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The character assassination of Julian Assange has taken some strange twists in recent days. In the latest from Gawker, we learn of Assange’s creepy email (and limited real-world) stalking:
Julian Assange, the founder of the world’s most notorious secret-sharing operation, has some embarrassing documents in his own past. We’ve obtained a series of emails detailing his stalkery courtship of a teenager in his pre-Wikileaks days.
Although the emails are wholly irrelevant to the WikiLeaks story, there is something morbidly fascinating about reading them. Perhaps it’s because they contain such literary gems as:
A man feels that which is soft, warm and yielding in his arms must also be in other circumstances. But like Maugham’s Mirriam you are hard above the neck; voice salted and manner typical of your class when not trying to impress… You pulled a tiny pedal off my world just when I thought you were to add one but all around in the meadow, where I shall again dance and skip and sing till some fool girl should brush my wing.
And then, also from Gawker, we learn of Assange’s Narcissistic self-image, as demonstrated in his awkward online dating profile:
It certainly demonstrates the self-mythologizing Assange prefers, casting himself as an enigmatic, globe-trotting nerdy sex god… And he boasts that he is currently “directing a consuming, dangerous human rights project which is, as you might expect, male dominated.” …
Anyway, take a look. Did you know Julian Assange has “Asian teengirl stalkers?” (What is it with nerds and Asian girls?) One line proves oddly prophetic, if you consider Assange’s recent alleged predatory behavior: “I am DANGER, ACHTUNG, and ??????????????!”
Of course, these bizarre revelations come in the context of a slew of other allegations and defamations. He was first accused of rape, then sexual molestation. He’s been called a megalomaniac, a criminal and a terrorist, and many of these slanders have come from lofty sources.
But does any of it matter? Perhaps Assange is a pervert and a rapist. Maybe the accusations of molestation are true. Maybe he has stalked hordes of young girls – perhaps some of them were even Asian. Maybe he founded WikiLeaks for purely selfish reasons, and maybe all of the documents released thus far have been shared not in the interest of freedom but merely to propel himself into the international spotlight. All of the above could very well be true, but the veracity of these accusations does not bear any relevance to the principles at stake in the war for information freedom that WikiLeaks has sparked.
Such ad hominem attacks are designed to distract the masses from the issues that are truly important. Assange’s character has nothing to do with the agenda that WikiLeaks has, intentionally or not, set out to fulfill. And to extend this even further, it should also be recognized that WikiLeaks itself is also irrelevant to the debate. WikiLeaks is a flawed organization, comprised of flawed human beings who inevitably allow their personal biases and defects to influence the actions of the organization. Such is to be expected.
But the real debate lies not in the integrity of the WikiLeaks entity, nor in the honesty or moral decency (or lack thereof) of its founder, Julian Assange. The fundamental question is one that relates to the core of what it means to be free, and what it means to have a genuine democracy. And that question is: Is there a role for secrecy in a true democracy? Should governments be able to hide certain actions from the people whom they are meant to represent?
As I’ve stated here and elsewhere, I contend that genuine democracy is not possible without total government transparency. People cannot hold their government accountable if they do not know what actions that government has taken. And if we look at the historical record, we quickly realize that secrecy is almost always employed to shield unethical behavior from the eyes of the public. The Gulf of Tonkin incident is but one obvious – and monumental – example that comes to mind, but there are countless others.
In such a debate, the burden of proof lies with those who argue that secrecy is necessary, since it is they who are impinging on our freedom. I challenge any proponent of government secrecy to identify one single circumstance in the history of our nation – or any other nation in the modern era – in which secrecy was absolutely imperative, lest the nation itself – or a significant number of lives – would have faced utter destruction.
And bear in mind that it must also be proven that this incident was not itself predicated on secrecy – that is, would that situation have existed in the first place if total government transparency had existed all along? Since secrecy is generally employed in times of war, and wars are virtually always based on lies and deception, it seems highly probable that no such examples exist.
I suspect this is one challenge that will remain unanswered.