Why Wikileaks is good for America

Wikileaks: Can't be erased

So what does it take to plug a leak so large that it threatens to undermine America’s national security interests, her soldiers and global standing? A leak so worrisome that Hillary Clinton described it as  “an attack on the international community and the alliances and partnerships, that safeguard global security.” The answer is: nothing. Nothing can and will stop Wikileaks. Under the pressure of the US government, the original Wikileaks website was taken down, only to be replaced by hundreds of identical mirrors all over the internet. Like a drop of food colouring in a clear glass of water, classified documents have spread so voraciously around the world wide web, that the only way to hinder their movement, is to shut down the internet completely. And even then, the entire cache of top secret information is being downloaded to personal hard-drives as we speak: regular people seizing the opportunity to become free-speech activists, and in doing so, take part in an unparalleled piece of history from behind their computer screens, one BitTorrent package at a time.

You can not shut down Wikileaks. Like the principles that built America into a beacon of freedom and liberty, Wikileaks is an idea that transcends mere politics or diplomatic niceties.  Wikileaks represents the frustration of the entire post 9/11 generation, that has slowly watched the West wither into a shell of its former self, pre-occupied with unpopular wars, financial crises and a clear process in which civil liberties are eclipsed by the expediency of governments. The Wikileaks movement represents a clear statement: We will not allow America to sink like the Titanic into despotic oblivion. The US government may be bounded by a Constitution and a Bill of Rights, but these are merely pieces of paper that are ascribed national importance. Government enforces these laws – and the Government has the power to annul them. What are laws but resounding statements etched into dusty tomes? Politicians allocate funding for Police, Education, Health and other public services – and these cogs are the only thing keeping our fragile society from descending into a Libertarian anarchy – devoid of the rule of Law.

What we see today, is a growing trend in which the necessary evil of basic government is further expanded, moneyed and made elaborate, way beyond the size necessary for its principle function: to keep order. In the same way that the absence of government leads to chaos and bloodshed, an all-powerful government is a monolithic bureaucracy that controls absolutely – a quasi North Korean oligarchy, spying on its citizens, and replacing due process with administrative convenience. To paraphrase former US president Gerald Ford, “A government big enough to give you freedom, is a government big enough to take your freedom away”.

And this is where Wikileaks comes in. Assisted by the world’s anonymous playground, the internet, Wikileaks is exposing US hegemony in a bid to prevent the monster that she may become. The US isn’t an echo of the crumbling Roman empire – the US is an injured superpower, abandoning good intentions in favour of political survival.

I grew up on a staple belief, that there exists a faraway democracy, America – a land that guarantees freedom of speech and religion – and vigorously upholds ethics and laws, as the epitome of safety, multiculturalism and achievement. This is what I still believe. This was the vision of America’s Founding Fathers. This was the America that landed a man on the moon, and that cultivated the bulk of the world’s Nobel Prize winners. America is simply too precious to dissolve itself silently into the night, and thus abrogate the golden age of Pax Americana that has provided a protective shield over the Western world. Today, more and more voters are becoming disenfranchised with the major political parties, and the political discourse is becoming increasingly polarized: Democrats and Republicans are shifting further away to opposite extremes, like two magnets repelling each other. A cursory read of the New York Times or the Huffington Post reveals that most Americans bewail the lack of cooperation in government, and it’s increasingly skewed outlook that stands at odds with that of the people’s. Coupled with the fear of homegrown terrorism, the fear-factor that seemingly drives politicians has led to the US Government imposing, for example, restrictive surveillance measures that curb the very tenet that America was founded upon: liberty.

US government: greater transparency required

The Wikileaks exposé is at least the first step in propagating a culture of transparency and accountability. If nobody holds a mirror up to the American government, then who will prevent its imperfections from developing into carcinogenic tumours? The release of 250000 classified documents, dubbed “Cablegate” was like a shock to the system. The video of an American Apache helicopter gunning down journalists in Iraq, sought to achieve a similar purpose: To portray the Iraq war as needlessly unjust and unnecessary, and in doing so, to prevent it from dragging on like its counterpart, the Afghanistan war. I believe that there are just wars, but public opinion has made it clear that these two aren’t one of them. Had Wikileaks released top-secret footage of the Dresden bombings during WWII there would be no outrage, no media explosion. Saving Europe from the evils of Nazism was inherently just and necessary and the bombings, even if questionable were justified and accepted. Today, many people struggle to list defendable reasons for occupying Iraq, or even invading Talibanistan with the purportedly nebulous mission of capturing Bin Laden and smoking him out of his Waziristan cave-compound. Ten years on from 9/11, these wars are increasingly seen as the hand of American imperialism, attempting to gain a foothold in the Middle East: Veni, Vidi, Vici.

Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange

Whilst Assange may be driven by a desire to expose alleged American malfeasance, I see the leaks in a different light. I doubt that the US has committed crimes any more heinous than those committed by the Communist regime in Beijing and those committed on a daily basis in The Congo and Darfur. Yes, focusing solely on America may seam gratuitous, or even an exercise in Chomsky-style America bashing. But I don’t see it that way. I see it as constructive criticism: a chance for the people to look at themselves through the window of 250000 classified documents, and to ask: “Where are we going?” and “What do we want our future to be?” Wikileaks and the Internet are now the upholders of worldwide freedom of speech, until the West can retake the reigns. The leaks must force the US to reevaluate her position, and to return to the trail that she set out on in 1776. In every respect the United States is a success. But perhaps now, more than ever, the message of America’s founders should be resounded loud and clear in the public domain, and on computer screens everywhere. History may judge the past couple of US administrations unfavourably, but that does not mean that America is doomed to a downward spiral of debt and iron-gripped bureaucratic control.  The wikileaks were a victory for freedom of speech, and they should be hailed as such by those concerned for America. Now everything said behind closed doors has been released into the public domain, and voters should choose their candidates more cautiously – those who foster political unity, call for less concentrated power in the hands of government, and greater transparency regarding policies.

"Give me Liberty, or give me Death!" - Patrick Henry, 1775

I await Wikileaks China, and damning information about other countries that may lead to political reform. But today it is 1983 on the streets of New York, LA and Washington, and George Orwell is giving you the chance to prevent his novel from becoming reality. America pumps more money into the failed wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, borrows larger sovereign funds from China, and increases taxes. Political positions become more extreme, fear and distrust increase, and neighbours become enemies. This is not America – this is dystopia. The massive Wikileaks dump have given the country and indeed the entire Western World, a fresh opportunity to alter course before it’s too late. I believe that the world’s moral compass still lies in America’s hands – and the magnetized North pointer is pointing directly in Wikileaks’ direction.

Facebook culture: a substitute for actually experiencing life?

“Ye, don’t worry mate. I’ll Facebook you tonight”

This has become my regular parting, a sort of “see ya later, mate” if you will – with the obvious intonation to further contact at the end. If this is any indication of Facebook’s popularity and growing influence on youth everywhere, then one could conclude that Facebook is taking over our lives. Well, sort of.

I often wonder what happens when a sub-culture like Facebook becomes so ubiquitous, so widespread, that the term “to Facebook” becomes a commonly used verb. The premise of social networking is that each profile is customized to reflect a person’s character, personality and interests. A snapshot in time of your life – photos of yesterday’s graduation, yearnings for the future, your relationship status and emotional state. However I witness of growing trend of “Facebookerization” whereby social networking becomes the primary pursuit in socialising – rather than simply a mere documentation of what we do in ‘real life’. Take for example the growing phenomenon of “Facebook addiction“, whereby people spend hours glazing through profiles, pictures and  news feeds – searching aimlessly through groups to call their own, and of course, the dreaded ‘apps’ and mini-games such as Farmville, that desensitize their helpless victims glued to the screen and keep them in a trance for hours. This is where using Facebook crosses the line from  a useful networking tool to a brain deadening waste of time.

Personally I try to limit my Facebook usage to essential contact. Talking with relatives overseas. Organizing a movie with friends. Occasionally announcing an important milestone in my life. But these days, it’s simply not enough. If you don’t have a solid Facebook presence, then you are disconnected from the world and your social milieu. Not appearing in enough pictures means that you don’t get out much. Unless you compulsively leave mindless wall posts on friends walls, you don’t really care about them. Showing affection equals taking an interest on Facebook – and posting prudently to boot. How ironic then, that less than ten years ago, spending time on the computer and internet was the epitome of antisocial behaviour. Today, if you don’t have a web presence, you will be judged – and you probably won’t even know about it.

Mind numbing posts - recording the mundane and the banal

Yesterday, I needed to contact a friend about selling my school books. Instinctively, I logged on to Facebook to send him a message. I couldn’t find him in my “friends list”, so I initiated a general search – and lo and behold, he didn’t appear in the results. I was dumbfounded. Everyone has Facebook. How could he so rudely exempt himself from the unspoken obligation of social networking? And then it hit me – he is the lucky one. He doesn’t have to deal with annoying status updates which mean nothing (driving 2 da Shops@!, OMG killer partay, *insert-random-quote-that-you-found-smart-so-that-other-people-will-think-that-you-are-profound*). He doesn’t have to squirm at pictures of drunken photos that show up in the news feed. And most of all, he doesn’t have to justify his online presence in a cynical culture of conformity that constantly demands you to reveal more and more of yourself – a culture in which nothing in secret, and nothing is sacred: a peer-pressure mentality that requires your identity and Facebook page coalesce into one. This is no more evident than at every gathering, where a couple of people with digital cameras circle around like hyenas, coaxing you into poses, staging photos, documenting the party on Facebook (and increasing their Album collection from 101 to 102) as evidence that you ‘get out sometime’ – and by extent, that you are popular or “socially adept”.

According to an article in SMH:

An Australian study shows how Facebook and other forms of online social networking are now “ingrained” and how, for many, their friendships have come to depend on it.

Clearly, this growing trend carries wider ramifications for wider society and teens’ social development. 20 years ago, to find out about somebody, you would actually have to have a real conversation with them. Today, contact is limited to unadorned words typed onto a message. The entire process of interaction disappears. You cannot judge emotion or feeling this way (and emoctions are certainly no substitute). You can’t see, or smell or touch the person whom you are talking to. All you are doing is exchanging pleasantries through an Ethernet cable. At least with a phone, you are able to hear a voice – one of the five senses that forms a connection – if a tenuous one at best. With Facebook and social networking in general – actual contact is a bare minimum. You don’t know whether you’re talking to a 17 year old friend-of-a-friend, or an unemployed tradesman in Azerbaijan. This is worrying – and this is where our basic function as humans, to socialise – loses it’s meaning, ironically, on a website designed for that very purpose.

A typical profile

I have a confession to make. I like Facebook. There is something appealing about “stalking” your friends. Seeing what their hobbies are. Whether you share similar musical tastes. When to remember to buy them a birthday present. When to congratulate them on the promotion/graduation/new job. There is something quite useful about talking to friends on the other side of the world, with whom you would normally have no contact. There is something fun and naughty about seeing what your friends get up to these days. But when harmless Facebook surfing in small quantities becomes a substitute for real social interaction or dare I say – life itself, that’s when it is no longer a Social Network, but a dehumanizing substitute for real life.

Why I began this blog

Why begin a blog? Why throw myself to the hungry masses of armchair generals and internet commentators? Why endure the afflictions of the Web 2.0 experience in a much more personal form?

I guess that I am intrigued by the idea of sharing my thoughts with the entire world. The sense of anonymity is enigmatic, empowering. Previous generations endured the messy pen and the diary – a keepsake stored away in the attic – only to be discovered years later, by close relatives, covered in dust and buckling under the process of deterioration and time. Everything written online is permanent and instantly available. Nothing is sacred. Everything can and will be read and criticized and scoffed at and loved and bookmarked. Like scattering the feathers of a pillow in the wind, each word becomes indelibly stained on the global network, never to be returned to it’s owner – a memento vicariously indulged by young and old, tech savvy and tech challenged alike.

Never before have we been so connected in history. The fact that you are reading this now from anywhere in the world is testament to that. By starting this blog, I throw myself into the sea of blogs, videos, memes, comments, forums and life that has characterized the evolution of the internet.

Do I lose my anonymity in the process? Possibly. But perhaps under the watchful gaze of the 24/7 media, identity cannot be concealed in any practical manner. It waits within, lurking for 15 minutes of fame, or a lifetime of notoriety. And so it is with me. A personal memento of my inner thoughts and observations transmitted through ethernet cables across inviolable borders to you, now. Perhaps we will never meet in real life. But as of now, the bonds of curiousity have been forged, and our paths meet – if only for a moment – before we throw ourselves back into the shapeless, faceless sea of the internet.