There is no more conspiratorial mind than the mind that perceives conspiracy, genuine or not. There is no more vivid matrix than the matrix imagined, which is its realm. The matrix is the authoritarian apex, domination not only of physical relations, but also of mental relations: total control of reality. Conspiracy and authoritarianism.
Fear of conspiracy and authoritarianism – authoritarian conspiracy, conspired authoritarianism – motivates forms of both Right and Left extremism. The two joined are the final suture of the monster on Dr. Frankenstein’s table, the ogre who is truly the uncanny manifestation – in reality? in Dr. Frankenstein’s mind? – of the unconscious desires of its maker. Thus, Tea Party extremists conjured last year our freedoms in the pocket of an African Muslim Other, the socialist and Nazi state (what difference which or both: the face of the monster is a unitary horror) already upon us in healthcare death panels: soylent green, the nutrient that kills – the ultimate illusion.
From the Left comes the same inchoate and emotional rejection of the center of power, for the resentment and fear of it. It is, no less than the outbursts of the Right over the past two years, sheer incoherence. Writes David Samuels in The Atlantic, expressing the argument from journalism,
Julian Assange and Pfc Bradley Manning have done a huge public service by making hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. government documents available on Wikileaks — and, predictably, no one is grateful….
It is dispiriting and upsetting for anyone who cares about the American tradition of a free press to see Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton and Robert Gibbs turn into H.R. Haldeman, John Erlichman and John Dean. We can only pray that we won’t soon be hit with secret White House tapes of Obama drinking scotch and slurring his words while calling Assange bad names….
But the truly scandalous and shocking response to the Wikileaks documents has been that of other journalists, who make the Obama Administration sound like the ACLU…. Channeling Richard Nixon, Coll labeled Wikileaks’ activities – formerly known as journalism – by his newly preferred terms of “vandalism” and “First Amendment-inspired subversion.”
This is strikingly vacuous outrage. Since when has it been the role of the press in a democracy, the “American tradition of a free press,” to be – more than, playing its proper role, the aggressive interlocutor of government and power, in a tense relationship of check and balance – the enemy of government, seeking or supporting the theft of any and all government documents? Ah, but if one questions U.S. bona fides as a democracy, if it is the matrix in utero, then anything is justified in opposition, as if one were already engaged, with such life-affirming meaning, in that grand death battle.
My personal feeling is that any allegedly democratic government that is so hubristic that it will lie blatantly to the entire world in order to invade a country it has long wanted to invade probably needs a self-correcting mechanism. There are times when it’s necessary that the powerful be shown that there are checks on its behavior, particularly when the systems normally designed to do that are breaking down. Now is one of those times. . . . . As for the substance of the revelations, I don’t know what the results will be. But in the world of diplomacy, embarrassment is meaningful and I’m not sure that it’s a bad thing for all these people to be embarrassed right now. Puncturing a certain kind of self-importance — especially national self-importance — may be the most worthwhile thing they do. A little humility is long overdue.
It is easy on both Right and Left – indeed, it appears a psychological requirement of the procedure – to minimize or even eradicate in one’s mind the continuing nature of the U.S. as a democracy when one is compelled by circumstance to live with decisions and policies one does not support. It is not the Obama administration that, as Digby believes, lied “to the entire world in order to invade a country,” but she remains still so emotionally unreconciled to the event, that it becomes justification – no less than the supposed incipient federal power grab of national healthcare for the Right – for other illegal activity, against the government, of which she generally disapproves. “As for the substance of the revelations, I don’t know what the results will be,” she says. But apparently embarrassment and “puncturing…self-importance” are a political vision. How well conceived it all is.
Friend Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper, pointed me to this post by Robert P. Baird at 3 Quarks, who pointed me to Aaron Bady and these 2006 essays (pdf) by Julian Assange actually delineating his purpose in more detail than his disingenuous, self-righteous, and self-serving interviews tend to do.
What Assange truly aspires to produce, as I suggested last week here, is a kind of anarcho-hacker disruption of the matrix, reflected in the aspirations of the Wikileaks mirror and champion sites that have appeared. Once and still, computing was the basis for totalistic authoritarian nightmare, as in the classic Colossus: The Forbin Project. Now, too, it feeds utopian dreams of the liberating power of cyberspace and the universal, unrestricted access to information. The dreams and nightmares persist; information and knowledge are always the core. Only the media change.
The essays focus on “conspiracy” and “authoritarianism,” but while they describe the first, they never define either. What is the difference between that pair and cooperation and power? Power is first the “ability to act or produce an effect,” secondarily “possession of control, authority, or influence over others.” How much is too much control and authority? Assange does not say. Do not the citizens of a democracy, as part of that social contract, cede degrees of control and authority to the government, in return for which the citizens exercise electoral and systematic checks on the government? Can such a system be authoritarian? What degree of systematic corruption is necessary for the checks to be illusory and a democracy to be deemed authoritarian? Assange has directed his attacks on the U.S. because it is the international superpower, but has he made a case for the authoritarian nature of the U. S., one that would justify the direction of illegal and systematically destructive attacks against it?
What distinguishes cooperation from conspiracy? Cooperation is common effort, an “association of persons for common benefit.” Secrecy and illegal or wrongful intent are the necessary elements of the transformation of cooperation into conspiracy, but is either alone sufficient? We know already – it is all around us, from either end of the political spectrum – that any aggrieved political agitant will find basis for claiming wrongfulness, even illegality: it violates some conception of the constitution, some document of international law. One doesn’t need a court decision to make claims. And so one sets about, guided by no more than a sole moral compass and a mission, and ill-considered concepts, to disrupt the order of international diplomacy and relationship – because we all know they are dreadfully flawed, as the product of the sinful beings who created them, but Julian Assange is ready and waiting to show us the superior replacement. We will all know everything and be free. Power will not concentrate, and we will live how?
Secrecy – is secrecy the demon seed? The secrecy that Assange has utilized to do his own work, to hide himself from his enemies, engaged, by every understanding of the word, in fact, himself in conspiracy? Because if there is one power that contests with knowledge as the basis of freedom, it is secrecy, the secrecy of our own selves, our interior and private beings that are the ultimate possession authoritarian regimes will seek to steal from us – public denunciations, public confessions, systems of betrayal and unauthorized revelation, theoretical condemnations, as decadent, of the bourgeois and the personal. In the life saving enterprise of opposing oppressive power and domination we would be secret too, to ensure the success of our cause. So secrecy has an elemental role in our freedom, as well as in conspiracy. Its value or wrongfulness is a calculation of context, a context Assange is too driven by missionary and too-meager theoretical stars to consider with care.
The matrix is a construct. We each live in a matrix, of our sense perceptions and the organizing frames our minds place around the ideas that arise from and around our perceptions. We have been jointly considering and debating the reality of that matrix, and the common one that arises relationally from it, for all of human existence. Who will decide on his own, at last, that it is not real and blow it up? Because when you die in the matrix, you die for real too.
- Wikileaks Jumps the Shark (sadredearth.com)
- James Denselow: Assange’s Ideology (huffingtonpost.com)
- Yes, I am Still Fascinated (benpeek.livejournal.com)
- Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy; “To destroy this invisible government” (disquietreservations.blogspot.com)
- Wikileaks: Julian Assange’s fatal mistake (telegraph.co.uk)
- The dark side of the Web (theglobeandmail.com)
- Defend Julian Assange and WikiLeaks (disquietreservations.blogspot.com)
- What is Julian Assange Up To? (3quarksdaily.com)
- Julian Assange, defending our democracies (despite their owners’ wishes) (antipope.org)