If it were up to me, TV news stories on Wikileaks’ release of Afghanistan war documents would have used the opening strains of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” as a lead-in. This is arguably the biggest story in the war for human freedom in the past decade.
It’s common in the United States to praise soldiers for “defending our freedom.” But as Obama’s reaction to the Wikileaks story demonstrates, the most effective defenders of freedom are more likely to be condemned by governments for “putting the lives of Americans at risk” and “threatening our national security.” (Never mind that starting the stinking war in the first place put quite a few American lives at risk.)
I cover the defenders of freedom in this column, primarily those involved in the networked world, on a regular basis. They include the Falun Gong, the world leaders in proxy server technology, who share their technical know-how with dissidents all over the world. They include the torrent sites all over the world, which wage war on the increasingly totalitarian copyright lockdown the proprietary content industries would like to put us under. Anonymous freedom fighters swarm the websites of government censors and the Copyright Nazis at the RIAA and MPAA with denial-of-service attacks.
And now this. It’s too bad the Nobel Peace Prize went to a bloody-handed guy who’s waging two wars, instead of to people like Julian Assange and Bradley Manning who’ve weakened his ability to fight them.
It’s impossible to overstate just how big this is. This is a giant leap forward for the kind of networked resistance I constantly advocate in this column: Not lobbying or begging the state for permission, but bypassing it and treating it as irrelevant. This is a monumental contribution to the ability of free people to organize the kind of society they want here and now, below the state’s radar and beyond the reach of its enforcement apparatus.
The importance of the event itself — a publication of leaked documents on the scale of The Pentagon Papers — is hard to exaggerate. But more important is the significance of Wikileaks itself, and of this as a milestone in its development.
One of the most powerful weapons against the power of the state and its allied corporations is what the Wobblies call “open-mouth sabotage,” backed up and reinforced by the Streisand Effect (a term Techdirt editor Mike Masnick’s coined for the inability of old-style bureaucratic hierarchies to suppress embarrassing information online, and the counterproductive results when they attempt to do so). States, corporations and other authoritarian bureaucracies, like cockroaches, don’t like having the kitchen light turned on.
And make no mistake: This is the Streisand Effect on steroids. Assange has created a highly visible vehicle for publicizing leaked documents from states and corporations and other authoritarian entities all over the world — and removed it beyond the power of states to shut down. As Jay Rosen says (Press Think, July 26), “Wikileaks is organized so that if the crackdown comes in one country, the servers can be switched on in another. This is meant to put it beyond the reach of any government or legal system.”
Someday soon a file-sharing operation like The Pirate Bay will adopt a similar worldwide infrastructure beyond anyone’s ability to shut down. And then encrypted e-currencies. And then … And then … Well, to quote Cat Stevens, I’ve been smiling lately, thinking of the good things to come.