Sterling on Assange

Bruce Sterling’s analysis of Wikileaks is long, engaging, and depressing.

The cables that Assange leaked have, to date, generally revealed rather eloquent, linguistically gifted American functionaries with a keen sensitivity to the feelings of aliens. So it’s no wonder they were of dwindling relevance and their political masters paid no attention to their counsels. You don’t have to be a citizen of this wracked and threadbare superpower — (you might, for instance, be from New Zealand) — in order to sense the pervasive melancholy of an empire in decline. There’s a House of Usher feeling there. Too many prematurely buried bodies…. This knotty situation is not gonna “blow over,” because it’s been building since 1993 and maybe even 1947. “Transparency” and “discretion” are virtues, but they are virtues that clash. The international order and the global Internet are not best pals. They never were, and now that’s obvious.

Read the whole piece and ponder how we’ve been falling into decline and denial simultaneously so many years. Wikileaks is like a stiff wind against a house of cards. Let’s hope for a better deal next shuffle.

Author: Jon Lebkowsky

Co-wrangler of Plutopia News Network, cohost Radio Free Plutopia. Podcaster, writer, dharma observer, enzyme. Former editor/publisher, FringeWare Review; associate editor at bOING bOING and Factsheet Five; writer at Mondo 2000, 21C, Wired, Whole Earth Review, Austin Chronicle; sub-editor at Millennium Whole Earth Catalog; blogger at Worldchanging. Digital culture maven, podcaster, writer, dharma observer, enzyme. On The WELL, Cohost of VC (virtual communities), Media, and Civil War (.ind) conferences.

2 thoughts on “Sterling on Assange”

  1. Usually I’m in agreement with Bruce, but I think in this case he’s been needlessly melancholy, and I don’t think he’s talked to many diplomats about their reactions. Let me just say that I haven’t seen or heard of any evidence of the same kind of problems that he sees.

    A less melodramatic take is here. It’s in response to a similar essay in the Atlantic by Jaron Lanier.

  2. I was talking to a political consultant friend who spends a lot of time in DC about this idea of an America in decline, and he seemed to think I was going overboard with a sonorous splash. I suppose the blind men are tugging the tail and trunk of the elephant on this one, and we’re seeing more about the writers’ perspectives in what they’ve posted, than about the reality of the situation. A college friend of mine used to say “that’s just another shaggy apocalypse story…”

    Here’s something I posted in response to Ethan Zuckerman’s assessment of responses to Wikileaks (…

    I’m not surprised that Lanier’s comments are about Lanier and Sterling is talking as much about his perspective as about the “real Assange” (if there is such a thing) or the facts of the case. Who’s had the time and attention to dig deeply by now?

    BTW as one who was deeply involved in early EFF discussions, I think Lanier gets it wrong. I don’t recall “a fascination with using encryption to make hackers potentially as powerful as governments,” at least not within the broader EFF circles. I think he’s confusing EFF with Cypherpunks via the John G. connection. To say that citizens should have access to encryption is not necessarily 1to argue that they should be “as powerful as governments.” What does that point say about Lanier? Does he believe that a line should be drawn between governments and citizens, and that governments should be “more powerful”? Slipping along this slope, we might reach a conclusion that governments should have the right to keep secrets, but ordinary citizens can keep no secrets from government. The sense here of government as an abstract and superior entity, and not a collection of people as flawed as the rest of us, is troublesome. Lanier’s spent too much time in virtual reality, I think.

    I think the Wikileaks point is not that government should have no secrets, but that many things that are kept secret should not be. There’s a real tension between the need for confidentiality in some contexts and the public’s right to know, and Wikileaks reminds us that this tension exists in a context of real complexity, not easy to resolve.

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