Recently, the whistleblower website WikiLeaks was thrust onto the world stage with two separate releases of US government classified documents. The first was a cockpit video from a 2007 Apache gunship attack in Baghdad and the second was the largest ever military document leak in world history relating to the US-Afghanistan war. WikiLeaks called the sensational 2007 video Collateral Murder. It opened with a quote from Orwell’s 1984 and depicted from the point of view of the Americans in an Apache helicopter the gunning down of Iraqi civilians and Reuters reporters in a Baghdad street. As the controversy over the video boiled over, questions were raised about government secrecy, the importance of transparency, as well as legal and moral accountability. When the more controversial Afghan War Diaries were released, the US security establishment came out with rhetorical guns blazing trying to shoot the messenger and avert attention from the message itself.
Nevertheless, WikiLeaks’s work has been seen by many people worldwide as a positive development toward accountability and openness regarding the actions of those in power. Across all borders, this enigmatic group of volunteers have become instant heroes as champions of open government. There are also many that perceived these leaks as a threat to the national security state and they have responded with vehement talking points. The primary criticism has come mostly from US government leaders and American people who are insulated by the mainstream corporate media.
Those who have criticized WikiLeaks have said their releases of war documents are putting lives in danger in war zones and have accused them of political slant in the editing of the Collateral Murder video. Founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange laid out in an interview with Steven Colbert how WikiLeaks actually intentionally editorialized the title, Collateral Murder and released this edited version along with the full, unedited footage (Comedy Partners, 2010). Some felt this slant was manipulation. Assange indicated that the purpose of the release was to show the world what modern warfare actually looks like and that “his mission is to expose injustice, not to provide an even-handed record of events.” He said that this slant was to bring maximum political impact (as cited in Khatchadourian, 2010). Is the WikiLeaks editing of Collateral Murder an act of deception? What did Assange mean by maximum political impact?
Collateral Damage vs Collateral Murder
“In the beginning was the Word … ” – Gospel of Saint John.
Some perceived the title Collateral Murder as manipulation on the part of WikiLeaks. When one carefully examines people’s reactions not only to the video but also to the way it was edited, it can reveal a lot about their position and perspective in the matter. In the article Manning & WikiLeaks Are True Patriots by Definition Dallas GoldBug examined a controversial question related to the ethics of whistle-blowers, namely whether they should be prosecuted for their actions or not. He said, “the answer to this would perceivably be different depending on what side of the pond you call home” (2010). This home is one’s foundational framework through which one perceives the world and is something that people are often not aware of. It is common to feel one is free from bias and is not taking sides in any issues. I have heard some say, “I am neutral and refuse to take either side because you and I really don’t know which side is right.” The problem is that one is often not aware of their own bias.
The title Collateral Murder was given to a video that showed disturbing images of soldiers gunning down civilians and this had a strong affect on people. The shock triggered by this video is an indication of westerner’s numbness or even ignorance of certain realities of war occupation.
The term collateral damage is a commonly accepted euphemism coined by the military that refers to innocent civilians being killed. This term reveals a certain perspective. The USAF Intelligence Targeting Guide (1998) defines the term as “[the] unintentional or incidental damage affecting facilities, equipment or personnel, occurring as a result of military actions directed against targeted enemy forces or facilities. Such damage can occur to friendly, neutral, and even enemy forces.” (p. 180). Yet its most common usage is to refer to deaths of civilians that were not intentionally targeted or actually involved in war.
For most people, were they to come across innocent people being killed, they would likely see the obvious human misery as somehow unacceptable. On the other hand, for those embedded with the home perspective of the military, the death of civilians simply becomes unavoidable “damage”. The question arises, if the situation was reversed and an invading foreign army comes to the US, killing an American’s own loved ones or family members, would they still use the euphemism Collateral Damage to their own family? Back in the 60’s during the Vietnam war, the photographs of the war dead were still shown in Magazines and television. These real images placed American people closer to the unmediated experience of event. Now, the media blocks or filters access to images. Perception is overcome by the intermediation of words and controlled access. Words brought to a level of abstraction cover actual human reality and distance people from the feelings that connect them with others. These words often distort reality, or hinder the capacity for empathy, for putting oneself in the shoes of those who are made out to be enemies.
“In the beginning was the Word”. Much of the creative power of this Word has been misused in recent times. The Word needs to be redeemed through image. This leads back to the question about WikiLeaks’s alleged political slant by titling the video Collateral Murder. Perhaps the emotionally charged criticism of WikiLeaks is a kind of defense, an attempt to maintain a worldview that is experienced as being under attack by this new opening of knowledge and perspective. Assange said that they consciously intended to bring maximum political impact with the title and to a degree, it did accomplish this goal. For some it awakened a new way of looking at things and for others it stirred an emotional shock of seeing the war in a new way. It provided an opportunity to reveal one’s home, and question unexamined preconceived assumptions that too often cloud the lens of perception. Yet the question remains. Is the WikiLeaks slant a deceitful propaganda?
Advent of the Apathetic Populace
“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people” – Martin Luther King from letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963
Journalism’s vital role in a Democratic society is acknowledged in the Constitution as it is the only profession protected by it. This idea of the Fourth Estate is that investigative reporting, analysis and general awareness of what is done by the government, the rich or the powerful must be available to the people by independent watchdogs for corruption and abuse of power, or else the reality of representative government or organizational responsibility becomes a meaningless sham. Yet history has shown that the fourth estate has often failed and become just another arm of government. Instead of striving to carry this ideal stated in the US Constitution, modern Journalism and mass media have been used to shape perception of reality for purposes and benefit of only a few people.
This failure of the Fourth Estate, has actually been seen by some as a great success for democratic society. In the US, the modern conception of Democracy was reshaped and articulated by Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays. Bernays (1928) believed that, “the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society” (p. 37). For him, the question was how to effectively control the masses. Bernays gained his insight into the power of the unconscious by studying his uncle Freud’s psychoanalysis. He saw how unconscious drives could be manipulated and cause people to perceive things in certain ways and then change their will to engineer consent. Bernays’ work, which was applied to advertising industry gave rise to a new profession known as Public Relations. It did not take long for this covert manipulation of desires to be widely used for advancing certain economic or political agendas. Goebels, the famous Nazi propagandist used this idea to powerful effect in convincing a whole population to accept genocide of millions as justified (Tye, 1988). This deliberate work of controlling perception came to be understood as propaganda, and has been identified as “the executive arm of the invisible government” (Bernays, p. 48).
This work of propaganda involves the creation of expert knowledge, more accurately the perception of the need for experts. It requires division of a population into a few elite ruling classes on the one hand and those that are ruled on the other. The intellectual elite generates knowledge and the masses are expected to become obedient recipients. The maintenance of the elite ruling class in modern time is founded on the structure of professionalism. David S. Allen (2005) quotes Magili Sarfatti Larson saying, how she:
attempts to provide a history of the rise of professionalism and to link it to its capitalistic roots. For Larson, professionalism became an attempt by an occupation to obtain monopolistic control over an area of work, often with the sanction of the political and economic elites in society. (p. 53)
This professionalism is tied with wealth or other socio-economical privileges, which afford relatively exclusive access to institutions and the authority of prestigious universities and churches. This regulates the exercise of power in society in order to maintain the spread of certain values. Allen (2005) sheds light on connections between professionalization and the influence of corporations:
First of all, professions and corporations share many of the same values: efficiency, expertise, and profitability. Secondly, professionalization becomes a way for corporations to not only dominate an area of work but to move beyond the economic sector. Operating behind a professional cover of public service and impartiality, professionals pass on ideology to other parts of society. Along with that ideology comes many assumptions about the public sphere and how best to structure and manage democracy. (p. 55, 2005)
Expert knowledge specialized through professionalism is created by means of the so-called creed of objectivity. The creed of objectivity was the dominant logic based in a positivist and empiricist epistemology taken by scientists and later researchers of what became social science. David Scott and Robin Usher (1996) shed light on the prevailing value in this notion of objectivity:
One of the most important aspects of these epistemological “good ground” are that the researcher was “objective”, i.e. that he or she was unbiased, value neutral and took care to ensure that personal considerations did not intrude into the research process – in other words, that the researcher’s subjectivity has been eliminated as a factor in the knowledge claim. (p. 12)
Through the claim of pure objectivity, a measurement of validity is placed outside one’s subjectivity. Like a kind of intellectual survival of the fittest, perceived truth is crafted through a win-or-lose debate. Certain ideas gain power and validity by way of the one-sided monologue, which shuts down any questions and ideas that threaten the dominant view. “Individuals began to regard professional judgments, often supported by scientific data as unquestionable” (Allen, 2005, p 54 ). It was once the priest and now scientists and doctors that have become the experts, whose theories and perspective is accepted as reality. This concentrates power, making knowledge ever more exclusive.
The world of public perception has become stagnated by top down empirical validation of what passes for knowledge. In the name of globalization, corporate interests and values have become a dominating force, setting the standard for progress and value in every part of the world. The under-educated or those that refuse to buy into this system are often shut out or silenced. Their opinions and perspectives are treated as invalid and unworthy.
Now access to knowledge requires treading the prescribed path to power, a certain kind of embedded-ness with the dominant view and a commitment to the process of professional validation. Armed with college degrees or economic savvy, one is afforded access to the system that provides credibility in a sort of bureaucratic chain of command. With exclusive language, jargon and acronyms, special knowledge is often bent to serve the aims of power.
The blatant reduction of the fourth estate into a mouthpiece for power is more apparent then ever in the US in the corporate media embedding with the military in the wars. For example, Lindorf and Olshansky (2006) document how the lies that were parroted by the New York Times in Judith Miller’s piece, referencing a fake document that claimed Saddam Hussein was trying to buy Uranium, which then set the stage for the Iraq war by controlling the perception through elaborate lies.
Similarly, in academia psychologists, and lawyers have been embedded with the CIA and NSA to legitimize torture and the suspension of basic human rights. Another embedding has also been occurring: that of government agencies with private corporate interests. This unconscious embedding closes up the perceptual frame. Since most media now is controlled by corporate monopolies, this dissolving of boundaries serves only to megaphone the message for those with vested interests in the status quo. When the mainstream media echoes terms like ‘collateral damage’ (killing innocent civilians) or ‘enhanced interrogation’ (torture), it helps redefine what has up to that point been universally condemned. This leads to war crimes being accepted as normal.
Corporate journalism in the US has long collaborated in the creation of a culture based on war and violence. If one’s culture centers around acceptance of perpetual war and is based on hiding the actual reality of the war from the public, it becomes a part of the accepted mass psychological makeup and is rarely questioned.
Perception is shaped by ones environment and once a dominant view takes root, it tends to hold sway. Then, it is not easy for people to look outside of their perception and their own biases. Ideas tend to be dismissed and filtered from perception. Even after witnessing or partaking in a horrible injustice, one may go back to their daily life as if nothing happened and nothing needs to be changed. Diana Taylor (1997), while experiencing Argentina’s “Dirty War” recognized how when one is faced with repeated senseless murderous acts, people create forms of denial regarding what actually occurred, which she called “percepticide” (annihilation of the perception and understanding of atrocity). The embedding process is contagious and works with individual processes of rationalization and denial. For each individual to overcome the fixed view, a catalyzing event or perception must occur. Then different perspectives can enter that shake up and call into question validity of the one-sided embedded point of view.
The task of the Fourth Estate is to reveal invisible forces working discreetly to monopolize the process of perception. Bernay’s work in Public Relations successfully created the methods and system of a controlled democracy, by taking hold of the realm of this vital Fourth Estate and turning it into a powerful tool that serves the vision of the ruling class. Mainstream Western media has failed as the 4th estate. They fail to reveal to the public the true motives of actions and instead, for the most part to simply go along with the given script. They have collectively become simply the stenographers of power. An elaborate merger between this monolithic mass media and the interests of those in political power was exemplified by the media’s reaction after 9-11. The repeated images of the collapsing twin towers, coupled with the fear and vengeful feelings evoked by the terroristic war rhetoric along with the blatant lies that followed, moved the country quickly into unjustified wars like a scripted film plot that rode the wave of America’s fear based participation amid a media blitz of epic proportions. When the nation was in this vulnerable state, the new bogeyman of terrorism was instituted to provoke anger and more fear. People were led to wrap themselves in the flag to defend national interests.
In this closed loop system of the co-opted 4th Estate, the difference between the purported and actual motives behind the actions of government are rarely challenged. Journalists in this situation don’t experience freedom to report anything but the spin and filter that they know will not upset the power structure on which their paycheck depends. It covers up the connection between actions and motives of self-interest. When this is done repeatedly, the embedding becomes permanent. This act of covering up one’s motives is at the core of officially sanctioned systemic secrecy, as unexamined motives become the invisible force to manipulate perception.
In a recent in-depth interview, Julian Assange laid out a key point in his biography that led to his work with WikiLeaks. In a kind of manifesto called “Conspiracy as Governance,” he wrote, “Illegitimate governance is by definition conspiratorial—the product of functionaries working in ‘collaborative secrecy’…to the detriment of a population.” He argued that when a regime’s lines of internal communications are disrupted, the information flow among conspirators must dwindle, and that as the flow approaches zero, the conspiracy dissolves. Leaks were an instrument of information warfare” ( as cited in Khatchadourian, 2010).
This “Illegitimate governance” invariably operates in a closed loop that always depends on a veil of secrecy. Through keeping people in the dark about certain vital actions or motives, those in power can manipulate the needs and emotions of the masses to gain implicit consent for their actions. Nevertheless, the power granted by this veil is illusory. Like the story of the emperor who had no clothes, the pretension of authority gains power and thrives on the basis of unquestioning trust from the public. Secret control of perception robs power from ordinary people and fosters blind acceptance of an official script. The basis of a conspiracy is its exclusivity, which depends on maintaining the illusion of powerlessness of those outside the circle (the masses). All government and corporate conspiracies stem from this foundation. This idea of powerlessness is actually a myth, the greatest propaganda triumph perpetuated in the mind of American people. This myth hovers in the psyche like a curtain of fog that puts one’s critical thinking to sleep.
Psychoanalyst Phillip Cushman (1995) concluded his analysis of the inner state of the American people by characterizing it as “the empty self” (p. 6). By this he meant “the prevalence of the subjective experience of interior lack, absence, emptiness and despair, the desperate yearning to be loved, soothed, and made whole” (p. 245). This emptiness drives people to search for meaning outside of themselves in simple ideology to interpret the world with expert knowledge handed down by authority. Citizens have turned into obedient consumers who always look for answers outside of themselves for the emptiness within. This emotional need is susceptible to advertising, commercial interests and political aims. They are trapped in a closed wheel of easily manipulated personal desire. The avenue to fulfill their desire is governed by the Pavlovian formula of stimulus-response. They rarely investigate the inception point of their own thoughts, motives and desires.
This way, unconscious consent is given to the man behind the curtain who stands in the way of individuals having direct relationship with images as they emerge within them. Assange saw “human struggle not as left versus right, or faith versus reason, but as individual versus institution.” and that “truth, creativity, love and compassion are corrupted by institutional hierarchies, and by ‘patronage networks’” (as cited in Khatchadourian, 2010). The conspiracy to maintain people’s illusion of powerlessness diverts the energy into mindless consumerism, blocking them from altruistic human virtues. This reduces the idea of personal empowerment to simple materialistic desire, which masks the underlying sense of disconnection from the source of power.
Nowadays this Bernaysian control has become more tactical. Investigative journalist, Naomi Klein (2007) described in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism how corporations and governments rush to pass legislation that consolidates power or exploits people whenever a whole nation is placed in a state of shock from experiences such as war, economic calamity or natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. In this state of shock, people are less defensive or able to question hidden agendas. Understanding of psychology has often been used to take advantage of those that are most vulnerable.
Unquestioned compliance with the ‘security state’ mentality perpetuates officially sanctioned biases and reinforces the underlying feeling of powerlessness. Many feel that they are not participating in the creation of perception. This impotence becomes frustration and can eventually turn into cynicism and indifference. For both ruling class and the ruled, the relationship of power is illusion. The world has become a laboratory where direct knowledge is mediated by those who control perception, which has a stagnating or closing off effect. One is either a technician or one of the laboratory rats, abstracted from natural environment.
The journalist has a special role to play for changing the direction of the trend toward unquestioned conformity. The first important step for journalists to take is to get the facts as accurately as possible and understand what is really happening independently from the perspective of the system they are investigating. The increasing merging of corporations and governments and the consolidation of corporate media makes this increasingly difficult to achieve. Once the journalists gain facts, then the question becomes how to open perception and dialogue.
When the 4th estate fails, the apathetic populace emerges. The question is, how to transform the apathy and cynicism that are often disguised behind intellectual sophistication. It is like a teacher trying to reach students who gave up on learning, who already made up their mind that it doesn’t matter before the class even starts. Perhaps an answer for this can be found in an unusual venue -art.
Political Slant as Artistic License
If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite - William Blake
What is a purpose of art? There are many different views on this. One of the important roles artistic activity has played is engaging people in the activity of perception. Empirical knowledge validated by experts and filtered by the creed of objectivity is touted as the final stamp of validity and only what is examined through this lens is accepted as legitimate. The stage of public perception is controlled and censored by expert authority. In this system, the masses are relegated to the role of passive spectators of perception, rather than participants in creation of it.
The supremacy of empirical knowledge in society degrades the value of an artistic approach. Art is generally associated with fiction and fantasy and is not an accepted touchstone for reality. It also tends to be placed in the dominant cultural context in a way that it does not seriously challenge the status quo.
What is often missed is the need to examine the process of validating knowledge itself, to ask the epistemological question of how perception unfolds and what hidden processes are behind what we come to think of as true or false. How often does one examine the process behind what has come to be accepted as reality? People rarely challenge the notion of the creed of objectivity, which claims to be objective, while the inherent bias of the system is not recognized or questioned. The creed of objectivity offers an excuse to not critically examine unconscious biases and agendas. The role of art in this dominant cultural context lies in bringing constructive critique to this position of spectator and strives to move beyond its limitations. It lifts one out of the embedded perception and creates a space where what has not yet manifested as reality intersects with what is unfolding in the imagination of the artist and their audience.
Performing art is especially suited to illuminate this relationship between artists and audience. Art, whether it be painting, music, poetry, opens up a stage in perception, bringing movement to what has already been formed or frozen in the cage of concepts. It calls for emotional engagement and shift in one’s perspective. In a sense, all artistic work is performing art. It is an act of performing, of forming perception. Art opens a crack in fixed perception that allows one to see what has not existed before. Artists imagine and bring new ideas to invite people to see what they see, feel what they feel. In a way it is also remembering what has been forgotten. In the John Lennon song Imagine, he challenges the world to go beyond all the constructs that humanity has built that tend to conceal our true nature. Hip Hop and slam poetry artists are other modern examples of bringing voices out from the margins that have been shut out of mainstream consciousness.
WikiLeaks political slant in the edit of Collateral Murder effectively carried voices from the margins, momentarily dissolving a twisted perception that had become the norm. Assange describes how WikiLeaks wanted “to knock out this ‘collateral damage’ euphemism, so when anyone uses it they will think ‘collateral murder.'” (as cited in Khatchadourian, 2010). WikiLeaks shook up the illusion of manipulated perception that has prevailed in the mainstream monopolized flow of communication.
What makes WikiLeaks different than mainstream media outlets is that they always release the source materials. They also provide up-front disclosure of any slant or intention if they edit. Assange made it clear that is was not enough to release the raw documents. He described how source material needs at least a summary for journalists to pick it up. Otherwise it falls into the gutter and is buried. He stated the need for some journalistic work by WikiLeaks:
When the material is more complex…especially military material which has lots of acronyms…it’s not even enough to do a summary …. Unlike other organizations, we always release the full source material at the same time. The summary, some sort of introduction or articles we do are based on the source material. So, everything we do is like science. It is checkable, independently checkable because the information which has informed our conclusions is there, just like scientific papers which are based on experimental data and must make that experimental data available to other scientists and the public if they want their papers to be published. (Assange, April 18, 2010)
Full disclosure is not simply stating one’s motives, but is full transparency of action, where determination of honesty or empty rhetoric and lies are made through the link between motives and actions. In the case of the current US wars in the Middle East, the stated rhetoric regarding the purpose of the invasions and occupations has been for US “National Security”. The clearest result is a whole lot of Afghani and Iraqi people are dying. Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill spoke of how US foreign policies are building new generations of terrorists who hate Americans after the loss of their families by war, making the US more dangerous (2009). One can simply apply the simple science of matching words with actions; the national security rhetoric with violent action that seem to result in the opposite.
Publishing all source material makes journalism honest and situates the event on the agreed upon objective physicality. When information that formed the conclusion is made available to the public, people can participate in the process of forming the perception. “Because Assange publishes the full source material, he believes that WikiLeaks is free to offer its analysis, no matter how speculative” (Khatchadourian, 2010). Only when this scientific approach is taken, does a space open up for editorial freedom. This freedom allows one to move into the subjective field with integrity. An artistic approach is one that incorporates or grows out of a subjective stance such as opinions, agenda and guiding telos, which is often considered taboo in modern journalism that holds true to the empirical doctrine of objectivity.
After the release of the Afghan War Diary, when asked about his stance on the War in Afghanistan, Assange said, “This is not a role our organization has. We don’t have pro-war, antiwar. We are an organization that represents what our confidential sources want to say to the world.” He described that the foremost duty is to be true to the source, to give voice to the information that comes through them. At the same time, Assange stated his own personal opinion on the Afghan war (August 12, 2008). By disclosing one’s personal agenda and motives behind actions, one can be held accountable. This helps WikiLeaks become a space that can be more in service to the source. In a way, WikiLeaks is like a producer of a performing art. It opens up the stage for public perception of unmediated images which in turn fosters a more informed, empowered dialogue.
It seems that WikiLeaks works in conversation with the movement of public opinion and they listen to the audience to gain insight into how information might best be communicated. In the Collateral Murder case, there appeared to be a recognition of the need for an impact to public perception that had so far been shaped by the mainstream corporate media with the Orwellian rhetoric of national security.
Assange spoke of bringing maximum political impact. The release of the Apache video needed to be groundbreaking. And it was, like Jimi Hendrix’s sensational US debut at the Monterey Pop festival. Hendrix took his audacious artistic spin and by burning his guitar, blazed a new reality into the public consciousness. In Assange’s words, it needed to be communicated in a manner that brings maximum political impact. Can it be seen that WikiLeaks’s disclosure of motives and telos of their work transforms a political slant that could be perceived as an act of manipulation to one of an artistic deed? When it is used consciously and the intention behind creation is disclosed to the audience, a political slant falls under a kind of artistic license. Art facilitates and engages the rapture of perception. It invites people to examine what is portrayed as a norm, i.e. collateral damage, and to instead feel the misery of innocent people subjected to the barbarism of war and begin to see the other side of it -as collateral murder.
In July, WikiLeaks published what they called The Afghan War Diaries, working with three leading old school journalistic organizations, The UK Guardian, the New York Times, and Der Spiegel in Germany. These mainstream publications did the interpretation of the material and shaping of the stories. The very different approach WikiLeaks took with this release revealed their ability to listen into the working of public perception with a flexible artistic sensibility. After the sensational entry onto the stage of public consciousness with the gunship video, what WikiLeaks needed was something that would gain continuous engagement from the audience, in the midst of the Pentagon and the mainstream media’s knee-jerk efforts to delegimize the leak. By using the established news network as an avenue for performance, WikiLeaks reduced suspicion in the audience that may be questioning their legitimacy. Assange described how The War Diary successfully brought people’s attention to the war, provided an opportunity for a public dialogue:
According to Pew research, a conservative research body, that analyzes the media, as a result of the release of Afghan diary, this archive about the war, total war reportage in the United States has increased three times, so it has gone from 6% to 18% as a result of the release of our material. So, what we’re doing is bringing the war into discussion in a way that had never been heard before. (August 12, 2010)
The difference between manipulation of perception that is crafted covertly and a work of art lies in the latter’s transparency. Artists reveal to the audience what they are doing, in an act of creation that brings a certain open-heartedness of dialogue. Out of this disclosure, the artist has the audience’s consent to engage imaginatively with the work. On the other hand, the lack of disclosure of the propagandist intentions, motives and interest to the audience does not invite the public to be engaged dialogically, therefore deception can occur, whether one is knowing or not.
Art is a gentle knocking. It engages informed consent as opposed to manipulated or manufactured consent. Transparency is an invitation for a certain equality in relationship, while the lack of it exploits the relationship for one-sided purpose. Transparency of the artistic act respects the audience as co-creators of context for shared experience. It leaves everyone in freedom in their engagement with the unfolding perception, while the empirical stance of authority reduces potential for dialogue into one-sided monologue that tends to impose one’s already determined idea on the dialogue.
Art is “a creative mode viewed with suspicion by social science” (Okely, 1992, p. 10). It is not usually considered a legitimate approach to process or validate reality. Art calls for active participation from the audience, to critically engage with what is unfolding in their perception. The artistic act moves one from being a spectator to actively participating in the world as an agent for creation. On the contrary, propaganda can bypass this active engagement and any critical examination to form uninformed consent from the public.
Many people take information given by the friendly news anchor’s reassuring voice at face value. People often trust the news presentations without much critical thought, when in reality the seemingly diverse news networks are owned by a handful of transnational corporations usually framing things in their private interests, when not checked by the people and other modes of communication. The question arises, why is state violence and war so ever present when it is destructive for almost everyone except for those in power or directly profit from it, while peace is dismissed no matter how many indicate their support for it?
Art creates a stage, where people are asked to engage in the activity of perception. It does not pretend universal applicability of one’s perspective, rather it opens a space for people to engage, step into a new reality with shared imagination. It gently challenges numbed embedded perceptions, and calls to transform worn-out patterns of thoughts and feeling, to see things in a new way. Like any good audience entering into a theatre or a movie who prepare themselves to engage with a creative experience, art sets a springboard of perception where one’s act becomes a performance that can open a crack in the taken for granted reality. The critical thinking that art demands from the participants calls for response-ability. Instead of becoming reactive, one actively participates in the process of something that is urging one into the future that is in the process of becoming.
WikiLeaks encourages people to step out of a given framework, to see things that were intentionally concealed. It carries communication into a different reality, sweeping one’s feet from a comfortable, known reality, which in this case is carried in the embedded mainstream media, from the perspective of power. Their work serves for an art of performance to redeem images buried by ideology.
When one loses one’s ground, for the first time one experiences different patterns of emotions, awakening to something that was frozen, as an opening of a numbed heart. That is the first step, to get the secrets out in the open and let people see for example the real ground of modern war and injustice as it is, and not from a perspective of alliance to a particular nation, but from a world horizon, as a human witness of human conflict. Once the audience is opened to the unadulterated image, there is a possibility for public discussion. It is through informed public dialogue that we make sense of the gap in perception between who we were and what we have come to bear witness to.
Ethics of Creation
“No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.” -Abraham Lincoln
The use of creative power always involves responsibility. True creation concerns the whole, including the influence of our own actions on those around us. One’s unclaimed bias and agendas concealed by the cloak of objectivity maintains power beneath daily consciousness to influence the act of creation. Driven by unexamined motives, one is often not aware of the deeper nature of what one is creating and may not take full responsibility for the consequence.
The ethics of a creative act emerges from knowing what is behind the creation. The act of creation occurs where one’s subjectivity meets another’s in a mutually shared space. Each encounter creates a stage where one takes a turn as performer and audience in each other’s perception. Practicing deep listening with someone sets that person free to disclose who they really are. Each person can reveal the source of the unfolding story that informs their existence. Transparency between people is fundamental to true dialogue.
Unfortunately, dialogue between nations are not generally in the true spirit of dialogue. They rather take on a power based monologue, with values of secrecy, pursuit of self interest and manipulation as primary motives. Western subjectivity has had an insidious history of subjugating the rest of the world to its narrow language in a form of a monologue.
The world stage has had its spotlight on the West, which called itself the first world as protagonists, as opposed to the third world countries, the supporting actors on the margins. What is seen recently in the climate summit in Copenhagen and the G20 meeting in Canada, developing countries and ordinary people were completely pushed out of decision making processes that affect everyone. In the international arena, people of all countries must have the space to say no to western notions of development and have an equal voice in the organizations that shapes billions of lives. One’s creativity must accompany a sense of responsibility where one cannot impose one’s agenda without the other’s informed consent. Individual and collective conscience is cultivated in the space between, where two people meet in dialogue.
Art is altruistic. It allows one to step outside of one’s narrow perspective and self interests to listen and engage in dialogue. Through this, one can participate in the unfolding of the future, stepping out of the audience seat to participate in the forming of a new model of governance.
Art cultivates consciousness where motives driven by self-interest and insecurity are given new direction and transformed into creative impulse. Perhaps, the limit of empirical knowledge reserves a place inside each individual that can only be claimed through one’s free will. When one reaches this point, one moves beyond the mindset of right vs. wrong to give others equal footing for dialogue.
Professor, Robert Jensen (2009) spoke of a higher intelligence of the heart:
We usually think of our rational faculties as providing us with the ability to deal with the chaos of truth, to provide the order we need to live in a complex world. Conversely, our emotions are seen as a source of even greater chaos, an aspect of ourselves that is generally out of control. I want to argue just the opposite: The chaos of truth is a product of the rational, and whatever clarity of truth we can achieve is produced not in our minds but in our hearts. (p. 53)
The heart dissolves ideologies, makes us see how each perspective is formed through its own logic and perception. What is right becomes something that can only be claimed out of each person’s free will. Across the threshold of the creed of objectivity, perhaps the Creator wishes us to step into this space and participate in the creative process. In this space there lies a hidden power within each person, which is more powerful than any army, corporation or president. The heart has the power to create the future.
Louie Psihoyos, the director of The Cove, a documentary about a secret yearly Dolphin Kill in a remote part of Japan, described on DemocracyNow! how in carrying his training as a journalist, he viewed his role as one of simply describing both side of the story. He decided to do this documentary when he realized he couldn’t continue to maintain that position, He felt compelled to take a stand, calling into question the ethics of the dolphin slaughter (2010). Breaking out of this spectator position, he claimed his own creative power inside to become an agent for change.
The regime of the nation-state, guarded by the creed of objectivity perceives this hidden power in the hands of ordinary people as a thereat and so strives to conceal its mystery. All actions of nations and individuals now happen in a global context. As Assange said, the leaking of the secrecy dissolves the conspiracy, exposing the lie of powerlessness of the citizens. We are seeing now the emergence of the Global Citizen with a newly awakened responsibility for individual creative power. The age demands this birth of the global 4th estate and the freeing of the bonds of misinformation.
This is an avalanche of historical proportions and a turning of tides. No Nation, elite group, or Corporation can hide or escape unchanged. From this point forward, the social order will be transformed into the age of the Global Citizen.
The Court of Public Opinion
“What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention to, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.” – George Orwell, “Why I Write”
Perception is too often closed up and its control hidden by government and corporate secrecy. When corporate media insulates people from the power centers of the world, we lack the sunshine of transparency and government and oligarchic abuse of power is not held accountable. Organizations like WikiLeaks are vital for a just society as we move into the uncertainty of the future.
When the practice of law is illegal or the rule of law is immoral, there is an internal error that never allows justice to prevail. As long as the war of aggression or monied interests have their secrets and those behind it use disproportionate coercive force, there will be little justice or freedom from exploitation and coercion. In this scenario, how can justice be found? In 1971 in the US, when whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, it enabled concerned and informed Americans to respond and finally led the Vietnam war to an end. It is people’s conscience that is the last resort for justice, the witness of people around the globe and their engagement that informs the jury of public opinion.
“We are an activist organization. The method is transparency. The goal is justice” said Julian Assange (April 18, 2010). He spoke to the WikiLeaks creed as the full disclosure for redeeming the false creed of objectivity. Inspired citizens around the globe may admit the creed of objectivity always hides agendas and the best we can do is to honestly disclose the agenda, slant and vested interests involved and dissolve the secrets that invariably hide misdoing. The goal is justice, and by justice we mean the state of health in how we regard ourselves, our fellow humans and the world. When we were constantly made to feel separate, divided into race, nationality and gender and classes, the goal of justice is to remind the world citizen of the original wholeness, and that we must become the restorative force for the health of the planet. This can be only possible by remembering the delicate intricate connection and moral obligation to one another.
There is actually no such thing as objectivity. But, there is a higher view attained through mutually respectful dialogue. When the sense of justice follows truth and demand transparency, then we can all give peace a chance. If each awakens the conscience within, it grows into a global light that overcomes the darkness of the world. Even with a rigged rule of law, Justice can get hearing in the court of public opinion held in each person’s conscience.
The global 4th estate is the spirit of the first amendment and freedom of information and dialogue. It can reveal the secret forces that strives to conceal our true nature. Lifting the veil frees the world from the forces that try to control our very thoughts and feelings. If the truth shall set us free, then our commitment to the truth and to our fellow human beings is necessary to set the world free.
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