Monday, 29 November 2010

On the Popular Support for Wikileaks

"I want to start a riot."

These were the words of a friend as we headed home from a viewing of V for Vendetta. We were flushed with excitement from the climax of the film, where thousands of people dressed as the protagonist gathered to watch the Houses of Parliament explode into fireworks to the sound of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.

All of us had been stirred by the monumental epicness of the moment, where the people had risen up and removed the despotic Norsefire government.

Many of us were forced to read Nineteen Eighty-Four at school. Those, such as myself, who were not forced to read it but were interested in politics made a point of reading it. We are all well versed in the concept of 'sticking it to the man,' of standing up and destroying the autocratic regime. It's a common theme in literature, film and elsewhere; Equilibrium, The Bourne Identity, Half-Life 2. The list is almost endless.

It's common because it's exciting. It makes good entertainment. People can step into the moment and escape the typically slow-moving and unspectacular process of change in the real world. Even history often focuses on the 'seminal' moments of history such as 9/11 and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But it is easy to ignore the choices and events in the background of history. If something like Pearl Harbour is the clock striking the hour, it is only sounding because of the 3,600 ticks and tocks that preceded it that one hears the ringing at all.

Wikileaks provides a 'real life' example of sticking it to the man. In the words of one Tweep, the Dept of State has crashed on the highway and the whole internet is rubber-necking while justifying their voyeurism as anti-secrecy.

People naively quote "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people." They ignore the fact that we live in the freest nations on the planet. They ignore the fact that the only reason Julian Assange et al are still alive is because they target one of the most open democracies on the planet.

The Cablegate dump has revealed little more than anyone endowed with the barest levels of common sense and knowledge already suspect and knew. It has probably set back the ability for America and other Western countries to work in our national interest.

So people applaud an organisation that remains secret and opaque in the name of openness and transparency, and congratulate its messianic, nihilistic, tyrannical leader as a moral crusader. Meanwhile, those elected and appointed to protect us and to work toward our collective comfort and security attempt to fathom the consequences of this event.

Our democracies are not perfect. But people are spoilt by it, and remain ignorant of what living in true despotism and true corruption is really like. And that sometimes secrets have to be kept, not because the government wants us like sheep, but because it's in the interest of our collective security. We don't yet know if the clock has struck twelve, or if it is merely sounding the quarter hour and the promise of larger things to come.

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