Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Politicians just don't get it

Whether you agree with the Wikileaks story of the week or not, the politicians' responses are pathetic: desperately trying to cover their behinds with (false) claims that 'lives are at risk', or asserting the need for privacy while continuing to extend the surveillance state's intrusion into the lives of everybody on the planet.

There've also been some dumber, more vicious reactions. Sarah Palin tweeted about 'treason' (er, Wikileaks' main representative is Australian) and appears to see anti-Americanism as worthy of death:

"He is an anti-American operative with blood on his hands. His past posting of classified documents revealed the identity of more than 100 Afghan sources to the Taliban. Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaida and Taliban leaders?"

(Yes, Osama Bin Laden can testify to the urgency of the US's pursuit of him). Mike Huckabee (senior Republican politician) called for the 'execution' of the leaker, while the Canadian Prime Minister's senior adviser said this:

"I think Assange should be assassinated, actually," he said. "I think Obama should put out a contract and maybe use a drone or something." Flanagan chuckled as he made the comment but did not retract it when questioned, adding: "I wouldn't feel unhappy if Assange does disappear."

It's dumb and vicious, of course. But it also betrays their failure to understand the way new media work. If Julian Assange were assassinated, Wikileaks would continue. Distributed across servers, nations and continents, an army of technically and politically-savvy activists would replace him. They may not want his public profile, so they'd be harder to find, and they'd always be easy to replace. The true liberal/libertarian web doesn't have leaders in any profound sense. It has autonomous movements which make a virtue of disorganisation and dispersal: there are drawbacks to this, but it infuriates governments, who can only conceive of power as something wielded by centralised states against its own citizens, other governments and their citizens.

(The Canadian government is upset because it turned out that France's conservative president only invited Harper to a war commemoration because he's a rightwinger who is in electoral danger - nasty-minded, cynical meddling in electoral affairs).

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