Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wikileaks — Plug the Hole or Irrigate Democracy

Mention Wikileaks to an average slice of the U.S. population and the feedback we get back is not as predictable as what we would hear when mentioning issues such as single payer medical care, gun control, or taxes. On most issues the ratio can be expected to be somewhere around 50/50, give or take a few percentage points, and supporters and non-supporters will fall into the yin and yang of the conservative/liberal, democrat/republican division. From the majority of that slice of people, we would not have to guess if they are for or against an issue. Most would announce emphatically what they support and why. However, when it comes to the Wikileaks issue, the dividing line is not so clear, and the deathly silence that accompanies it's mention is very noticeable.

Some of this silence is likely due to the strong steps taken by our government and corporate interests in defianace of the whistleblower style of Wikileaks. From the slice of people I have come to know on-line, only a very small number will say anything concerning Wikileaks, and the majority of those remain on the sideline waiting for some other shoe to fall. I believe the reason for this is because this higher level of transparency due to these leaks is not just one of our every day issues us voters face. There are no clear defined lines for us to choose. Wikileaks offers us an alternative world through the proverbial looking glass. The world on the other side is unknown and unpredictable and we struggle to find our footing. Wikileaks does not focus on, or make us think about issues. It forces us to think about the entire structure of our representative democracy and brings to the surface many of our suppressed feelings concerning the state of democracy and how it will survive this new thing referred to as the Information Age.

Do we really want a pseudo democracy whose foundations are built on lies, and if not, are we ready for the responsibility that accompanies a true open democracy? Or would we rather continue living the lie and remain in our comfort zone of denial? Consider the words of Slavoj Žižek:

Consider too the renewed popularity of Leo Strauss: the aspect of his political thought that is so relevant today is his elitist notion of democracy, the idea of the ‘necessary lie’.Elites should rule, aware of the actual state of things (the materialist logic of power), and feed the people fables to keep them happy in their blessed ignorance.

The only surprising thing about the WikiLeaks revelations is that they contain no surprises. Didn’t we learn exactly what we expected to learn? The real disturbance was at the level of appearances: we can no longer pretend we don’t know what everyone knows we know.

What WikiLeaks threatens is the formal functioning of power. The true targets here weren’t the dirty details and the individuals responsible for them; not those in power, in other words, so much as power itself, its structure. We shouldn’t forget that power comprises not only institutions and their rules, but also legitimate (‘normal’) ways of challenging it (an independent press, NGOs etc) – as the Indian academic Saroj Giri put it, WikiLeaks ‘challenged power by challenging the normal channels of challenging power and revealing the truth’. The aim of the WikiLeaks revelations was not just to embarrass those in power but to lead us to mobilize ourselves to bring about a different functioning of power that might reach beyond the limits of representative democracy.

These excerpts taken from an essay by Slavoj Žižek entitled, Good Manners in the Age of WikiLeaks.


Blogger cile said...

"...we can no longer pretend we don’t know what everyone knows we know."
Perfectly stated by Slavoj Žižek!
This is great, Atu. I too find it rather baffling how people are reacting to WikiLeaks but I shouldn't be surprised, I guess. My experience with transparency in the workplace has met with the same lack of "groking" the concept, if you will. I suspect at some point, people will figure out the benefits of it.

Friday, 28 January, 2011  

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