Wednesday, August 25, 2010

WIKILEAKS AND ANDREW O’HAGAN


Andrew O’Hagan has a short piece about the Wikileaks dust-up.

No doubt you’re familiar with the matter: European Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, published 92,000 pages of official military and government reports about how things are going in the day-to-day operations in Afghanistan.

O’Hagan has looked through many of them.

Most of the reports are laced with “thick, stubby acronyms and gamer-speak”. It’s not unusual to see a lot of acronyms – the military tries to convey a lot of info in the shortest possible way, and acronyms are one way to achieve that objective.

The “gamer-speak” is more worrying. It’s a way of distancing yourself from what you’re doing – especially if you or any normal person would otherwise find it unpalatable.

But whereas in the bad old days those in military service sort of came to the service with a decently formed conscience, and then ran into problems when there was nasty work to be done, the ‘gamer generation’ may well come into military service already far more ‘experienced in combat kills’ than Patton could ever have imagined. After all, a lot of kids spend dozens of hours a week for years (their most formative years, no less) in these interactive and wide-based online war games – kill games, might not be an inaccurate term for the things – and most have actually grown into late adolescence or early adulthood having fortified their sense of achievement through counting the blood-spatter they’ve caused on their screens.

Nor is there really anywhere near as much counter-influence (maturity, charity, decency, and all that sort of thing) available to them nowadays like there was before the country and its society and its culture started making so much of the ‘progress’ that is currently trumpeted by certain interests.

From his reading O’Hagan concludes that “you realize, first, that something much worse than we thought has been happening in Afghanistan, and, second, that journalism may never be the same again”.

I don’t need to take up time rehashing all the things wrong in Afghanistan; it’s ‘going south’ as the military likes to say, and that ain’t good.

I would like to suggest, however, that Our domestic situation is very similarly ‘going south’. And that a lot of folks don’t realize it any more – or even less – than they realize what has been going wrong ‘over there’.

I say this because when I read the piece today, I had a personal moment. Let me take a moment to share it. It came to me that in my Posts I might sound like Henry Adams – and nothing more than that.

Henry Adams, you may recall, was an observer of the American scene in the 1890s and the pre-WW1 era. He saw the America he knew fading away – which has been the case with almost all generations of Americans as they aged. So there’s that element in it.

But then he also sensed – especially after the high-level government skullduggery of McKinley’s era that used the ‘liberation’ of Cuba to cover the first-ever American overseas occupation (of the Philippines) – that the government was beginning to develop a much different relationship to the American People, not telling them the full truth and getting itself – and the People – involved in some mighty iffy business.

“Order becomes disorder” he said. Using the Second Law of Thermodynamics, he applied it to History and saw the country somehow declining or falling-off from what it had originally been – or perhaps sought to be.

I sense much the same thing. Only worse.

What has been happening in the past 40 years domestically has brought Us to a hugely dangerous place: We are economically undermined, and unless another world-changing invention along the lines of the Apple-Microsoft phenomenon of the 1980s comes along then this country is not bouncing back very soon, and it will surely not bounce as far back up as it used to.

Of course it was easy to miss (or ignore) the falling-off that Adams saw; for much of that new century (the 20th) the country improved economically and – especially under the stimulus of two World Wars (that nicely undermined the then-regnant governing Great Powers of the world) – progressively overtook its rivals to become the principality among the powers of this world.

No matter what else the government did or was suspected of doing, it was presiding over lots and lots of economic success, or at least a lot of money sloshing around.

That’s going away now. And as the blinding golden glow of endless cash dissolves, it reveals the actual goings-on that have been corroding as well as corrupting the whole American Experiment.

Unlike Adams, and for the first time in American history, We are a generation that will not see Our children do better. Or Our children’s children or their children (just on the basis of the national debt already incurred).

The ‘slackers’ were the canaries in the cage: sticking around home not simply because there was no room for ‘males’ in the knowledge-and-service ‘economy’ but also because the actual number of life-sustaining jobs (thus not barrista, leaf-blower, dog-walker, or nanny) were disappearing at an alarming rate. And you can add major glitz jobs in ‘the financial sector’ now as well. In fact – face it – as the general ‘wealth’ of the population decreases, there will be a declining need for lawyers, corporate honchos, bankers, and such. And if anyone is hoping that ‘the government’ will step in as the employer of last resort, then a) the government is already broke and that’s not getting better any time soon and b) a government that controls the employment and salaries of the majority of its Citizens is not going to be governed by those same Citizens and there goes the Constitutional balance and The People itself.

And if no People, then no Republic and – what the hey? – no need for the Constitution in any sense recognizable to the Vision of 1787. (Which is what the ‘progressive’ Revolutions have presumed – with the coy approval of the Rightists and Corporatists – all along.)

So I just want to say here that I see my only resemblance to Henry Adams being a concern to point things out while there still might be time.

That being said – and I don’t like injecting personal material into these essays – let’s continue with O’Hagan’s fine piece.

His point about journalism never being the same again ties in with the nature of Assange’s and the Web’s “potent new amateurism”: flouting the rules of journalism “because, by and large, it aligns itself with no commercial body, no political party, no ‘national security interest’, and no code of honor about who is more likely to deserve our protection”.

He’s writing in a British publication here, but what he says goes equally well for US journalism: it has ‘allied’ itself into irrelevance. The entire purpose of a “free press” in the Founding Vision was to provide accurate information to the governors of the government, i.e. The People.

But over time, papers developed ‘slants’. Which reduced objectivity somewhat, but there was still a cultural strength to Truth as a goal and a guide. And there were many independent newspapers (no radio or TV yet) even within one metropolitan area, so Citizens could compare and perhaps with some thought figure out what was going on.

But William Randolph Hearst’s decision to throw the weight of his entire publishing network behind fueling the run-up to the Spanish-American War (famously telegraphing to a reporter in Cuba “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war” – feast on the frakkeries of Yellow Journalism here) heralded an ominous change: corporately-webbed papers / deploying emotional and sensationalistic and selective ‘reporting’ / in order to manipulate rather than truly inform public opinion / among a population now having to judge vital national developments about which they had no personal knowledge / and under the eye of a government that was up to all sorts of major international skullduggery that it would much rather not have anybody know about.

Things were not improved by the ‘progressive’ Wilson’s insistence upon the passage of the Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917 and 1918 respectively: even reporting by the mainstream press might be a criminal offense if it ‘reported’ the wrong things, and the laws were later used to suppress Labor in its efforts to achieve its goals.

But by the end of World War 2 the press – radio included and TV almost on the scene – had passed from the control of individual owners to corporate structure, and the bosses of the “free press” became part of the “elites” who had assumed control of the labrynthine and byzantine complex into which the Federal government had morphed.

Accommodating themselves to the requirements of a government now greatly concerned for ‘national security’ in the Cold War – headed up in the West by an United States that had supplanted the former Great Powers of Europe – the “media” also adapted themselves to a country now given less to complex consideration of issues and increasingly accustomed to the ‘sound bites’ and gripping (though shallow) images upon which television thrived.

The Civil Rights Movement agitations of the 1950s started to lure those media into not simply ‘reporting’ on events but helping to ‘shape’ them, dimly but surely reflecting a growing sense in theories of communication and of philosophical epistemology that there really was no way to be ‘objective’ about ‘facts’ since all such ‘facts’ are ‘constructed’ by the observer to begin with.

But it was a ‘good cause’ and the media came to feast upon the role of ‘shaper’, now not simply an objective and detached observer reporting to The People but rather part of the elites who ‘shaped’ ‘public opinion’.

With the agitations of the later 1960s, and the whole-hog importation of French Deconstruction theory by radical-feminism (already surfing the wave created by the second and Revolutionary, Black Power phase of the black Civil Rights Movement), the media were now given benefit-of-philosophy for their mutation.

The French elites were horrified by the effects of mass-movements in France and Germany during the era of World Wars 1 and 2. The French Rightists and Leftists waged ideological war upon each other as early as the Dreyfus matter of the 1890s; the populations of all the European nations were whipped into a frenzy as the Great Powers slid frakkingly into World War 1; and the Nazis had taken the manipulation of public opinion to horrific heights and depths.

Better, the most agitated French intellectuals thought after 1945, to simply keep everything as divided up and stymied as possible, to prevent any unanimity of public discourse, since unanimity seemed inevitably to lead to ‘totalizing’ and totalitarian governance.*


Thus no Big Picture in terms of a Beyond or a God or any sense of overarching Meaning to life could be allowed; nor could there be allowed any coherent unifying political big-picture; nor could any generally unifying politics be allowed. But then, of course, no unified polity could be allowed either.

The French in general seemed to realize that this approach was a corrosive acid that, once released, could not be harnessed or controlled and would eat away the foundations of any national existence of polity at all. And they were probably right.

Because it was soon deployed for field operations – in another field.

Because the whole mish-mash fed into American Identity Politics after 1970. (Along with a heavily Marxist analysis of American society and culture that injected profound suspicion of ‘majority opinion’ as well as profound hostility to ‘patriarchy’ and an insistence on an Identity that was not in any working sense ‘American’.)

And in a too-infrequently noted cumulative effect, the Black Power Identity was joined not only by the ‘feminist’ Identity, but by other follow-on Revolutions, which were then themselves given benefit-of-philosophy by the newly-minted movements (they can hardly be called ‘philosophies’) of Multiculturalism and Diversity.

And of course, being ‘government-friendly’ in ‘liberal’ administrations ensnared the media into being equally so in ‘conservative’ administrations.

And the band played on.

And the Beltway signed on, whole-hog. Perhaps, as I have been saying for quite a while, in an effort to forestall American shock at the end of postwar American economic primacy through distracting culture wars but also by Deconstructing the America and Americans who had achieved that primacy, replacing them with newly ‘valorized’ Youth and immigrants who would have no memory of what was being Deconstructed, as well as the numerous ‘liberal-progressives’ such as radical-feminists who were absolutely sure that their dampdreams would lead to broad, sunlit uplands of gender-Utopia and ‘justice’.

(Nor did the Republicans long remain out of this mud-hole, once it became clear that Wealth could benefit hugely if quietly from this Deconstruction of an America that was too Labor-friendly.)

So, thus, O’Hagan says much when he observes about Wikileaks’s Assange that “he is a believer in the truth for its own sake”. The Western mainstream media no longer believe that: either because – in the accents of Pilate – they no longer believe that there is such a thing as ‘truth’ or ‘Truth’, or else because – in the accents of Goebbels and Goring – they believe that ‘truth is whatever we think is good for the (German) people’. And, of course, ‘truth’ is no longer where the profits are.

Assange is “techy” about the objection – shrewdly raised – that “the leaked war reports would put US and coalition forces in danger”. This is a verrrry shrewd objection. It attempts to surf the regnant American predilection for ‘victimism’: the troops over there are ‘victims’, and will be ‘victimized’ by the dangers that might be inflamed by the Wikileaks.

Assange – not bound by American sensitivies and predilections – asks the acute question as to whether categorizing troops on active service as ‘victims’ or ‘potential victims’ doesn’t undermine any examination of military operations at all.

Because it is an axiom of victimism that ‘the victim cannot be doubted or questioned’ and that to do any such doubting or questioning is to ‘re-victimize the victim all over again’.

But if the government now tries to cover its activities under the mantle of ‘victimization’ – and using the troops themselves as ‘fronts’ like a bank-robber trying to get out of a surrounded bank by holding hostages in front of herself – then effectively and for all practical purposes We are back to Woodrow Wilson’s insistence that NOBODY, not even the Citizens and The People, can question the actions of the Federal government.

And THIS in the context of Our current hugely dubious and failing national military misadventures – which are themselves possibly in contravention of every principle established at Nuremberg and even Westphalia .

Assange states that “he is all for ‘victim protection’ but soldiers, as he sees it, represent the national security state”. Which is hardly a surprising revelation, except perhaps to a lot of Americans.

O’Hagan doesn’t get into it, but there is also the huge and ignored elephant-in-the-middle-of-the-room Question: has the government victimized its own troops (and on Our authority) by sending them into such a frakkulently mis-conceived, mis-justified, mis-conducted set of wars to begin with? Is the government the Prime Victimizer in all of this?

I’m not sure where O’Hagan stands on this, but he acknowledges with what seems a personal note that “Some of us believe that soldiers are basically poor guys from Blackpool [a poor English city] who aspire to a better life but don’t have many options. Some victims wear battle-fatigues”.

I can see where he’s coming from here and it’s not inaccurate or unjust of him to make the point.

But there’s also the problem that these “guys” (and upon them be peace) are now in the position of having to find a life by signing up to conduct invasive and preventive wars, military occupations, and God-knows what horrific duties or – alas – malfeasances that, on top of frakkulent strategic blunders and government deceptions, condemn them not only to the risk of physical maiming but place them on what can only be charitably described as ‘the moral low-ground’.

THIS is the core problem, and Wikileaks isn’t the cause of it. Government is. The very same government that now wants to somehow suppress the news about what’s been going on ‘over there’.

This is a moral catastrophe that screams to heaven – even before you factor in the consequences and effects rained upon the human beings and populations caught in the middle ‘over there’ (upon whom be peace).

Of course, given that Politically Correct doctrine refuses to admit the possibility of any dimensions of human existence that could be described as ‘moral’ or ‘Moral’, then We are all in the position – and not simply in terms of military operations – of having brought a knife to the proverbial gunfight. We are being battered on a dimension of the ‘battlespace’ that We don’t’ even know exists.**

Funny how the Cosmic night moves.

Lastly, O’Hagan refers to one of those types (linked-to in O’Hagan’s piece) whom perhaps might best be characterized – and with no gender disrespect intended – in Victorian terms as “kept women”: ‘thinkers’ employed by lobbyist ‘think tanks’ precisely to provide intellectual cover or grounds for whatever ideological position they are paid to shill. This particular fellow (it could as easily have been a woman) brays and bleats that Wikileaks has “muddied the waters between journalism and activism” and with “little regard for the hard moral choices and dearth of good policy options facing decision makers”.

Phooey.

First, this is the exact type of thing that with Daniel Ellsberg’s release of the so-called ‘Pentagon Papers’ in 1971, mainstream journalism mostly leaped upon as being indeed a very valid exercise of the officium of “a free press”. Something has gone verrrrry wrong subsequently (see my thoughts above) since American journalism no longer sees its role as digging up vital and accurate information to be provided to The People.

Second, “moral choices” is a tad insufficient here. A choice for an immoral action is not most accurately characterized as a “moral choice” … while you were originally confronted with a choice in the moral realm, the choice you actually chose was immoral, and thus the actual essence of what you finally did choose to do is best characterized as ‘immoral’. (Precisely, by the by, the type of gambit many say is now ingrained into liberal-progressive praxis through the efforts to ‘spin’ abortion, by odd coincidence.)

The Correct come-back to this, of course, is that ‘my’ morality is not the same as ‘your’ morality so if I think it’s ‘moral’ then there’s nothing you can rightly say about what I do. But then what is morality based upon that would make it Morality, i.e. a capital letter concept that has compelling universal validity as a guide to human action?***

And if there is no such Morality, then what remains to distinguish doing the ‘moral’ thing from doing-what-I-want?

And if governments can do what they want then … what’s left to judge them and their actions? Was the only reason that the Nuremberg trials were held that the Allies had won the war and thus could physically enforce their Way of looking at things? If the Nazis had won, and they and all Germans mostly agreed that what the Third Reich had done was moral, then would that mean that what they did was indeed ‘moral’? (This is what happens when you try to anchor Morality in the human dimension itself; you can’t establish an Archimedean Point within the quantum that you’re trying to lift – you need to establish it outside of – or ‘beyond’ or ‘Beyond’ – the quantum that you’re trying to lift or you’re simply going to tip yourself over disastrously when you start applying pressure on the machinery – as the Engineers saith.)

Third, if there is indeed now such a “dearth of good choices” then HOW did We come to this terrible pass? And I don’t pose this question to try to assign blame as much as to assert that whatever was done to lead to this pass may still be a dynamic factor in the continuation of this frakkish situation and We need to know what’s going on under-the-surface (see Note ** below about the Long Lance torpedo).

I still say that there is a future in this country for The People as conceived at the Framing, and that there are enough folks still capable of mature and deliberative thought (despite decades of government-empowered efforts to Dilute same) to justify getting real information out to The People.

While there is still time.

NOTES

*You will find clear echoes of this in Martha Nussbaum’s recent philosophizing in support of Identity Politics: that ‘majoritarian’ interests must not be allowed to interfere with ‘minority’ ‘rights’ – widely and vaguely defined. Thus, she asserts, ‘politics’ and democracy must not be allowed to interfere with the ‘rights’ agenda she wants the courts to impose and enforce (apparently she senses that legislators – shades of Autumn 1944! – are beginning to get a little nervous and are starting to think about ‘consequences’).

**An analogy from World War 2: the Japanese early developed the Type 93 ‘Long Lance’ torpedo, which could travel three times the distance of American torpedoes, packed twice the explosive power, and was fueled in such a way that the thing left no tell-tale trail of bubbles on the surface that would betray its path. Thus, for quite some time, American warships were taking defensive measures that presumed Japanese torpedoes operated within the same parameters as American torpedoes, and were being hit, holed, having their entire bows blown off, or sunk by what American naval commanders assumed must be mines or un-detected submarines. Meanwhile, Japanese warships and submarines could stay well outside the too-small American detection and protection screens, and blow up capital ships with unnerving accuracy and frequency. And for quite a while, the Americans didn’t even know what they were actually up against.

Or again: imagine that immediately upon hitting the berg, Titanic’s command staff ordered all the passengers locked below decks, and told them that things weren’t so bad and if everybody would simply ‘stay positive’ and perhaps pray (you can’t suggest this nowadays) then everything would be OK; the only thing to fear was fear itself (with all respect to FDR, whose use of the phrase was apt in 1933, but not today). Folks would thus continue their activities, perhaps with increasing reliance on champagne or rot-gut likker (depending on your Class) to dull the sick-making awareness that things were increasingly not-on-the-level.

***For the philosophically-minded: the Correct come-back to this point is that John Stuart Mill said that you can do anything you want to do as long as it doesn’t harm anybody else.


This was Mill’s way of trying to preserve the widest individual liberty, yet maintain the coherence or reliability of human society, while simultaneously NOT involving God or any metaphysical principles (Mill was a good Liberal, after all).

But while his effort looks good on first glance, it won’t float once out of the constructor’s dock and into the water. He’s forced to adopt a verrrrry narrow definition of ‘harm’: an act of ‘harm’ has to be clearly established as such and it has to become manifest quickly enough to justify or indict the person who perpetrated it.

BUT a) you therefore have to restrict your definition of ‘harm’ to something which can be established as such. There are dimensions of existence – the moral, the spiritual, the psychological – where ‘harm’ cannot be easily established, leading your theory to either i) overlook large swaths of harmful action or ii) accept what amounts to ‘spectral evidence’ as ‘proof’ of an alleged ‘harm’ (this is the gambit that Victimism has tried to enshrine: if the allegedly harmed person says s/he has been harmed, then that claim must be accepted as true even though there is no way to independently corroborate the claim).

And b) you have to presume that all harmful consequences will make themselves manifest in a short-enough period of time after the alleged harm has been perpetrated. But some consequences might not manifest for quite some time. An action that might not seem harmful in the time-period X after the act has been committed, might manifest harmful effects in the time-period X-plus-Y.

I’d also add here that Mill must restrict himself to non-metaphysical harms, since his theory does not admit the relevance or existence of the metaphysical plane. But suppose that all humans are linked in a great Web of emotional or mental or spiritual bonds; if THAT is so, then an action perpetrated by one person might indeed radiate out to have harmful consequences – much as if on a very large waterbed, the action of one person in one corner of the mattress would be radiated out to impact upon all the persons on the mattress.

And that’s without bringing God or His commandments or Morality into it.

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3 Comments:

Blogger James said...

A very heartfelt post this was, and sums it all up well.

"Victimizing" the military - if this does not show the absurdity of the whole victim thing then nothing ever will.

3:05 PM  
Blogger publion said...

I just came across an article in 'The Nation' this morning where a feminist-friendly writer voices concern that if the US leaves Afghanistan it will be abandoning Afghan 'women' to the Taliban.

You can see where this sort of thing can go: as has often happened in domestic politics (where it seems not to be noticed), the victim-as-front for the government's hardly 'liberal' policies becomes clear.

I'll Post on this shortly.

10:37 AM  
Blogger publion said...

I just came across an article in 'The Nation' this morning where a feminist-friendly writer voices concern that if the US leaves Afghanistan it will be abandoning Afghan 'women' to the Taliban.

You can see where this sort of thing can go: as has often happened in domestic politics (where it seems not to be noticed), the victim-as-front for the government's hardly 'liberal' policies becomes clear.

I'll Post on this shortly.

10:37 AM  

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