The media have remained in a tizzy about the implications of the release of 75,000 or more documents and the Iraq War video “Collateral Murder” by the whistle blower web site WikiLeaks. Activists all across the political spectrum have been as well. Those of an anti-statist persuasion tend to see WikiLeaks as an organization that is useful for keeping the state accountable or transparent to at least some degree. But how effective has WikiLeaks been in this endeavor and is it the answer anti-statists should be looking for to begin with?
Unfortunately, WikiLeaks doesn’t represent salvation for any person who wants some form of transparency in the United States government — or any government, for that matter. What makes WikiLeaks effective is the attitude of the individuals within it, including the organizer himself, Julian Assange. What makes his viewpoint so important is that he sees government as an enemy to society, especially when it is not transparent to the people that it is supposed to be held in check by and accountable to. WikiLeaks is a great organization and has a noble goal, but it’s the individuals within such organizations that make great things possible to begin with.
What Assange is doing, however, comes with risks and some fear he may get arrested or worse. Witness the recent and just as recently dropped baseless rape charge against Assange. Let’s suppose the worst. Let’s suppose that somehow the United State federal government could bring down WikiLeaks and Assange. Forgetting how unlikely this may be, let’s assume it for the sake of argument. What would happen? What seems most likely is outrage among millions of individuals. It would only further show that government is nothing but force and an oversized bully when it doesn’t get its way on matters of politics and information.
What would happen without Assange and WikiLeaks? In little to no time they’d be most likely be replaced. The social networking revolution against top-down hierarchies like the state will continue with or without them. It is a given that there is no reason to rely on WikiLeaks or one organization to carry on the work of delegitimizing the state in the public mind. Rather, this can be continued through networking on an anonymous, decentralized, and horizontal basis. There is no need for any central organization such as Wikileaks in the first place; the individuals that take the action and have the drive to go against the state are the true heroes.
But why are people like Assange and Manning heroes to begin with? It’s because they take risks in standing up to the state on behalf of people who increasingly see the state as less of an allegedly necessary organization. That is, people like Assange are heroes for openly defying governments and unilaterally implementing a degree of transparency. In short, they’re heroes for their words and deeds backing up said words — regardless of the consequences.
The problem with people who purport to value transparency in government, unfortunately, is that they tend to not take the matter any further than giving the ideal lip service. The natural impulse is to leave it there and think, “Things will get better if we just elect the right people to rule over us.” People like Assange and Manning show them otherwise. They show them, not as an organization but as individual heroes, that the state is an unnecessary evil that will never be as transparent as people want it to be. This is why legal threats from lawyers working for the government have been made against Assange and his organization, after all. There’s even talk of charging Assange with espionage — which in the present US legal climate means that he could potentially be hunted down in the streets of European cities with Predator drones and damn the “collateral damage.” Though many political difficulties would result from this, it’d be nothing the US government could not work through or spin via the media if its leaders were convinced the alternative would be worse for them politically.
People like Assange and Manning are what we need in the world, not spineless liberals or conservatives telling us we need an opaque state (or even a state at all). More so than organizations, we need brave individuals who will confront the state but do it in such a way as to show the people of the world that government is an evil that we cannot afford to keep.