James Madison once said, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives”. Madison recognized that accurate knowledge is essential for each person to take charge of their own lives. With the explosive growth of social media like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, we now have access to more information than any other time in the history of this planet. Through the Internet, pictures, news and ideas travel around the globe like the speed of light. Social networks are creating avenues of free communication that move beyond centralized systems of information distribution.
WikiLeaks’s chief editor, Julian Assange pointed to Madison’s idea that pertinent information is critical for the public to perform as a check and balance to those in power. Elsewhere he spoke of how concealed information has the greatest potential for just reform because those who hide it spend a lot of energy and resources in that concealment for a reason. He pointed out that this signal of suppression is a sign of opportunity and that exposing this information could lead to reform. The online collective Anonymous is also standing up for freedom of speech and assembly and for the conviction that public control of the flow of information is essential for any society to guard against the inevitability of corruption.
This insurgency of information sharing set the stage for Arab revolutions and the Occupy Movement. Effective political discourse such as the recent online protests against the US government censorship bills showed how openly shared information can quickly mobilize and fuel collective action against oppressive regimes and their policies. Madison was right: Knowledge is power. Perhaps this is the first time in history that his ideal is being enacted on a broad scale. The recent BBC documentary WikiLeaks: Secret Life of a Superpower attributed the spark for revolutions in the Arab World to WikiLeaks revelations, showing how US cable leaks shared through social networking sites in 2010 became a powerful force that finally toppled the corrupt Tunisian dictator Ben Ali.
But the explosion of social media alone has not been enough to explain what led to these momentous events. Information by itself is not knowledge. Many people have been aware of US and NATO war crimes and other injustices around the world that are often perpetrated by their own governments. Yet most have acted as if they are powerless. They remain apathetic spectators, continuing their familiar routine in life. Even in Tunisia, before the WikiLeaks revelations, Tunisians knew how corrupt their government was, but seemed to have accepted it as if nothing could be done.
In a recent article on AlterNet, clinical psychologist Bruce E. Levine described the likely cause of this inaction with what he refers to as the abuse syndrome. He posed the question “Can people become so broken that truths of how they are being screwed do not ‘set them free’ but instead further demoralize them?” He noted how people in the US were abused by the corporate takeover of every aspect of their lives and one common response to the abuse was to just shut down.
When people become broken, they cannot act on truths of injustice. Furthermore, when people have become broken, more truths about how they have been victimized can lead to shame about how they have allowed it. And shame, like fear, is one more way we become even more psychologically broken.
Then what could overcome this victim mentality? Levine claimed that encouragement, small victories and examples of others successfully challenging abusive actions are essential. Information itself, no matter how accurate or revealing does not create the spark of empowerment. Public understanding of a particular incident reported in the news was not the only thing that brought the impulse for deep change. It is also not simply the result of eyewitness accounts tweeted by citizen journalists. What was concealed were facts and remain so even after they are revealed to the public. But something else arose in 2010 and has since become a major force for catharsis and uprising. What so inspired people to fight back?
On the first day of Bradley Manning’s pretrial hearing America’s most famous whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg traced the impulse behind these movements that have quickly risen as tides of change for our time:
The Time magazine cover gives…… an anonymous protester, as “Person of the Year,” but it is possible to put a face and a name to that picture of “Person of the Year”.” And the American face I would put on that is Private Bradley Manning… And, the combination of the WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning exposures in Tunis and the exemplification of that by Mohamed Bouazizi led to the……non violent protests …
The spark of transformation might have started with this young US private. Bradley Manning stood up with the courage to blow the whistle on war crimes and ongoing abuse of civilians in US Middle East military occupations. Then, Julian Assange’s unflinching commitment to transparency and to honor the intentions of WikiLeaks’s source fanned the spark into a flame. When information is suppressed, it becomes stagnant. The human will to liberate it brings it into movement. In this case, the release itself became a powerful communication, conveying not only the truth, but also the conviction of the messenger. The message was his faith that ordinary people could change history. In the alleged chat log with Adrian Lamo that led to Manning’s arrest, Manning expressed this faith in everyday people and what led him to release the biggest document leak in human history.
(1:11:54 PM) bradass87: and … its important that it gets out … i feel, for some bizarre reason
(1:12:02 PM) bradass87: it might actually change something
(02:21:18 AM) bradass87: and god knows what happens now ….
(o2:22:27 AM) bradass87: hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms
(o2:23:06 AM) bradass87: if not… than we’re doomed
(02:23:18 AM) bradass87: as a species
Information that is freed becomes something more than just facts; it becomes a message or story whose gentle lips tremble with urgency, aching to speak. What was revealed in the Collateral Murder video appeared for some like a scene from a video game. For them, authentic images that graphically showing the gravity and soullessness of war was blocked with repeated National Security rhetoric of RPGs, enemy combatants and terrorists. This created a picture of justification for killing the ordinary people in a van; a father driving his kids to school. Yet for many, these images broke down along with the euphemism of collateral damage and they began to feel and see the horrendous incident from the eyes of the victims. Here was something that overcame the propaganda: information that might have otherwise remained as dry abstract fact was transformed into stimulus for an internal shift in a large section of the global population.
Was it alleged whistleblower Bradley Manning’s conscience and courage that triggered this awakening? Conscience is generally understood as individual discernment between right and wrong. But what is conscience really? Jungian psychoanalyst Edward Edinger in elucidating the etymology of the word conscience he related it to the concept of consciousness:
Conscious derives from con or cum, meaning ‘with’ or ‘together,’ and scire,‘to know’ or ‘to see’. It has the same derivation as conscience. Thus the root meaning of both consciousness and conscience is ‘knowing with’ or ‘seeing with’ an ‘other,’. In contrast, the word science, which also derives from scire, means simply knowing, i.e., knowing without ‘withness.’ … The experience of knowing with can be understood to mean the ability to participate in a knowing process simultaneously as subject and object, as knower and known. This is only possible within a relationship to an object that can also be a subject. (p. 36)
Conscience first engages empathic imagination, breaking down walls of separation. One starts to feel the other’s pain as if it is ones own. To act from conscience means to speak from this place of being with the other, in a voice that is no longer separate, but shared compassionately as We.
Alleged leaker Bradley Manning began to see the everyday reality in Iraq from the perspective of the other and he felt the suffering of people not unlike himself in the scenes of those war crimes enacted in New Baghdad and all around the Middle East. Perhaps in that moment, he began knowing with and seeing with those he had been trained to see as the other, those who have been been methodically demonized by a corporate state war of terror. If he was the source of those documents, his act of whistleblowing was truly a deed of conscience. He was willing to risk death to reach out from this place of his shared humanity.
People heard the voice of unspoken conscience. Manning’s message of conscience filled many with courage and hope. It was as if one heart was responding to another. US army specialist Ethan McCord, the soldier in the Collateral Murder video who rescued the wounded children came forward after viewing the video.
He shared with the world the moment when his conscience called him to act; running back to the van to rescue the little boy. This was his moment where that artificial wall between ‘enemy combatant’ and soldier crumbled. Later, in standing up for Manning, he said:
If PFC Bradley Manning did what he is accused of, he is a hero of mine; not because he’s perfect or because he never struggled with personal or family relationships—most of us do—but because in the midst of it all he had the courage to act on his conscience.
Ethan is one of those courageous people who were touched by Manning’s courage. He was like many others who joined the larger current of conscience that had been quietly calling.
People around the world started to speak as if they were responding to this call. In Tunisia, a fruit vender named Bouzizi committed self-immolation. From then on it snowballed. In Egypt, on January 18, Asmaa Mahfouz recorded a video log, urging her compatriots to join her and gather in solidarity at Tahrir Square. Tens of thousands of Egyptians responded to her call, which ultimately led to Muburak being driven out.
These uprisings around the world spread like wildfire from one person to the other, each responding to the message spoken from a voice within that recalls our deep ties to humanity. Around the world we are seeing the birth of ordinary heroes; people acting out of conscience. Each person’s courage invites the other to what is quickly becoming a global movement; “We Are the 99%!” At people’s mic in Occupy, each takes turn to speak. Instead of a charismatic leader being the voice, each person is becoming a leader in their own life through echoing of other’s words, passing on the message of intrinsic connection and common values.
As spring approaches in America, people are retaking Liberty Square in NYC on its 6 month anniversary. Far from any war zone here people are uniting and affirming their connection in response to the recent shooting of 17 year old Trayvon Martin.
Rev. Glenn Dames, pastor of St. James AME Church in Titusville spoke up for justice over that killing on DemocracyNow!:
I think what we’re doing now is we’re making sure that we, in essence, bring his voice back from the grave, …. we have become Trayvon Martin’s voice across the state, across the nation, even internationally.
And the following day, collective action around the world became the voice of Trayvon Martin. #MillionHoodies hashtag grew and outcry spread around the world. People across racial lines took to the streets in Union Square and all around the country demanding the shooter’s arrest. His death had become our own. Thousands rallied in Sanford, Florida. Rev. Al Sharpton spoke how “Trayvon could have been any one of our sons. Trayvon could have been any one of us”.
Twitter feeds flooded with passionate voices. People’s response of compassion and outrage at the lack of justice for the killer went viral and lifted social morale to a new level. We are all Mohamed Bouazizi and Khaled Said. We are all Julian Assange, all Bradley Manning, Scott Olsen, and Trayvon Martin.
It is not social media nor the sharing of information itself that started the Arab spring and the SOPA-PIPA-ACTA mass protests. It is an awakening of the heart responding to the call of the other, a sense of knowing that goes beyond individual concerns to a larger whole. This is transforming the simple sharing of information into a shield of knowledge that can meet the sword of illegitimate corporate power and police brutality.
The Age of Enlightenment brought the birth of individuality and made it possible for mankind to explore the outer world and evolve powerful technology and science. With the Age of Information came the ability to connect and share aspects of the world at an increasing speed. Now the moment has arrived. We are entering an Age of Moral Awakening. It is a different kind of Enlightenment in which humanity finds the light of self-knowledge in relationship to the other. This coming age of conscience breeds fear in those that cling to the power structures of the past. With passage of laws such as NDAA and the recent Anti-Protest bill, the US government reaction to Occupy is simple testimony to their fear of the people, the true source of all power.
Those who abuse power have tried to shut down the Internet and other streams of communication. They imprison journalists to try and lock up the story. They are putting whistle-blowers behind bars, to silence them by naming them traitors and terrorists and trying to outlaw journalism with the Espionage Act. Indeed, the Obama administration has already prosecuted whistleblowers more than all other previous presidents combined. Bradley Manning has been incarcerated without due process for more than 600 days. Julian Assange is on a house arrest without charge for over 500 days in very real danger of prosecution in the US in a desperate attempt by the US government to chill others from communicating the truth.
They can try to keep people separate and fearful through mass surveillance and wars. Yet, there is something that those addicted to power do not know; that is the origin of true knowledge runs deeper in the shared roots of our humanity. This empowered intranet that connects all of us cannot be broken. Noone can shut down the once awakened conscience.
Bradley Manning may have been just one person, a single spark in history. His fire of conscience might be fragile and appear erasable. Yet, the flame has already spread. His moral courage was like a tiny light in the darkness before the dawn. People around the world are uniting. Each person’s conscience is becoming a torch that shines into and transforms the darkness. The true battle is here. No entrenched power can win this because the most powerful force of all is finally awakening.
Edinger. E. E. (1984). The creation of consciousness: Jung’s myth for modern man. Toronto: Inner City Books.
Note: This piece was originally published at WL Central.