Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Real Problem with Julian Assange and Wikileaks

4 December 2010

Though many powers that be in many interested nations around the world and their demagogued minions appear to believe that it is the release of "secret materials" (low level "secret" materials by the way, the higher level material is better protected) by Wikileaks which is supposedly harmful to the health of the United States (and others), that is the problem, this, in fact, is not the real problem with Wikileaks and Julian Assange. The real problem with Wikileaks and Assange is a notion at the heart of what Assange and Wikileaks does.

Julian Assange appears to believe in an old myth, an old myth that really became important during the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century and beyond, namely the notion that if you simply give people accurate empirical information they will come to their intellectual senses and realise how reality really works.

Unfortunately, the real world doesn't really operate this way. People are inscribed within cultural and ideological regimes and scripts which create reality for them (people rarely make their own ideological histories). And in the reality that is made and remade for most people in the United States, to pick one example among many, the US is a source for good in the universe. Reads like a comic book or sci fi film (Star Wars) doesn't it?. Any information that seems to contradict this belief (and I use belief intentionally here because religion provides the clearest example of how meaning systems really work in general) is ignored or the bearer of the message is turned into an evil "anti-Americanism" who seeks to bring down America the good, America the caring, America the great, America the exceptional.

This Enlightenment paradigm, of course, is the symbol and myth at the heart of contemporary academia. Though many academics, I presume, still believe that education, particularly higher education, helps "liberate" and disabuse the masses of their cultural and ideological beliefs and superstitions, it is clear, from experience and the evidence that this is not how reality really works. A few may be liberated from the superstitions of ethnocentrism and nationalism, but most are not. For the most part students regurgitate back to their teachers what they think academics want to hear (the passing the test syndrome) and then go about their merry way with most of their beliefs intact.

This is something Julian Assange should keep in mind. As the latest villain in the American passion play one hopes that reality will smack him in the face and he will realise that his faith in investigative journalism and education as a source of intellectual liberation simply isn't the way it really is. Education generally doesn't liberate, it, as Bourdieu notes, generally recapitulates the political, ideological, and social structures that are. And this is why I remain a Nieburhrian cynic.

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