[OPE] Wikileaks, Karl Marx and you

From: Jurriaan Bendien <jurriaanbendien@online.nl>
Date: Tue Jan 18 2011 - 12:52:17 EST


Personally I would not want to be associated with wikileaks, and I will tell
you why. It's not that what they do may not also turn out to have merits,
such as demonstrating war crimes in the public domain, but rather that if
you endorse the general principle of people releasing confidential or
private information, or hacking into other people's databases, you invite
others to do the same to you. It doesn't really help people to make their
way in the world.

Since I have suffered such incidents repeatedly in the past, I suppose I
could say I have every right to divulge the private information belonging to
others in the public domain, even if only to defend myself. Nevertheless, if
I believe in the right of citizens to privacy as a healthy good, I cannot
very well engage in acts myself which violate the legitimate privacy of
others, unless a crime is demonstrably involved (actually, the Dutch
constitution stipulates explicitly that the private sphere of citizens must
be respected, although in practice it often isn't).

Many newspapers, including Dutch newspapers, have released wikileaks
material which entered the public domain, but - leaving aside that the
information is mostly rather trivial, or could be inferred from publicly
accessible sources - I doubt that this practice will really benefit a free
press. Namely, people are likely to become even more reluctant to provide
information to the media, and the possibility of leaks may indeed be offered
as a justification for this. The result might well be more secrecy and
deception, and an even less open society - even more important information
exchanges may be held "off the record", rather than placed on record as
evidence. Rather than engender more social trust - vital for a healthy,
well-functioning society - it may in fact reduce trust. I do not see how
citizens are helped by that.

I am surprised that the article associates wikileaks with Marx, who, after
all, fought an important battle against anarchist provocateurs and their
masks. A fair and honest public debate which sorts out the real quality of
ideas, and who really supports them, cannot occur if people apply different
norms or rules to others, than they do to themselves, i.e. if they have no
respect for their opponent's privacy while safeguarding their own. It may be
that "all is fair in love and war", and wikileaks may think itself as
fighting a war, but the indirect casualties of that war may in fact be
people who have nothing to do with that war, since the effects of releasing
the information can hardly be overseen by the people releasing it; nor are
they able to take full personal responsibility for that. Resorting to the
release of juicy titbits of confidential information is unlikely to improve
the quality of public debate, it is more symptomatic of the lack of it. We
improve the public debate in the first instance by putting better ideas in
the public domain, not by attempting to destroy the reputation of others
through the release of their secrets.

Perhaps most important of all, the indiscriminate release of a barrage of
confidential information by wikileaks lacks a clearly articulated political
motive. It merely conveys the opinion that the public has a "right to know",
and that the confidentiality of the information is inappropriate or unjust.
It however places us in a realm of lawlessness in which "anything goes", but
if anything goes, the same must apply to the perpetrators. I don't think
that this benefits a healthy public debate, or a genuine confrontation of
opposing ideas, but instead places additional obstacles in its path.


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Received on Tue Jan 18 12:53:47 2011

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