Well, I don’t know about you – but I’m getting really sick of the circus that is taking place around Assange. Even the more serious publications are taking interest in what is clearly a farce. What’s more, I’m now seeing typically affected quotes from that washed-up old pseudo-intellectual fart Hitchens turning up in the various articles I read (“Assange has but yet to consider that he, as a member of our humble species and our august culture, should not but show deference at the altar of our expansive, regal and sustaining Civilisation” – okay, that’s not a direct quote, in fact it’s probably less pretentious and thesaurus-heavy than the original… but you get the idea).
So, I’m done – wake me up when the outcome is announced.
In the meantime, let’s look at something far more interesting: Assange’s general philosophy, as he himself has written it. An outline of which can be found in these papers – written in 2006.
The first thing that strikes the reader is the overlap of vast theoretical speculation with extremely down-to-earth observations. Here’s a baroque chunk of high ‘Assangian’ theory:
We will use connected graphs as way to harness the spatial reasoning ability of the brain to think in a new way about political relationships.
The complexity of this is clear for all to see – indeed, the language is taken from the cognitive neurosciences – but now compare this to some of the more earthy passages in the piece:
The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie.
We move from the lofty thoughts of a man who is clearly very intelligent and well-read (trained in high physics – something of an expert in cognitive neuroscience and computer science, apparently), to an extremely interesting observation. This cocktail of sharp, precise analytical ability and pragmatic, well-planned calls to action are characteristic of Assange’s entire approach.
His overarching structure is interesting too. He takes as his starting point the conspiracy-model. No, I don’t mean that Assange starts out on a paranoid quest to find a cabal of ethnic evil-doers that are manipulating things from on high. Instead, he tries to conceptualise the contemporary world – which he sees as being predominantly controlled by structures of corporate government (that is, the alliance of transnational corporations and national governments) – as a sort of informal conspiracy. Assange lays it down himself in his inimitable style:
Where details are known as to the inner workings of authoritarian regimes, we see conspiratorial interactions among the political elite not merely for preferment or favor within the regime but as the primary planning methodology behind maintaining or strengthening authoritarian power.
What Assange means is that modern powers – which, in their tendency to make decisions behind closed doors, he views as inherently authoritarian – engage in conspiratorial behavior as a matter of course. For Assange, modern powers cannot operate openly, so they find it necessary to operate in secrete. Are these the deranged rantings of a computer obsessed lunatic? Well, if the diplomatic cables have proved one thing, it’s that there is certainly a strong tendency toward secrecy on the part of modern powers.
Here I must go into an aside – one which I hope clarifies Assange’s point. When the leaks took place many said that they were not revealing anything new. It was argued that any intelligent and educated person would have already known their content prior to their release. First of all, this was blatantly untrue in some cases (such as the leaks on China and North Korea or the leaks on Putin and Berlusconi). But in the cases this was true, it can be said to point to a very important characteristic of corporate and government power in the world today: namely, that we know these powers to be extremely opaque; we know that what they say they are doing is all lies and that we have to use our analytical powers in order to figure out what is going on around us. I ask you: does this not confirm Assange’s key point?
Assange claims that in order to break through this conspiratorial network of power, people must disrupt the power-brokers’ ability to communicate with one another:
We can split the conspiracy, reduce or eliminating important communication between a few high weight links or many low weight links.
We can deceive or blind a conspiracy by distorting or restricting the information available to it.
We can reduce total conspiratorial power via unstructured attacks on links or through throttling and separating.
A conspiracy sufficiently engaged in this manner is no longer able to comprehend its environment and plan robust action.
Assange views corporate and government power as one might view a computer network. If this network is unable to communicate effectively with itself, errors occur and it begins to break down. A similar analogy might be drawn from the human brain. If different centers of the human brain are unable to communicate with each other – say, due to destruction of certain brain-centers due to a lesion or a stroke – then cognitive defects will result and the person finds themselves, in some sense, disabled.
Assange sees information leaks as lesions or strokes for the giant brain of corporate governance. Every time a leak is released a breakdown of communication results between various actors on the national or international scene. Consider the breakdown of diplomatic relations after the leaks; could this not be seen, in Assange’s framework, as a breakdown of communication between various ‘conspirators’?
It should be noted that this seems to be Assange’s goal. Freedom of information – the reason why many people, myself included, support Assange – seems only to be secondary.
Assange sees ‘conspiracies’ – once again I’ll remind you, these are metaphorical – as ‘closed-systems’. Closed-systems are systems that do not have any outside inputs – so, that would be a group of people who make plans among themselves (this group is the ‘system’) and don’t bother taking in any information from outside of themselves, say, by looking at what is happening in the world at large (this information would be the ‘input’).
Assange claims that by destroying communication between conspiracies – that is, closed-systems – more open-systems will form. Open-systems being, of course, systems that do take in inputs from outside – or, continuing our example, groups of people who do look toward the world around them when considering what action to take.
So, that’s the essential content of Assange’s philosophy – now lets turn to the form.
As already shown, Assange borrows heavily from the information sciences – more specifically, cognitive neuroscience and computer science. This is extremely interesting because this leads his philosophy to resemble certain contemporary post-structural philosophies – most specifically, that of the 20th century French philosopher Gilles Deleuze.
Deleuze too borrowed heavily from the information sciences to support his theories – and, unsurprisingly, he too came to very similar political conclusions as Assange. Deleuze saw political organisations – and organisations generally – in terms of what he referred to as ‘structures’ and ‘multiplicities’.
For Deleuze, ‘structures’ were closed-systems – closed on themselves and resistant to anything outside of themselves – while ‘multiplicities’ were open-systems, which communicated freely with the world around them. Throughout Deleuze’s two works of political theory, ‘Anti-Oedipus‘ and ‘A Thousand Plateaus‘ – both written in collaboration with the French psychoanalyst Felix Guattari – he deals with many of the same ideas as Assange does.
Deleuze, like Assange, uses complex metaphors derived from mathematics and science to explain the world around him. And like Assange, he sees the solution to the problem of ‘closed-systems’ as to attempt to break through congealed structures and promote communication and the free spread of information.
I won’t pass any judgments on Assange’s politics or his philosophy other than that I appreciate his freeing up certain information and recognise that he is an extremely intelligent individual. But I will say that Assange’s philosophy – and WikiLeaks as an organisation – is perhaps one of the purest manifestations of a Deleuzian political movement ever to come into existence (Deleuze referred to such a political movement as a ‘War Machine‘).
If nothing else, WikiLeaks is a fascinating chapter in the history of ideas.