Ideas Have Consequences
I've been wanting to write long and complex about this, but there's just too much food-on-the-table-work to be done, so it's a blogger's quick over-and-out or nothing. It's about Julian Assange, about whom I recommend this essay by Robert P. Baird, which was flagged in TPM a week or so ago.
To state my interest up top, let me reveal that I am far from sanguine about Assange's WikiLeaks document dump. In fact, I am in opposition, though that doesn't mean I have a clear notion of whether he should be prosecuted (I'm leaning not). What does Julian Assange have to do with arts journalism, you well might wonder. Well, Baird traces his underlying philosophy to the language poets of the '70s, who were themselves devotees of the poststructuralist idea--conceit, I'd call it, if not canard--that language itself is a tool of the authoritarian state, usually meaning state-which-is-authoritarian-by-its-very-nature, and must therefore be "transformed" by us smart poet guys. So, very roughly speaking, the purpose of the dump is to devalue and indeed destroy diplomatic language itself. That's a poor summation, but it's complex and food on the table calls. Read the essay--it's not long. The comments are interesting for once as well. The other side gets in important points, but I think mine prevails.
Why am I anti-Assange--which I was not at all, let me add, when his Iraq war bundle dropped? Because I believe the practical effect of the dump will be to trip up a US diplomatic system that, for all its deplorable perfidies, is considerably less deplorable than those of, to name just a few, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, and--most ominously, given the proximity of Islamist extremists and nuclear weapons--Pakistan. (And probably no more deplorable than that of France, a major source of the brand of reflexive anti-Americanism to which Assange seems to subscribe.) Absolute external transparency is not a practical or desirable way to run any even moderately complex organization. And the most likely result of Assange's dump will be a radical decrease in intra-governmental transparency in our foreign policy complex, which will increase its perfidy quotient by freeing its bad guys from the oversight of its less-bad guys.
Now back to the blog entry I get paid for.
By Jones on December 17, 2010 9:24 AM
The "anti-Americanism" ascribed to Assange, which presumes motivations extending beyond its political scope--to "expose" the politicians unlucky enough to have their private conversations and documents fall within his grasp--to cultural obligation, fending-off US hegemony with whatever's at hand (the US and Europe being, of course, at war with each other culturally) surely exists in the countries listed here and as reflexively as you say. Compelled by its flexibility, however, Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Goldberg, Palin all, label their "traitors," "pin-heads," "terrorists," and add to the growing noise calls for his swift prosecution and even execution. I understand your objections within their cultural context--and surely the outcome of the leaks has been public embarrassment for the politicians they name and, consequently, the tripping up of "a US diplomatic system that, for all its deplorable perfidies, is considerably less deplorable than those of, to name just a few, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, and--most ominously, given the proximity of Islamist extremists and nuclear weapons--Pakistan" (add to that what Noam Chomsky calls an absolute contempt for democracy on behalf of those politicians)--but has the term been misappropriated to condemn a cultural bias when Assange's motivations must also contend, predictably, that America's foreign policy has been historically over-reaching? I don't think the practical effects are all that remarkable, either, but are his motivations "anti-American" by definition when aimed at a leadership which continues to extend its global power in the wrong places and for the wrong reasons?
Now back to the Robert P. Baird essay.
By Jan Herman on December 20, 2010 6:59 AM
Ideas have consequences? It is notable how both Christgau and Baird avoid mentioning the actual deeds and effects of American "diplomacy." Your arguments would ring hollow if the millions of dead were mentioned, and Assange's strategies would seem more than justified. It's peculiar: millions dead, but apparently not worth mentioning.
By Robert Christgau on December 20, 2010 8:26 AM
United States diplomacy has resulted in millions of deaths. There, I feel so much better now. It's so gratifying to save lives just by using my words!
By william Osborne on December 20, 2010 9:30 AM
Mr. Christgau, Jan Herman is correct. If we contextualize Assange's actions with the deep immorality of US foreign policy, the leaks seem justifiable. It is notable that massive suffering and death illicits from you little more than sarcasm. This kind of indifference to the lives of others is part of America's moral myopia that the leaks might heal.
By Jones on December 22, 2010 7:31 PM
The two comments left here by Jan Herman and William Osborne confirm what mine was getting at initially -- that the context in which Assange's motivations have been placed is probably prone to confusion. This was to do specifically with what I thought was a misappropriation of the term used by Robert Christgau to define the agenda of WikiLeaks. "Anti-Americanism" was said to be at the heart of it, my comment ultimately contending that "anti-American" and "anti-government" were not mutually exclusive as labels, nor as outlooks, that the former having institutionally usurped the latter as a catchall to explain acts of alleged "terrorism" I thought it unwise not to point out, regardless of context. And yet, given how the topic at hand would've first needed proper context if it was to be posted on ARTicles at all (the clue's in the name), I supposed that the "anti-Americanism to which Assange seems to subscribe" was cultural analysis (art based) before it was political (strictly politics), especially since it related directly (by way of the Robert Baird essay) Assange's policy of marginalizing "a conspiracy's ability to act by decreasing total conspiratorial power until it is no longer able to understand, and hence respond effectively to, its environment" to Charles Bernstein's argument that "[Language] must be decentered, community controlled, taken out of the service of the capitalist project." Hence, when I wrote "I understand your objections within their cultural context" I meant that I understood why Christgau could disagree with Assange, because (after further relating the mistakes made by the Language poets to Assange's "2006 third-order strategy for Wikileaks") Baird cites Assange as "all but admitting that his earlier emphasis on secrecy doesn't fit the reigning power structures of the West." Now, clearly, this argument has nothing to do as to whether or not Assange's strategies are "justified," or the leaks "justifiable," judgements that are extraneous to the context in which Assange's motivations, strategies and outcomes are drawn here by Christgau and Baird. Neither is it required that Christgau and Baird "contextualize Assange's actions with the deep immorality of US foreign policy," because such a contextualization would be irrelevant to what is being argued -- that Assange's intentions are ideologically vague, and that the outcome of the "dump" will likely be, in uncertain terms, somewhat ineffective. The sarcasm and disregard of Herman's ladening of moral responsibility was, without doubt, for its lack of perceptivity, and for its insipidness, and not due to an "indifference to the lives of others [that] is part of America's moral myopia," as Osborne then asserted (now that's anti-Americanism). Plenty of POLITICAL commentators have already got that line covered. What Christgau has always been interested in is the IDEAS that drive politics and culture in America, and adding to them, hence the title.
By Jones on December 22, 2010 7:50 PM
I just need to clarify a crucial mistake I made (correction in brackets):
"Anti-Americanism" was said to be at the heart of it, my comment ultimately contending that "anti-American" and "anti-government" were not mutually exclusive [in America] as labels, nor as outlooks, that the former having institutionally usurped the latter as a catchall to explain acts of alleged "terrorism" I thought it unwise not to point out, regardless of context.
By Jeff Hamilton on December 23, 2010 8:59 AM
I saw Assange on MSNBC yesterday before Obama's press conference. He's back-pedaling from his anti-Americanism quick (many admiring references to our Constitution, etc.); however, I've heard remarks of his before to the effect of American imperialism's evil. No way do these make him indictable (boy, I wish I had Jones explaining my dashed-off board postings), only one wants to understand which species of the Left we're dealing with in his case. Both the Left and the Right here have reason to fear a shallow anti-Americanism abroad, and to want to know whether Assange fits it. Perhaps he doesn't.
By Alex Wilson on December 26, 2010 9:53 AM
Wow--I am trying really hard to not just call Christgau a cunt--but it is hard. Although Wikileaks may only be releasing information which isn't noteworthy or has been said before (as all media outlets are trying to push) it can be said again, can't it? While his rape allegations should be taken seriously they are obviously contrived. I see the childishness of Wikileaks on the one side and the maturism on the other. Most people tend to see one or the other--which just really proves Wikileaks point. Just shy of 200,000 Iraqi cizilians and soldiers have been killed in the Iraq war. A fact that is never mentioned. Of course, their soldiers kill some of their own cizilians--which middle-class myopic liberalists like to point out. But you can't dance around that fact. 200,000 have died for no reason. Well, one reason, to preserve our oil supplies (over 30% of the world's oil is in the middle-east). The forementioned people tend to rationalize the war--how can you rationalize murder? Of course my opinion will be panned as childish. Thats what the aforementioned people do. Just like everyone else does about everything else they have ever dissagreed with. Whether or not Wikileaks is childish doesn't dis-justify the fact that they are do good. They are revealing lies the goverment have hid. Like Michael Moore said, what if we had known what notes and documents had said when the war had just started . . ? Would we be out of Iraq, Afganistan, Pakistan and all the other countries America have invaded . . ? Of course, if South Korea are invaded by North Korea America should step in--as they did with Kuwait. But we INVADED Iraq. That makes us the bad guys--Wikileaks is a force for good and, although I like Christgau's opinion on music--his opinion on Wikileaks is that of a myopic child. He is advocating murder, in essence.
By Jones on December 26, 2010 1:20 PM
@Alex Wilson. You ask:
"what if we had known what notes and documents had said when the war had just started . . ? Would we be out of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and all the other countries America have invaded . . ?"
Aren't those questions in essence analogous to the ones raised here by Christgau? Except the conclusion he draws is to the contrary, that instead of a truly democratized relationship between government and people, which is the aim of the thing--transparency first, then a non-reproachable according of its foreign diplomacy/policy--and I quote, "the most likely result of Assange's dump will be a radical decrease in intra-governmental transparency in our foreign policy complex." Is this not the whole damn point of the article? It's myopic because, what, his questions have different answers to yours? That's called a debate.
By Tom Carson on December 27, 2010 10:31 AM
Call it a semantic quarrel if you like, but apparently nobody here--not even you, Bob--appreciates the difference between diplomacy and foreign policy. US diplomacy hasn't caused millions of deaths; US foreign policy has. The distinction matters because our diplomacy, not our foreign policy, has been done the most damage by the WikiLeaks info dump. The policy-makers won't suffer and the policies won't change, OK? But any number of analysts and envoys--who are, by and large, out of the decision-making loop--now won't be able to do their jobs thanks to their reports on what they're really up against going public, and their informed professionalism was the closest thing the government had to an in-house check against reckless assumptions and misguided policies. As I recall, Eugene Robinson--nobody's idea of a GWOT jingo--was one of the first to call Assange and his crew nihilists, and for my money, the shoe fits. Hence my own, less elegant reaction: "Thanks a lot, asshole."
By Jones on December 27, 2010 2:05 PM
True, I've always thought of diplomacy as striving for mutual ground through outreach and tactfulness, and policy as (ultimately) domestically informed and non-negotiable. But even when you dissimilate the two, still the original sentiment remains intact.
By Alex Wilson on December 29, 2010 3:32 AM
To Jones: No, I fully understand the situation. People believe transparency will be lost because of Wikileaks. No - there was no transparency BEFORE--all that will change is the publics opinion on information that is leaked. Whether you are smart with the information, or not, is your decision. You and Christgau obviously thought to a certain point and then went to jerk off. I joke. I rarely get angry about politics--unless they matter--200,000 people are dead and Wikileaks is against that. That's all I need.
By Jones on December 29, 2010 1:44 PM
Back @ Alex Wilson.
Firstly, you claim public entitlement on the inconsistent notion of your perceived importance of the leaks ("I rarely get angry about politics--unless they matter--200,000 people are dead"), which is belied by your perceived redundancy of them ("information which isn't noteworthy or has been said before"). How much, exactly, is at stake here?
Secondly (and more to the point), availability of private information was said to "most likely result" in a "radical decrease in INTRA-GOVERNMENTAL transparency," intra-governmental inferring internal communications, and has nothing to do with GOVERNMENTAL transparency as pertaining to public scrutiny. Tom Carson then elaborated, writing: "analysts and envoys--who are, by and large, out of the decision-making loop--now won't be able to do their jobs thanks to their reports on what they're really up against going public, and their informed professionalism was the closest thing the government had to an in-house check against reckless assumptions and misguided policies." You don't have to agree with this point, but you have to admit its validity.
By Alex Wilson on December 29, 2010 11:00 PM
Jones: 'you claim public entitlement on the inconsistent notion of your perceived importance of the leaks'? Inconsistent notion? Perceived importance? Woah, woah woah--hold the phone! Tens of thousands of documents about every tiny detail of the Iraq war have been released and thats a perceived importance..?! *circles finger round temple. How much is exactly at stake? Well, for one thing, public opinion on war? That's, honestly, the only thing that matters here. I completely understand the arguement that Wikileaks will cause LESS transparency in internal government--but hay--what was there before? If the government hide things from the public (which we deserve to know about) it has a right to release that information. Of course, this will scare governments into being tidier--all I pray is that there will be somebody to release information in the future. That is a much greater concern to me that intra-government transparency. People arguing that we will lose that are just being dumb. That is my arguement--why dance around the fact that Wikileaks is a great thing and bring national security into it?
By Jones on December 30, 2010 9:35 AM
Yeah, but I qualified "perceived importance" with "perceived redundancy" (citations included). It was my attempt at objective questioning, and so was the follow-up, which asked how much YOU think is at stake. But forget that entire irrelevancy, the central dispute of whether the leaks "will scare governments into being tidier" and/or "free its bad guys from the oversight of its less-bad guys" probably won't be resolved any time soon because the consequences are still uncertain. Either challenge the basic assumptions that regard Assange and Wikileaks positively (or negatively), or accept them unreservedly.
By Alex Wilson on January 4, 2011 6:04 AM
'Either challenge the basic assumptions that regard Assange and Wikileaks positively (or negatively), or accept them unreservedly.' You can do neither about anything, ever. That leads to stupidity. Unless I am reading this wrong and then the statement makes no sense because isn't that what I am doing..?! :S :p
By Michael on January 17, 2011 3:08 AM
Bad or good Wikileaks is? Nothing is good or bad for everyone. I fully support the above piece about 30% of world's oil supply and exorbitant consumption. People get killed because other people are greedy. That's it.