NYRB blog: WikiLeaks in the Moral Void
Christian Caryl has an insightful post on the NYRB blog, “WikiLeaks in the Moral Void.” As he astutely says about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks,
In practical terms it seems to boil down to a policy of disclosure for disclosure’s sake. This is what the technology allows, and Assange has merely followed its lead. I don’t see coherently articulated morality, or even immorality, at work here at all; what I see is an amoral, technocratic void.
There have been so many times, historically, that good ends have been served by bringing information to light the government or other organizations wanted to conceal that it can be difficult to see the radical effect that the internet is having on the implications of transparency as a value. Sunshine laws have always built in limitations on disclosure for good reasons, but in popular thinking these limitations haven’t changed the way many people think about transparency as a value per se. Now, in the case of WikiLeaks, it seems that technical tools are realizing that value to an absolute degree. I think librarians who admire Julian Assange as a matter of reflex should stop to consider how our basic framework of values is affected by technology in this area. To think that the world would be a better place if there were total transparency, no distinction between public and private, inside and outside, would, I think, amount to a failure to think things through. Instead of making a hero out of Julian Assange, I think we should study WikiLeaks as an example of the social effects of technology. What does it tell us about how the internet amplifies certain human tendencies as opposed to others? About the effect of the internet on international relations and people’s relationship to the state? Do we know why we react to something like WikiLeaks the way we do, prior to thinking about it?