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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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Julian Assange has just conducted a brief Q&A on the Guardian website and he gave one statement that clearly indicates his fierce intelligence and comprehension of the stakes involved in transparency of government. I felt it worthy enough to merit a post and expository paragraph or two of its own. The quotation reads:

The west has fiscalised its basic power relationships through a web of contracts, loans, shareholdings, bank holdings and so on. In such an environment it is easy for speech to be "free" because a change in political will rarely leads to any change in these basic instruments. Western speech, as something that rarely has any effect on power, is, like badgers and birds, free. In states like China, there is pervasive censorship, because speech still has power and power is scared of it. We should always look at censorship as an economic signal that reveals the potential power of speech in that jurisdiction. The attacks against us by the US point to a great hope, speech powerful enough to break the fiscal blockade.

There are two points here. Firstly, Assange correctly highlights that it is easy for speech to be free when it has no power. We can, therefore, use levels of censorship as a measure of the impact of speech. The second point is that the instant that speech attacks the basic monetary substructure which pervades occidental society, it is suddenly empowered and, consequentially, censored. Hence, defamation is taken seriously because it impacts financially upon the target. When slander is not false, but true and a character is rightly vilified, however, that speech still has power because of its economic consequences. In Western culture, therefore, censored speech is that which could actually lead to an effective change; not to the temporary government which happens to hold sway at a particular moment in time, but rather to the paradigm that was prerequisite for that government to exist.

Wikileaks is an attack on conspiracy, as defined by the gap between what people say they do and what they actually do. As Assange has said elsewhere, originally in his piece "State and Terrorist Conspiracies": "Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems." The masquerade of wars with financial motives is the prime example of this charade and exposing them as such queries not just the government that entered into the war (hello, Labour Party), but the more important issue of capital. Wikileaks is, therefore, actually about the inevitable corruption that occurs when capital enters conspiratorial, invisible government. If Wikileaks aims to undermine American power, it is primarily in the proposed irreconcilability of capital and government, which helps account -- even if they won't acknowledge it -- for the vitriol from the American right.

There are, of course, those who object. I would say, though that those who cry out that secrecy is necessary for diplomacy should, firstly, query their own ethics. Instead of calling for the leaks to stop, why are you not asking for the behaviour to stop? Accountability will quickly lead to a vast reduction of wartime atrocities (such as in the Collateral Murder videos) while a more open form of diplomacy might give peace talks, as they say, a chance.

On the other hand, those who cry out that this is idealistic, ask where your own ideals went. Instead of perpetuating a system with your hegemony, why can you not see that it was this lack of transparency that demolished your belief in human goodness? Privacy should apply to the individual, not the government. The government is a collective entity which should be accountable to the people, not vice-versa.