Assange's Incomplete yet Important Essays

Reply Fri 17 Dec, 2010 07:51 pm
So I stumbled upon this when reading about who is reading about Assange and what they are reading... still with me? I came across this blog post, and it's analysis of two essay's written by Assange on November 10 and December 3, 2006 (from his personal site http://iq.org/). This would have been at the same time WikiLeaks was being established. The essays are incomplete but offer a great deal of insight into Assange and potentially his motives and political philosophy.

I'll provide all three items: The two original essays, and the blog post with analysis on them. I tend to agree with the Blog's author, Aaron Bady on what Assange's message is and why the analysis of these works is important.

I created this as its own thread because the other WikiLeaks thread is mostly current events about Assange. I felt it might be worth creating a sidebar to talk about Assange's philosophical content and perhaps find examples in quotes that might signify how (if at all) it has developed in the last 4 years.

Here in full is the essay. Due to formatting, I will be putting any of Assange's original text in RED and leaving Bady's text plain. BLUE text is of Teddy Roosevelt (sorry if that confuses early on).

Zungu Zungu wrote:

“To radically shift regime behavior we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us, and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not. Firstly we must understand what aspect of government or neocorporatist behavior we wish to change or remove. Secondly we must develop a way of thinking about this behavior that is strong enough carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity. Finally must use these insights to inspire within us and others a course of ennobling, and effective action.”

Julian Assange, “State and Terrorist Conspiracies”

The piece of writing (via) which that quote introduces is intellectually substantial, but not all that difficult to read, so you might as well take a look at it yourself. Most of the news media seems to be losing their minds over Wikileaks without actually reading these essays, even though he describes the function and aims of an organization like Wikileaks in pretty straightforward terms. But, to summarize, he begins by describing a state like the US as essentially an authoritarian conspiracy, and then reasons that the practical strategy for combating that conspiracy is to degrade its ability to conspire, to hinder its ability to “think” as a conspiratorial mind. The metaphor of a computing network is mostly implicit, but utterly crucial: he seeks to oppose the power of the state by treating it like a computer and tossing sand in its diodes.

He begins by positing that conspiracy and authoritarianism go hand in hand, arguing that since authoritarianism produces resistance to itself — to the extent that its authoritarianism becomes generally known — it can only continue to exist and function by preventing its intentions (the authorship of its authority?) from being generally known. It inevitably becomes, he argues, a conspiracy:

Authoritarian regimes give rise to forces which oppose them by pushing against the individual and collective will to freedom, truth and self realization. Plans which assist authoritarian rule, once discovered, induce resistance. Hence these plans are concealed by successful authoritarian powers. This is enough to define their behavior as conspiratorial.

The problem this creates for the government conspiracy then becomes the organizational problem it must solve: if the conspiracy must operate in secrecy, how is it to communicate, plan, make decisions, discipline itself, and transform itself to meet new challenges? The answer is: by controlling information flows. After all, if the organization has goals that can be articulated, articulating them openly exposes them to resistance. But at the same time, failing to articulate those goals to itself deprives the organization of its ability to process and advance them. Somewhere in the middle, for the authoritarian conspiracy, is the right balance of authority and conspiracy.

His model for imagining the conspiracy, then, is not at all the cliché that people mean when they sneer at someone for being a “conspiracy theorist.” After all, most the “conspiracies” we’re familiar with are pure fantasies, and because the “Elders of Zion” or James Bond’s SPECTRE have never existed, their nonexistence becomes a cudgel for beating on people that would ever use the term or the concept. For Assange, by contrast, a conspiracy is something fairly banal, simply any network of associates who act in concert by hiding their concerted association from outsiders, an authority that proceeds by preventing its activities from being visible enough to provoke counter-reaction. It might be something as dramatic as a loose coalition of conspirators working to start a war with Iraq/n, or it might simply be the banal, everyday deceptions and conspiracies of normal diplomatic procedure.

He illustrates this theoretical model by the analogy of a board with nails hammered into it and then tied together with twine:

First take some nails (“conspirators”) and hammer them into a board at random. Then take twine (“communication”) and loop it from nail to nail without breaking. Call the twine connecting two nails a link. Unbroken twine means it is possible to travel from any nail to any other nail via twine and intermediary nails…Information flows from conspirator to conspirator. Not every conspirator trusts or knows every other conspirator even though all are connected. Some are on the fringe of the conspiracy, others are central and communicate with many conspirators and others still may know only two conspirators but be a bridge between important sections or groupings of the conspiracy…

Conspirators are often discerning, for some trust and depend each other, while others say little. Important information flows frequently through some links, trivial information through others. So we expand our simple connected graph model to include not only links, but their “importance.”

Return to our board-and-nails analogy. Imagine a thick heavy cord between some nails and fine light thread between others. Call the importance, thickness or heaviness of a link its weight. Between conspirators that never communicate the weight is zero. The “importance” of communication passing through a link is difficult to evaluate apriori, since its true value depends on the outcome of the conspiracy. We simply say that the “importance” of communication contributes to the weight of a link in the most obvious way; the weight of a link is proportional to the amount of important communication flowing across it. Questions about conspiracies in general won’t require us to know the weight of any link, since that changes from conspiracy to conspiracy.

Such a network will not be organized by a flow chart, nor would it ever produce a single coherent map of itself (without thereby hastening its own collapse). It is probably fairly acephalous, as a matter of course: if it had a single head (or a singular organizing mind which could survey and map the entirety), then every conspirator would be one step from the boss and a short two steps away from every other member of the conspiracy. A certain amount of centralization is necessary, in other words (otherwise there is no conspiracy), but too much centralization makes the system vulnerable.

To use The Wire as a ready-to-hand example, imagine if Avon Barksdale was communicating directly with Bodie. All you would ever have to do is turn one person — any person — and you would be one step away from the boss, whose direct connection to everyone else in the conspiracy would allow you to sweep them all up at once. Obviously, no effective conspiracy would ever function this way. Remember Stringer Bell’s “is you taking notes on a criminal ******* conspiracy?” To function effectively, the primary authority has to be disassociated from all other members of the conspiracy, layers of mediation which have to be as opaque as possible to everyone concerned (which a paper trail unhelpfully clarifies). But while the complexity of these linkages shield the directing authority from exposure, they also limit Avon Barksdale’s ability to control what’s going on around him. Businesses run on their paperwork! And the more walls you build around him, the less he might be able to trust his lieutenants, and the less they’ll require (or tolerate) him.

This, Assange reasons, is a way to turn a feature into a bug. And his underlying insight is simple and, I think, compelling: while an organization structured by direct and open lines of communication will be much more vulnerable to outside penetration, the more opaque it becomes to itself (as a defense against the outside gaze), the less able it will be to “think” as a system, to communicate with itself. The more conspiratorial it becomes, in a certain sense, the less effective it will be as a conspiracy. The more closed the network is to outside intrusion, the less able it is to engage with that which is outside itself (true hacker theorizing).

His thinking is not quite as abstract as all that, of course; as he quite explicitly notes, he is also understanding the functioning of the US state by analogy with successful terrorist organizations. If you’ve seen The Battle of Algiers, for example, think of how the French counter-terrorist people work to produce an organizational flow chart of the Algerian resistance movement: since they had overwhelming military superiority, their inability to crush the FLN resided in their inability to find it, an inability which the FLN strategically works to impede by decentralizing itself. Cutting off one leg of the octopus, the FLN realized, wouldn’t degrade the system as a whole if the legs all operated independently. The links between the units were the vulnerable spots for the system as a whole, so those were most closely and carefully guarded and most hotly pursued by the French. And while the French won the battle of Algiers, they lost the war, because they adopted the tactics Assange briefly mentions only to put aside:

How can we reduce the ability of a conspiracy to act?…We can split the conspiracy, reduce or eliminating important communication between a few high weight links or many low weight links. Traditional attacks on conspiratorial power groupings, such as assassination, have cut high weight links by killing, kidnapping, blackmailing or otherwise marginalizing or isolating some of the conspirators they were connected to.

This is the US’s counterterrorism strategy — find the men in charge and get ’em — but it’s not what Assange wants to do: such a program would isolate a specific version of the conspiracy and attempt to destroy the form of it that already exists, which he argues will have two important limitations. For one thing, by the time such a conspiracy has a form which can be targeted, its ability to function will be quite advanced. As he notes:

“A man in chains knows he should have acted sooner for his ability to influence the actions of the state is near its end. To deal with powerful conspiratorial actions we must think ahead and attack the process that leads to them since the actions themselves can not be dealt with.”

By the time a cancer has metastasized, in other words, antioxidents are no longer effective, and even violent chemotherapy is difficult. It’s better, then, to think about how conspiracies come into existence so as to prevent them from forming in the first place (whereas if you isolate the carcinogen early enough, you don’t need to remove the tumor after the fact). Instead, he wants to address the aggregative process itself, by impeding the principle of its reproduction: rather than trying to expose and cut particular links between particular conspirators (which does little to prevent new links from forming and may not disturb the actual functioning of the system as a whole), he wants to attack the “total conspiratorial power” of the entire system by figuring out how to reduce its total ability to share and exchange information among itself, in effect, to slow down its processing power. As he puts it:

Conspiracies are cognitive devices. They are able to outthink the same group of individuals acting alone Conspiracies take information about the world in which they operate (the conspiratorial environment), pass through the conspirators and then act on the result. We can see conspiracies as a type of device that has inputs (information about the environment), a computational network (the conspirators and their links to each other) and outputs (actions intending to change or maintain the environment).

Because he thinks of the conspiracy as a computational network, he notes in an aside that one way to weaken its cognitive ability would be to degrade the quality of its information:

Since a conspiracy is a type of cognitive device that acts on information acquired from its environment, distorting or restricting these inputs means acts based on them are likely to be misplaced. Programmers call this effect garbage in, garbage out. Usually the effect runs the other way; it is conspiracy that is the agent of deception and information restriction. In the US, the programmer’s aphorism is sometimes called “the Fox News effect”.

I’m not sure this is what he means, but it’s worth reflecting that the conspiracy’s ability to deceive others through propaganda can also be the conspiracy’s tendency to deceive itself by its own propaganda. So many people genuinely drink the Kool-Aid, after all. Would our super-spies in Afghanistan ever have been so taken in by the imposter Taliban guy if they didn’t, basically, believe their own line of propaganda, if they didn’t convince themselves — even provisionally — that we actually are winning the war against Talibothra? The same is true of WMD; while no one in possession of the facts could rationally conclude that Saddam Hussein then (or Iran now) are actually, positively in pursuit of WMD’s, this doesn’t mean that the people talking about ticking time bombs don’t actually believe that they are. It just means they are operating with bad information about the environment. Sometimes this works in their favor, but sometimes it does not: if Obama thinks Afghanistan is winnable, it may sink his presidency, for example, while the belief of his advisors that the economy would recover if the government rescued only the banks almost certainly lost the midterm elections for the Democrats (and was the death-knell for so many of the Blue Dogs who were driving that particular policy choice). Whether this actually hurts the conspiracy is unclear; those Blue Dogs might have lost their seats, but most of them will retire from public service to cushy jobs supported by the sectors they supported while they were in public service. And lots of successful politicians do nothing but fail.

This is however, not where Assange’s reasoning leads him. He decides, instead, that the most effective way to attack this kind of organization would be to make “leaks” a fundamental part of the conspiracy’s information environment. Which is why the point is not that particular leaks are specifically effective. Wikileaks does not leak something like the “Collateral Murder” video as a way of putting an end to that particular military tactic; that would be to target a specific leg of the hydra even as it grows two more. Instead, the idea is that increasing the porousness of the conspiracy’s information system will impede its functioning, that the conspiracy will turn against itself in self-defense, clamping down on its own information flows in ways that will then impede its own cognitive function. You destroy the conspiracy, in other words, by making it so paranoid of itself that it can no longer conspire:

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption. Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.

The leak, in other words, is only the catalyst for the desired counter-overreaction; Wikileaks wants to provoke the conspiracy into turning off its own brain in response to the threat. As it tries to plug its own holes and find the leakers, he reasons, its component elements will de-synchronize from and turn against each other, de-link from the central processing network, and come undone. Even if all the elements of the conspiracy still exist, in this sense, depriving themselves of a vigorous flow of information to connect them all together as a conspiracy prevents them from acting as a conspiracy. As he puts it:

If total conspiratorial power is zero, then clearly there is no information flow between the conspirators and hence no conspiracy. A substantial increase or decrease in total conspiratorial power almost always means what we expect it to mean; an increase or decrease in the ability of the conspiracy to think, act and adapt…An authoritarian conspiracy that cannot think is powerless to preserve itself against the opponents it induces.

In this sense, most of the media commentary on the latest round of leaks has totally missed the point. After all, why are diplomatic cables being leaked? These leaks are not specifically about the war(s) at all, and most seem to simply be a broad swath of the everyday normal secrets that a security state keeps from all but its most trusted hundreds of thousands of people who have the right clearance. Which is the point: Assange is completely right that our government has conspiratorial functions. What else would you call the fact that a small percentage of our governing class governs and acts in our name according to information which is freely shared amongst them but which cannot be shared amongst their constituency? And we all probably knew that this was more or less the case; anyone who was surprised that our embassies are doing dirty, secretive, and disingenuous political work as a matter of course is naïve. But Assange is not trying to produce a journalistic scandal which will then provoke red-faced government reforms or something, precisely because no one is all that scandalized by such things any more. Instead, he is trying to strangle the links that make the conspiracy possible, to expose the necessary porousness of the American state’s conspiratorial network in hopes that the security state will then try to shrink its computational network in response, thereby making itself dumber and slower and smaller.

Early responses seem to indicate that Wikileaks is well on its way to accomplishing some of its goals. As Simon Jenkins put it (in a great piece in its own right) “The leaks have blown a hole in the framework by which states guard their secrets.” And if the diplomats quoted by Le Monde are right that, “we will never again be able to practice diplomacy like before,” this is exactly what Wikileaks was trying to do. It’s sort of pathetic hearing diplomats and government shills lament that the normal work of “diplomacy” will now be impossible, like complaining that that the guy boxing you out is making it hard to get rebounds. Poor dears. If Assange is right to point out that his organization has accomplished more state scrutiny than the entire rest of the journalistic apparatus combined, he’s right but he’s also deflecting the issue: if Wikileaks does some of the things that journalists do, it also does some very different things. Assange, as his introductory remarks indicate quite clearly, is in the business of “radically shift[ing] regime behavior.”

If Wikileaks is a different kind of organization than anything we’ve ever seen before, it’s interesting to see him put himself in line with more conventional progressivism. Assange isn’t off base, after all, when he quotes Theodore Roosevelt’s words from his 1912 Progressive party presidential platform as the epigraph to the first essay; Roosevelt realized a hundred years ago that “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people,” and it was true, then too, that “To destroy this invisible government, to befoul this unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of statesmanship.” Assange is trying to **** all over this unholy alliance in ways that the later and more radical Roosevelt would likely have commended.

It’s worth closing, then, by recalling that Roosevelt also coined the term “muckraker,” and that he did so as a term of disparagement. Quoting from Pilgrim’s Progress, he cited the example of the “Muck-Raker” who could only look down, whose perspective was so totally limited to the “muck” that it was his job to rake, he had lost all ability to see anything higher. Roosevelt, as always, is worth quoting:

"In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress you may recall the description of the Man with the Muck-rake, the man who could look no way but downward, with the muckrake in his hand; who was offered a celestial crown for his muck-rake, but who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth of the floor…the Man with the Muck-rake is set forth as the example of him whose vision is fixed on carnal instead of on spiritual things. Yet he also typifies the man who in this life consistently refuses to see aught that is lofty, and fixes his eyes with solemn intentness only on that which is vile and debasing. Now, it is very necessary that we should not flinch from seeing what is s vile and debasing. There is filth on the floor, and it must be scraped up with the muck-rake; and there are times and places where this service is the most needed of all the services that can be performed. But the man who never does anything else, who never thinks or speaks or writes save of his feats with the muck-rake, speedily becomes, not a help to society, not an incitement to good, but one of the most potent forces for evil. There are, in the body politic, economic, and social, many and grave evils, and there is urgent necessity for the sternest war upon them. There should be relentless exposure of and attack upon every evil man, whether politician or business man, every evil practice, whether in politics, in business, or in social life. I hail as a benefactor every writer or speaker, every man who, on the platform, or in book, magazine, or newspaper, with merciless severity makes such attack, provided always that he in his turn remembers that the attack is of use only if it is absolutely truthful…"

Roosevelt was many things when he uttered those words, but he was not wrong. There is a certain vicious amorality about the Mark Zuckerberg-ian philosophy that all transparency is always and everywhere a good thing, particularly when it’s uttered by the guy who’s busily monetizing your radical transparency. And the way most journalists “expose” secrets as a professional practice — to the extent that they do — is just as narrowly selfish: because they publicize privacy only when there is profit to be made in doing so, they keep their eyes on the valuable muck they are raking, and learn to pledge their future professional existence on a continuing and steady flow of it. In muck they trust.

According to his essay, Julian Assange is trying to do something else. Because we all basically know that the US state — like all states — is basically doing a lot of basically shady things basically all the time, simply revealing the specific ways they are doing these shady things will not be, in and of itself, a necessarily good thing. In some cases, it may be a bad thing, and in many cases, the provisional good it may do will be limited in scope. The question for an ethical human being — and Assange always emphasizes his ethics — has to be the question of what exposing secrets will actually accomplish, what good it will do, what better state of affairs it will bring about. And whether you buy his argument or not, Assange has a clearly articulated vision for how Wikileaks’ activities will “carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity,” a strategy for how exposing secrets will ultimately impede the production of future secrets. The point of Wikileaks — as Assange argues — is simply to make Wikileaks unnecessary.

The Blog source also in Spanish, German, and Dutch.

The original Assange Essays in PDF

The Essay's "State and Terrorist Conspiracies" and Conspiracy as Governance" at first seem identical but vary slightly. Read both to observe the subtle differences.

I have a great deal of commentary on this blog post and Assange's original essays but I'll post that a bit later. This changed the way I view a few things about what is happenning and how I perceive Assange himself. For now I though, I'll just share and let other's read.

(Also, if I type up my own response now, it will become the reason I don't make it to the gym tonight.)

Fil Albuquerque
Reply Fri 17 Dec, 2010 08:22 pm
@failures art,
Thanks for that resume FA...it makes allot of sense, and its worth reading !

0 Replies
Reply Fri 17 Dec, 2010 09:35 pm
@failures art,
All these slimey governments are like vampires that turn to ashes in the light of day... They will do anything and everything in the dark. and they fear no immorality like the cold hard truth coming to light... What they don't get is that people do not have to know the truth... All people have to do is guress the truth to be dangerous, and people through out the world can guess the truth about us as we can ourselves... They endanger us, and make the world a very scary place to be an American in... It is wonderful that we can no longer deny our true character, and our enemies will have so much less to guess... It is time for a change, and if the world will not accept our crap, we will be so much closer to change at home...

BTW; what the guy is refering to is a form, a form of relationship that is conspiratorial by those who benefit from it... We are all a part of it, because as long as we have our faith that some good can come out of it much evil can come out of it... But the only correct way of viewing the thing is as a broken form whose meaning has long ago been sucked out of it...And there is nothing there... Remove our faith from the form, quit cooperating with it, and the thing will crumble... If you expect to some day be free you need do no more than disenthrall yourself... Assange has helped with that... I wish he would do more...
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Reply Sat 18 Dec, 2010 01:05 pm
Reply Sat 18 Dec, 2010 01:16 pm
Me too.

I'm curious how this changed your opinions on wikileaks/assange, fa.
0 Replies
Reply Sat 18 Dec, 2010 01:31 pm
@failures art,
Thanks for posting that. Political philosophy can be very abstract. I wonder how Assange was able to put such abstract ideas into practice.
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Reply Sat 18 Dec, 2010 09:56 pm
failures art wrote:
The original Assange Essays in PDF

I read the pdf with the essays. Assange is advocating an extreme approach. Severe, harsh methods in politics usually have disastrous results.
Reply Sat 18 Dec, 2010 10:03 pm
Severe, harsh methods in politics usually have disastrous results.

So true, JW. You forgot to give examples. Vietnam, Nicaragua, Cuba, Angola, Bolivia, Chile, Iran, Ira, Afghanistan, Honduras, Panama, Grenada, ... .

Let's see how many more you can come up with.
0 Replies
Reply Sat 18 Dec, 2010 10:08 pm
Severe, harsh methods in politics usually have disastrous results.

Mr Monbiot agrees with you.

The logic of empire

The US is now a threat to the rest of the world. The sensible response is non-cooperation

There is something almost comical about the prospect of George Bush waging war on another nation because that nation has defied international law. Since Bush came to office, the United States government has torn up more international treaties and disregarded more UN conventions than the rest of the world has in 20 years.

It has scuppered the biological weapons convention while experimenting, illegally, with biological weapons of its own. It has refused to grant chemical weapons inspectors full access to its laboratories, and has destroyed attempts to launch chemical inspections in Iraq. It has ripped up the anti-ballistic missile treaty, and appears to be ready to violate the nuclear test ban treaty.

It has permitted CIA hit squads to recommence covert operations of the kind that included, in the past, the assassination of foreign heads of state. It has sabotaged the small arms treaty, undermined the international criminal court, refused to sign the climate change protocol and, last month, sought to immobilise the UN convention against torture so that it could keep foreign observers out of its prison camp in Guantanamo Bay. Even its preparedness to go to war with Iraq without a mandate from the UN security council is a defiance of international law far graver than Saddam Hussein's non-compliance with UN weapons inspectors.

But the US government's declaration of impending war has, in truth, nothing to do with weapons inspections. On Saturday John Bolton, the US official charged, hilariously, with "arms control", told the Today programme that "our policy ... insists on regime change in Baghdad and that policy will not be altered, whether inspectors go in or not". The US government's justification for whupping Saddam has now changed twice. At first, Iraq was named as a potential target because it was "assisting al-Qaida". This turned out to be untrue. Then the US government claimed that Iraq had to be attacked because it could be developing weapons of mass destruction, and was refusing to allow the weapons inspectors to find out if this were so. Now, as the promised evidence has failed to materialise, the weapons issue has been dropped. The new reason for war is Saddam Hussein's very existence. This, at least, has the advantage of being verifiable. It should surely be obvious by now that the decision to wage war on Iraq came first, and the justification later.

Other than the age-old issue of oil supply, this is a war without strategic purpose. The US government is not afraid of Saddam Hussein, however hard it tries to scare its own people. There is no evidence that Iraq is sponsoring terrorism against America. Saddam is well aware that if he attacks another nation with weapons of mass destruction, he can expect to be nuked. He presents no more of a threat to the world now than he has done for the past 10 years.

But the US government has several pressing domestic reasons for going to war. The first is that attacking Iraq gives the impression that the flagging "war on terror" is going somewhere. The second is that the people of all super-dominant nations love war. As Bush found in Afghanistan, whacking foreigners wins votes. Allied to this concern is the need to distract attention from the financial scandals in which both the president and vice-president are enmeshed. Already, in this respect, the impending war seems to be working rather well.

The United States also possesses a vast military-industrial complex that is in constant need of conflict in order to justify its staggeringly expensive existence. Perhaps more importantly than any of these factors, the hawks who control the White House perceive that perpetual war results in the perpetual demand for their services. And there is scarcely a better formula for perpetual war, with both terrorists and other Arab nations, than the invasion of Iraq. The hawks know that they will win, whoever loses. In other words, if the US were not preparing to attack Iraq, it would be preparing to attack another nation. The US will go to war with that country because it needs a country with which to go to war.

Tony Blair also has several pressing reasons for supporting an invasion. By appeasing George Bush, he placates Britain's rightwing press. Standing on Bush's shoulders, he can assert a claim to global leadership more credible than that of other European leaders, while defending Britain's anomalous position as a permanent member of the UN security council. Within Europe, his relationship with the president grants him the eminent role of broker and interpreter of power.

By invoking the "special relationship", Blair also avoids the greatest challenge any prime minister has faced since the second world war. This challenge is to recognise and act upon the conclusion of any objective analysis of global power: namely that the greatest threat to world peace is not Saddam Hussein, but George Bush. The nation that in the past has been our firmest friend is becoming instead our foremost enemy.

As the US government discovers that it can threaten and attack other nations with impunity, it will surely soon begin to threaten countries that have numbered among its allies. As its insatiable demand for resources prompts ever bolder colonial adventures, it will come to interfere directly with the strategic interests of other quasi-imperial states. As it refuses to take responsibility for the consequences of the use of those resources, it threatens the rest of the world with environmental disaster. It has become openly contemptuous of other governments and prepared to dispose of any treaty or agreement that impedes its strategic objectives. It is starting to construct a new generation of nuclear weapons, and appears to be ready to use them pre-emptively. It could be about to ignite an inferno in the Middle East, into which the rest of the world would be sucked.

The United States, in other words, behaves like any other imperial power. Imperial powers expand their empires until they meet with overwhelming resistance.

For Britain to abandon the special relationship would be to accept that this is happening. To accept that the US presents a danger to the rest of the world would be to acknowledge the need to resist it. Resisting the United States would be the most daring reversal of policy a British government has undertaken for over 60 years.

We can resist the US neither by military nor economic means, but we can resist it diplomatically. The only safe and sensible response to American power is a policy of non-cooperation. Britain and the rest of Europe should impede, at the diplomatic level, all US attempts to act unilaterally. We should launch independent efforts to resolve the Iraq crisis and the conflict between Israel and Palestine. And we should cross our fingers and hope that a combination of economic mismanagement, gangster capitalism and excessive military spending will reduce America's power to the extent that it ceases to use the rest of the world as its doormat. Only when the US can accept its role as a nation whose interests must be balanced with those of all other nations can we resume a friendship that was once, if briefly, founded upon the principles of justice.


How do people who consider that they are moral find it within themselves the will to continue to make excuses and provide support for this level of criminality?
0 Replies
failures art
Reply Sun 19 Dec, 2010 11:52 am
I still plan on posting up my response. I've been busy the last two nights. Hopefully tonight I'll be able to give it the time I wish to devote to it. I think this part of the picture is the most important. It is perhaps the frame of the big picture itself.

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failures art
Reply Sun 19 Dec, 2010 11:29 pm
To begin, I'll first explain what about these essays and the blog post that analyzed them changed my view on Assange and WikiLeaks.

1 - The value of Information

In reading Assange, it becomes readily apparent that he is a computer programmer and quite a good one at that. There is a certain quality to his approach that I observe in many programmers. This is important to note because what he does, greatly influenced his perception on systems of people. It seems obvious now as I look back that a programmer would make a computer analogy for complex system, or in this case a conspiracy. Had Assange been a dancer, perhaps he would have written his analogies in terms of dance and exchange.

This detail is important to me because I realize there was a disconnect in how I view and value information and how he does. Applying my value to his actions makes it hard to understand them. I have typically viewed information as an asset, and treated its value in economic terms of supply and demand. When I applied my economic view of information (read: secrets) to his actions, it made him seem greedy.

Open reading Assange, and how he views the information that is exchanged in a conspiracy, it seems almost as if what the information is; what it contains, is irrelevant. The only relevant part about the information is that it bridges those who are party to conspire. This to me means that Assange is not particularly interested in what secrets he comes by, only that he has them and that somebody finds value in them. This seems to me so vital in understanding Assange because I believe that his most adamant supporters believe this is about transparency and getting to the substance of the data/info itself. While granting access to the information itself is certainly a product of WL, it seems less important than the major goal of impairing the conspiracy.

2 - The use of Conspiracy

As the blogger points out, Assange's use of the concept "conspiracy is rather benal. In fact, by Assange's use of conspiracy, almost everything is a conspiracy. To read him properly though, one must disconnect the baggage they have with the word conspiracy. By his definition, WL is a conspiracy, and I doubt he'd take offense.

His stated goal is to shut down conspiracies. Perhaps more specifically, his thesis is how to shut down conspiracies. To be honest it's rather brilliant, and somehow familiar.

Now I'm not an expert in sociology, so I can't say to what degree He is borrowing or building his political philosophy on, but many parts read like Sun Tzu and Machiavelli (he actually quotes from "The Prince."). He theorizes what enables conspiracies to funtion: The movement of information. He then suggests that the way to combat a conspiracy is to turn it upon itself in paranoia.

The part I found very familiar about this was thinking back to post 9/11 hysteria being followed by two things: (a) The surge in national pride of the "if we don't go to Six Flags, the terrorists win" variety, and (b) the clamp down on civil rights (e.g. - Patriot Bill).

Part of me wonders if Assange was inspired largely by the irrational and paranoid response globally to 9/11. All nations are conspiracies (given their qualities), so seeing places like the USA act so self destructive might have been rather revealing.

Another example that is good to understand Assange's use of conspiracies is that be default, all political parties are conspiracies. He writes:

For example, remembering Lord Halifax’s words, let us consider two closely
balanced and broadly conspiratorial power groupings, the US Democratic and
Republican parties.

Consider what would happen if one of these parties gave up their mobile
phones, fax and email correspondence — let alone the computer systems which manage their subscribes, donors, budgets, polling, call centres and direct mail campaigns?

They would immediately fall into an organizational stupor and lose to the

He is absolutely correct. In fact, given this analysis, it's not really that surprising. Apply it to any election. One party's ability to coordinate (read: move more valuable information) is what Assange refers to as "Total Conspiratorial Power" and it is usually what determines victory. The GOP is very skilled at moving information. They literally have talking points, and communication moves steadily. Democrats are less skilled in this area, but can mobilize a larger diverse network with a lesser ability to communicate.

Returning to what I said before, Assange is not trying to bring transparency, but rather fog the very transparent world of the classified and impair its ability to function. Cyclopticorn, BillRM, and I discussed in the other thread the economy of the government installing new technological security measures and updating various permissions on systems etc. Cyclo was the closest it seems. He said that WL would force the gov to spend a lot of money. In reading Assange, however, nowhere is economic warfare mentioned as a means to turn a conspiracy on itself. Paranoia is. So it doesn't really matter how much new security measures would cost, if an agency wants it they will get it. They won't go broke over it. The damage to the Total Conspiratorial Power is in having one more step to connect to information and permissions being restricted thus reducing TCP. The point here is to note that no new policy or security measure assists the conspiracy, it only harms it.

Assange recently made a statement that his supporters close their accounts at Bank of America. He suggested they put it somewhere "safer." So now that we can observe how he views information, we can see that this statement is less suggestive about the types of information he has on BoA, and more about making BoA respond in some self destructive way. This also sheds light on his Forbes interview when he so causally notes that his bank release would only shut down one or two banks. It seems that he was here again using strategic language (how he upload his computer virus into a conspiracy's brain) to manipulate conspirators.

Which conspirators? Us. Literally. If I have a BoA account, I'm passing valuable information back and forth. Although a minor player, I'm a part of the conspiracy (as he defines conspiracy mind you). If BoA members react by moving their accounts or if BoA reacts by altering some policy of offering some to sweet to pass up deal to stay, the conspiracy has turned inward on itself.

I hope I'm making sense.

So these are the two major things I came to understand and change in my perception about the workings of Assange and WL. In short: It's not about the Leaks, it's about installing self-destructive paranoia into conspiratorial systems.

It is uploading a virus that makes the computer slow. We've come full circle. Assange is a hacker, and his greatest contribution is figuring out how to hack past the air-gap. He treats humans as a part of the system; as the system itself, and then applies the same strategy he would if they were computers. Using familiar language he has shared this in these essays.

They are truly brilliant pieces. I find myself wondering if he ever completed them. I'm curious about what else he has to say or if he hit a road block. While reading his essays it's pretty obvious what is missing: What remains when a conspiracy is halted?

Using his own analogy with the board, nails, and twine, it seems that his method of shutting down a corrupt conspiracy has no means to spare a virtuous one. If total conspiratorial power for the army is cut down, they aren't just unable to bomb villages, they aren't able to do the kinds of things we want (like defend a coastline). Going more broad, if you shut a gov down, you don't just shut down the vile corrupt parts, you shut down vital services.

So what's changed? I no longer think Assange is hoarding out of personal gain/security/interest but out of strategy. I no longer think that this is about what the information is, but how it moves.

I also no longer think that he has malicious intent, only that he's reckless. I'll explain with an analogy of my own. Assume the US Gov is a body. In that body a conspiracy is an organ. An organ can work properly or it can develop cancer. People want transparency, and this would be represented by having a treatment to fix the cancer. Assange comes along and is skilled at anatomy. Anatomy however is not medicine. He may know how to apply his knowledge on how to harm, but that is not information on how to heal. Assange may be right that we can cut out a few cancerous organs that we have redundantly. On organs that can't be cut out however he has no alternative.

It's easier to cut a 500 year old tree down than it is to plant it in the right spot so it will live for 500 years.

I believe Assange has noble intentions. I believe that he doesn't want people harmed. However, with a greater insight to his world-view, I reaffirm my critique I gave previously:

I want real transparency. No supporter of transparency will say that prior to WL, that what they were waiting for was a group of hackers together together and encourage leaking. People want more information, and they want to be able to trust their government. However, in reading Assange, if you are attacking the conspiracy, chances are you're apart of it (albeit on the fringe). People are now more paranoid than ever, and turning in on the gov. Remember, Assange's philosophy doesn't work on making more transparency, but but creating less transparency inside the conspiracy itself.

There is no outside of conspiracy, only what conspiracies you're apart of. So the missing piece is after the computer virus is in, what still works?

I think I hit most of my points. I may post more if I remember other things.

failures art
Reply Mon 20 Dec, 2010 12:42 am
Another thought.

Is WL a part of the press or something else? They report the news, but they also make the news. Wouldn't that kind of be the media equivalent of insider trading? They aren't creating the material, but the strategy they use to make events out of releases using other media outlet's cycles seems to put them in a grey area.

Given Assange's essays, I think the choice is to identify themselves as a part of the press for strategic protections. That said, the essays don't lay out a goal to create a new form of press, nor does it note the press's importance at all in stopping conspiracy systems.

0 Replies
Reply Mon 20 Dec, 2010 09:49 am
@failures art,
Very interesting. Thanks for all of this. I have a number of scattered early thoughts that I'll attempt to put together in a cohesive response (probably not until after Christmas though... I'm flying all over the place right now), but something jumped out at me that I'd like some follow up on if you can. Perhaps you've already spelled this out on the other thread, but what do you mean by, "I want real transparency." How would you define that?
Fil Albuquerque
Reply Mon 20 Dec, 2010 08:09 pm
My modest perspective:

Governments and Institutions as "central processing units" which converge and manipulate information according with their internal standards and rules (Conspiracy plotting) to my opinion and common place really, are no longer able in many cases to respond properly to the amount of data and algorithmic complexity which they have to deal with these days. (Law for instance would make a good example)
By contrast the "Internet cloud Hive" although lacking in specialization in its entirety, undoubtedly possesses a much larger computing capacity which is more adequately capable to find an "holistic systemic reaction" to the challenging complexity´s that some of these problems present to us, thus being able to change and evolve a faster adequate response and preventing the "lag" that central units suffer now with the increasing heat of our ever more demanding pull for services, data, and comodity´s...
Accordingly, "hacking" a 4000 year old "System" although entropycally painful, seams at this light a Necessary path to the emerging dawn of a real Network Age making its way into our world...

0 Replies
failures art
Reply Tue 21 Dec, 2010 10:50 am
JPB wrote:
I'm flying all over the place right now), but something jumped out at me that I'd like some follow up on if you can. Perhaps you've already spelled this out on the other thread, but what do you mean by, "I want real transparency." How would you define that?

Thanks for asking. I want very much to discuss this, and what it looks like in practice.

True transparency as I see it is the public knowing the same information prior to decision making. It would always be proactive. I'll try and generate some examples of places I see it currently, and places where it could have been useful.

Some existing things that provide transparency.

1) A positive step towards transparency was when the USG started putting it's budget online. Now, these figures were already available prior to this, but it doesn't need to be argued that information electronically organized is easier to search through.

For fun, here is an awesome graphic representation of the USG discretionary budget: http://www.wallstats.com/deathandtaxes/ They update this every year and track changes. You can also buy this as a 6sq-ft poster... in fact, I just did. This will make a excellent gift for one of my political wonk friends.

2) Obama has stated that he will allow time after a bill passes before he signs it into law. the idea of course is that the public will have the chance to see what the final bill is, and understand it separate from the possible many prototypes that were debated prior. I think for the most part he's been able to do this, but I can't remember how long he said he'd wait before signing.

3) C-SPAN is a service provided by cable companies that streams direct footage from the floor of congress. This removes the filter of any news channel or outside commentary.

4) Freedom of Information Act. This has granted everyday citizens the ability to gain information. My roommate works for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and his office gets these regularly. They respond by providing how the office has used it's money and what they've done. They also share who they've worked with and on what specifically. to give this extra relevance, the NRC is a body that not only regulates but does research and charges for its services. They don't just inspect domestic nuclear plants, but extranational ones as well. France doesn't have a regulatory body for it's plants, they pay us to do it for them. The FOI's filed to the NRC often have to do with their international relationships.

Now, none of the above are perfect. They are however positive steps towards the public having informational tools that empower them proactively. I think that all of the above can be given greater power or more accessibility. These are the kinds of things we should be focusing on to get a greater view of our government operations.

The example of where I feel real transparency could have been applied I gave in the other thread is the famous Colon Powell testimony to Congress about Iraq and WMDs.

Imagine if part of the investigation meant having citizens in the same briefings. Imagine if Powell could only present his case using only information made publicly available. The truth is, if this had been the case, there would have been no hearing at all. The hawks would never have been able to make the case for WMDs.

Does this make more clear how I feel about the nature of what is real (actual and actionable) transparency? Basically, what would you want to know before something happens is far more important than what you can know after it has already happened. I think it's important to improve on this, but also I don't think that absolute transparency is necessary to achieve the degree of accountability (rather than simply blame) we want in our public officials. In other words, leaks can be off real value, but that value to me is if they leak information about a situation that is current where new decisions are going to be made. Olga's example of the US presence in Yemen is a good example because there the actions continue. In this case WL is good because the American people can choose to support or condemn these actions.

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