December 7, 2010

Julian Assange, Beta-Male Writ Large

In law, we make an exception to he hearsay rule for "dying declarations." The idea is that when someone is conscious of their own impending death, they attach special importance to the things they say, so that we may rely upon the truth of what is said.

One of the authors working today whom I admire the most is Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens is dying of esophogeal cancer. It sounds icky and awful. Hitch looks worse than he ever did even when on a bender.

But the thing about Hitch is that he will not go quietly into his good night. He is writing, speaking, communicating, at the same furious pace he did before he fell ill, and is not only candid about the effects of the disease which will inevitably fell him, but candid about the world around him. His legacy will be that he is The Man Who Told Us The Truth. And here is a particularly vicious yet satisfying truth from Hitch.
All you need to know about Assange is contained in the profile of him by the great John F. Burns and in his shockingly thuggish response to it. The man is plainly a micro-megalomaniac with few if any scruples and an undisguised agenda. As I wrote before, when he says that his aim is "to end two wars," one knows at once what he means by the "ending." In his fantasies he is probably some kind of guerrilla warrior, but in the real world he is a middle man and peddler who resents the civilization that nurtured him.

Assange is no hero. He is something very close to an anarchist, someone who believes that the U.S. government is a force for unmitigated evil in the world and which requires secrecy to operate effectively. Assange is wrong on both counts. The U.S. government is a force for great good.

Yes, it is periodically guided by imperfect people who lose sight of their objectives, and it employs imperfect people who sometimes are willing to cut moral corners to achieve their objectives. It is too often corrupted by money, it is periodically steered by stupid policies motivated by cynical political gain, and it is an evolved mishmash of those bad policies and periodic attempts to reform them. But at the end of the day, it is a government that follows the direction and the will of a large, empowered citizenry made up of fundamentally decent and good people, people who want to work hard and be left alone, a people who want to see the world around them become peaceful, wealthy, and democratic not only because that is in their own best economic interests but because it's the best way to be.

Assange can't see that, for some reason, perhaps because he's too busy reading the mythology he's written about himself. His attitude towards Western governments, particularly but not exclusively the U.S. government, is kind of like seeing a very pretty girl who has a small flaw (say, a gap between her front teeth). Because she isn't perfect, he turns up his nose at her and treats her with scorn, classic Beta behavior.

What's more, the U.S. government is one of leakiest in world history and becoming more so every day. It's operated in an atmosphere of very spotty secrecy for most of its existence because of our First Amendment, the same fundamental part of our government which would protect Assange even as he sneers at it; a protection we would extend to him not because of any love for the man but rather because it is a part of our own morals and ideals. That First Amendment has created a healthy and free press, it has created a culture of openness and disclosure and truth, it forces our government to do what it does out in the full light of day for everyone to see. Wikileaks is a flashlight shone in the eyes of someone trying to operate in broad daylight. The recent diplomatic leaks are no different -- they disclose nothing of interest that was not known already. From a macro-perspective, it is an inconvenience, nothing more.

Assange's delicate ego is seen in a question-and-answer session he did with The Guardian. He responded to a bunch of questions that described him as a heroic figure and Wikileaks as a noble cause, but when someone raised an issue of potential harm that might come about because of its activities, he simply dismissed and did not answer the question:


Julian, I am a former British diplomat. In the course of my former duties I helped to coordinate multilateral action against a brutal regime in the Balkans, impose sanctions on a renegade state threatening ethnic cleansing, and negotiate a debt relief programme for an impoverished nation. None of this would have been possible without the security and secrecy of diplomatic correspondence, and the protection of that correspondence from publication under the laws of the UK and many other liberal and democratic states. An embassy which cannot securely offer dvice or pass messages back to London is an embassy which cannot operate. Diplomacy cannot operate without discretion and the protection of sources. This applies to the UK and the UN as much as the US.

In publishing this massive volume of correspondence, Wikileaks is not highlighting specific cases of wrongdoing but undermining the entire process of diplomacy. If you can publish US cables then you can publish UK telegrams and UN emails.

My question to you is: why should we not hold you personally responsible when next an international crisis goes unresolved because diplomats cannot function.

Julian Assange:

If you trim the vast editorial letter to the singular question actually asked, I would be happy to give it my attention.
Contrast this question, which is critical in tone of Assange, to the rest of the questions in the published session, and you may get an idea of why Assange didn't want to answer it. JAnthony asked a legitimate question. Yes, he was a bit verbose about it, but Assange claimed the ability to have understood "the singular question actually asked" but nevertheless failed to answer it. He can dish it out, but he can't handle criticism at all. The exchange could have been phrased thus:
Q: Although you point to things that diplomats have done that are bad, diplomats also do good things like preventing wars, facilitating change in bad governments, and encouraging economic development. Diplomats need secrecy in which to operate effectively, whether for good or for ill. By taking that secrecy away, aren't you really destroying all diplomacy, not just the bad stuff?
A: I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that it tends to make me look bad.

Which is why his recent arrest and imminent deportation to Sweden is probably causing him to have an existential crisis which will be reconciled in his mind by the idea that he is really being prosecuted for his Wikileaks activity by the vindictive U.S. government using Sweden as a puppet. It couldn't possibly be that he did something wrong (albeit something that seems rather petty to most of the world) or that the reason he has been singled out for prosecution is the very notoriety he has so carefully cultivated about himself.

Point is, Assange isn't telling the truth for the sake of the truth. He is something close to an anarchist; he wants to see western governments destroyed because they sometimes do bad things and has blinded himself to both the good that they also do and to the inevitably worse consequences that would follow if his agenda were successful. He is not the man who is telling us the truth; he is the man who is exposing ugliness for the sake of making the world an uglier place, because he is so enraged and threatened by its mere imperfection.

Give me Christopher Hitchens over Julian Assange any day of the week.

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