You Are In
With the release of the Collateral Murder and the Afghan War Diaries, WikiLeaks quickly emerged onto the world stage and has become the focus of intense media attention. The messages from the sources exposing crimes and government secrecy are more important than the messengers themselves, yet often the vital message is lost in the middle of the media hype surrounding the organization and its actions.
Some might say that WikiLeaks is still far from accomplishing its goal. Yet the effectiveness of the organization is undeniable. Even prior to the US military document releases, WikiLeaks paved a new path in the darkness of corporate and government secrecy, helping to change two governments (Iceland and Nigeria) with their releases. Like a ray of sunshine emerging out of nowhere, its light reveals the contrasting forces; namely the light of human conscience brought by the whistle blowers and the hidden face of the darkness. They have successfully taken on abuse and corruption of powerful institutions worldwide.
What was brought to public attention was the field where laws and rules can be applied to serve for humanity and advance justice. This field is like what is portrayed in the film The Matrix as “a neural interactive simulation”. This can go either way, toward justice or toward oppression simply by how it is played out. As in the film this field has been taken over by dehumanizing forces carried by large corporations and institutions. It has become a system that enslaves humanity as long as they are unwittingly plugged into it.
This field has been the battleground where the interests of ordinary people and the moneyed elite clash. The corporate takeover of the civic sphere has turned citizens into consumers and modern third world slaves and this was concealed from our eyes. As a result, we have been blinded to the potential of the field and our own power to influence it. Most people accept the world as it is given and never question how this field might be controlled under a pretense of democracy.
Many people hoped grass-roots actions like the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle and the World Social Forums would have momentum for revealing this battleground and obstacles blocking ordinary people from actively engaging with this social field. Yet these types of movements are often co-opted or polluted by power. Even the historically massive world protest against the beginning of the Iraq war was largely ignored by the mainstream media and some felt like it had no real effect. The inscrutability of ever monopolizing power and the marriage of corporation and state have neutered most attempts at revealing the true nature of the abuse of power.
The relative effectiveness of WikiLeaks’s actions can be understood in the context of this political climate. With these releases the media had no choice but to bring a spotlight to the abuses that were revealed. Mass media’s attention on WikiLeaks shed light on the ugly tail of the power-brokers that this organization so firmly grabbed.
WikiLeaks is significant for it made this battlefield more public. Now the game is being played out on the world stage. Like in The Matrix when Neo began to ask the question, WikiLeaks drives attention to this field. People are starting to ask about the nature of the battle, like the question What is the Matrix?
At first all we saw was chaos in a cloud of dust on the ground. Something is engaged in a seemingly impossible fight. We see on one side, the so-called too big to fail corporations, the military industrial complex with a servile mass media. As we shift our eyes to see the other side, there is WikiLeaks, an organization that was not heard of by many until the sensational release of the Collateral Murder video. One might ask: “What is it that drives the US government, seemingly the most powerful institution on the earth to fight so obsessively with a small nonprofit organization, even alluding to assassination of its spokesperson?” The pretext of the pentagon propaganda is that WikiLeaks is a threat to a ‘national security’ and even toyed with equating them with terrorists.
Some might have tried to look at faces, identify those individuals who are on the battlefield. WikiLeaks is said to be a team of anonymous hackers, activists and lawyers. To the public the people behind WikiLeaks remained a mystery. Then the founder and spokesperson, Julian Assange stepped forward. Many thought the face of WikiLeaks was finally revealed and sought out Assange for answers.
Who is Julian Assange?
The question of the Matrix quickly shifted to one of Julian Assange. Assange is a charismatic, controversial figure. Whether it is smear campaigns and sex scandals or his relentless commitment to justice and opening governments, people follow the doings and powerfully evolving image of Assange. Some worshiped him as a hero while others regard him as an egotistical publicity seeker and still others see him as a criminal, calling for his arrest.
John Young of Cryptome has been a major (yet inconsistent) critic of WikiLeaks. Allegations made on the blogosphere to claim WikiLeaks is a CIA operation seemed to have tamed the aroused excitement in some, bringing them back to a state of apathy, as if sending a message that no one can meaningfully challenge the system. Recent media reports on alleged internal breakdown of the organization has added fuel to such cynicism.
Yet many people are still searching for an answer to the spiraling breakdown of the current world order. WikiLeaks has recently been the most searched topic on Google. Around the globe, instant twitter messages go viral, feeding the public demand and curiosity for this organization. But who or what is WikiLeaks? Are they heroes or threats to national security?
As the world goes through the current turmoil and crisis, it might be a natural tendency for people to look for someone to save them. The victory of the US president Barrack Obama at the polls was an indication of a yearning for this kind of savior. People are looking for something to grab hold of in times of difficulty. For some, their messiah might be Dr. King or Che that guided movements and for others it will be a guru to lead them to enlightenment. While danger exists in blindly following anyone, a figure or idea periodically rises that can personify the possibility of a new model for the future.
In the Matrix film, Neo needed a mentor in the beginning, someone to guide him through the Matrix. Many, with a beginner’s mind and committed to a quest are like Neo, looking for a guide.
Morpheus told Neo:
Let me tell you why you are here. You have come because you know something. What you know you can’t explain but you feel it. You’ve felt it your whole life, felt that something is wrong with the world. You don’t know what, but it’s there like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that brought you to me.
For those who are driven by this inner yearning for truth, Assange may appear like Morpheus.
We might realize how the question concerning WikiLeaks is fundamentally about ourselves. Neo had to know himself in order to understand the Matrix. And this question, to know thyself, threatens ones known reality and identity. It challenges the foundation of ones being, who we think we are.
The answer is not given from someone outside, from government officials or WikiLeaks or Morpheus or the Oracle, but can only be found within. When asked by Neo, “What is the Matrix?”, Morpheus responded, “Do you want to know what it is?… unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself”. Teachers can only show us the door, but we have to walk through it.
In the film, the Oracle prophesied the arrival of the One who would put an end to war and dismantle the Matrix. Does Assange represent the One? Questions have arisen about his leadership and personality. Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a prominent WikiLeaks organizer in the face of Assange’s scandal urged him to step down temporarily and have others be in charge (Shenon, P, 2010). Daniel Schmitt and others have apparently stepped down (Spiegel Online International, 2010). Many are concerned about the future of WikiLeaks. Will it implode and disappear?
We all easily get caught up with what is reflected outside, chasing after our own and other’s shadows often without looking inside to see their owners. Intense media attention and public scrutiny of Assange’s personality is a double-edged sword. Granted, some worship him while others condemn him. For those who try to take him down, he may reflect weakness and faults that we all have. He is human and not perfect. At the same time one can also say how the courage he has shown is something we all can aspire to. This courage has been vital to the sea change that WikiLeaks notoriety has brought. Assange revealed both what is weak inside and at the same time the higher that lives in us. The uncompromising commitment to justice one sees in him and WikiLeaks is latent in us all.
Conscience of ordinary people
Unlike corporations who operate under ethos of profits at any cost held accountable by the greed of shareholders, WikiLeaks is a new form of organization that represents an emerging way of being in the world. Its ethics and deeds depend solely on the conscience of ordinary citizens, bypassing existing power structures. Conscience cannot be enforced by an outer authority. Assange describes in Conspiracy as Governance how institutionalized systems intrinsically push against altruistic human virtues and that “truth, creativity, love and compassion are corrupted by institutional hierarchies, and by ‘patronage networks’” (as cited in Khatchadourian, 2010). When corporations rule the world there is no room for conscience, only for self interest. There is a general sense in our society that higher human values may not be cultivated. The birth of WikiLeaks has shown a way to act according to conscience, as a new social form. By revealing and sharing the truth, we can communicate beyond power equations and act as if people mattered.
People tend to see something in themselves projected in public figures and charismatic leaders. Once they realize this, projections cast outside dissolve. Only then can one walk through the door to step into the field, instead of standing outside and cheerleading for WikiLeaks or complaining about how messy it is.
This awakening can hack the Matrix and leak the truth that is concealed. There gradually emerges something cohesive on the horizon. In the battlefield, we see ourselves in each other. We may realize we are not a small minority, but there are many who care about justice and transparency of governments regardless of their nationality and culture.
What is the future of WikiLeaks?
What is at the heart of WikiLeaks’s future? Why do so many people care about this question? Perhaps what is at stake is our own future. People are beginning to realize releasing of the secrets held by larger institution reveals the power that belongs to ordinary people. The light dissolves false power and we will realize life is about us, not systems of fear, national interests or ideology.
History has shown any new initiative and grassroots efforts will be met with fierce opposition, internal and external. It is a kind of mathematical formula: the establishment first ignores them, then ridicules and finally attacks them when they becomes effective. The perception is crafted to make us think those grassroots efforts will not get their act together and when the heat is on will fall into chaos. Maybe this is sometimes true, but it is an exaggerated perception that takes our own power away and fosters further dependency on the old established authority.
Even the Oracle’s prophecy in The Matrix could not tell Neo the exact future. “You won’t have to search for me anymore. Whether I’m done fighting, I suppose, it is up to you.” said Neo. Just as Neo later stepped into the role of the teacher played by Morpheus, each person’s footsteps can pave the way for claiming the power that can transform the Matrix. The future of WikiLeaks is what each makes it to be. It is our collective future in the hands of ordinary people.
Even if WikiLeaks completely falls apart tomorrow, the door has already opened. We won’t wait for another WikiLeaks to save us. By waiting, we would again give up our own power to something outside of us.
The world is different now. There was before WikiLeaks and there is after WikiLeaks. It will never be the same. WikiLeaks is after all, every One. We now have the understanding that our human power, when openly celebrated stands firm in the face of abuse of power by the few. Even in a very repressive society, the people can demand the right to openly share secrets of public institutions.
It is only through the will of the people, not from the system that true change can happen. Like a game of Whack amole, WikiLeaks is everywhere. When one WikiLeaks breaks off, another can emerge. Light persists as long as the lamp of conscience is lit by each person.
This perceived crisis of WikiLeaks is an opportunity. For those who are willing to listen, the future calls us to participate in a world as creative agents to transform the Matrix into a society through which higher humanity can grow. A ray of sunshine has already shone to reveal our potential and there is no turning back. Corrupt institutions may come and go and may stop an individual, but they cannot stop us all.
Khatchadourian, R. (2010, June 7). No Secrets: Julian Assange’s Mission for Total Transparency. The New Yorker. Retrieved June 8, 2010 from http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/06/07/100607fa_fact_khatchadourian?currentPage=all#ixzz0pWdlAepe
Shenon, P. (2010, Sep 3). Civil War at WikiLeaks. The Daily Beast. Retrieved Oct 4, 2010 from http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-09-03/wikileaks-organizers-demand-julian-assange-step-aside/
Spiegel Online International. (2010, Sep 25). Internal Strife at WikiLeaks. Retrieved Oct 4, from http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,719561,00.html
Wachowski, A. (Writer/Director), & Wachowski, L. (Writer/Director). (1999). The Matrix. [Motion Picture]. United States: Warner Brothers.