via zunguzungu):

They don't amount to much. He opens, promisingly, "Firstly we must understand what aspect of government or neocorporatist behavior we wish to change or remove. Secondly we must develop a way of thinking about this behavior that is strong enough carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity. Finally must use these insights to inspire within us and others a course of ennobling, and effective action."

He goes on to completely skip over the first two requirements. His very next words are: "Authoritarian power is maintained by conspiracy" the rest of the two powers covers nothing but how to take apart the conspiracy of government. There is zero discussion of what "Authoritarian power" is, and why we dislike it, or "what aspect of ... behavior we wish to change or remove". Which is rather a shame. It's all means, no ends.

The means, taking apart a government or other conspiracy by breaking the links of trust between elements, should work, and seems to be working, indeed. But what the ends are still eludes me - the word "authoritarian" means less to me than most other elements of unfamiliar theology. The natural consequence of the wikileaks style of attack would seem to be to produce networks with fewer and stronger links. I suspect that would be a good thing, but I have no idea whether Assange would consider it less "authoritarian".

He does say that "The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie". It's not clear whether that's put forward as a hypothesis or as an axiom: as a hypothesis, it's plausible but there are arguments to the contrary.

The real weakness in the analysis is the claim that "Conspiracies are cognitive devices". They are a lot more than that. Modern governments to not include so many hundreds of thousands in their conspiracies merely to enhance their information. Conspiracies gather power, and then they bring power to bear. By cutting off the extremities of the conspiracy, Assange is depriving it of some information, but that seems secondary; mostly he is reducing the reach of the conspiracy, both to gather power (for instance from allied governments) and to bring it to bear (for instance through distantly-deployed armies). The surviving conspiracy will have less total power at its command, which might be the point, but it will at the same time be constrained to use that power in a more concentrated direction.

More crucially, if it can no longer rely on power gathered from its periphery, the conspiracy will have nothing to offer the periphery. After all, the claim of (here it comes) democracy is that we are all part of the conspiracy - we are consulted, we exert influence, we communicate through our representatives. These are the weakest links that will be severed first.

So, I'm not here to criticise Assange's actions - only his writing. I might be on his side, if I knew what side he was on.

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