About freedom and transparency – Days after WikiLeaks Julian Assange arrest

I have no clear point of view about WikiLeaks itself. Simply by lack of knowledge. Is it good? Is it bad? Should it be considered a “threat to peoples life” or “political stability” due to the information disclosed? My answer would be: “it depends”.

For now, reading the reportings around the leaks, my main feeling is reading a gossip-magazine. We read things like: “Prins Albert is in fight with his wife and considers divorce” but read nothing about: “he also has bonds with international crime rings and ordered five people to be killed this summer”.

This article is a free flow of thoughts on freedom and transparency and might be cleaned later.

Right now students are revolting in Rome, against the ongoing governmental destruction of public education. Although I do not advertise violence, I think they are doing the right thing.

Freedom is just another word for “nothing left to lose”

Listening to this song sung by Janis Joplin, this sentence suddenly struck me a while ago. Put into another order: When you have nothing to lose, you are free.

“Nothing to lose” can mean – “having nothing”, but also: “having not other options left”. It also placed my own position into a different light. As I DO think I have things to lose, I am not truly free. Looking at the students: risking arrest and jail, they feel they have more to lose by NOT protesting than they have by their actions today. This “frees” them from the restrictions they had until recently and gave them the freedom to revolt against their government.

What are WikiLeaks bad for?

The wikileaks are bad for all the hidden agendas and backroom agreements. For every hidden crime, for every pointless project that was a failure even before it began – committed in our name and with our money – and for every corruption scheme they might expose, this transparency is a good thing. It is a good thing for what we call democracy.

For all the negative steps our governments might take as a result of these or future leaks – out of fear or due to personal agendas that oppose the basis of a democratic society – they are a bad thing. Think here in the line of new laws to restrict freedom of expression and publication like:

  1. New laws and rules to take down sites like WikiLeaks “to protect our democracy”.
  2. New filters implemented on search engines and domain names to restrict access to information to “protect our people”

Any country and society moving in this direction is a dressed up / hidden dictatorship.

The hidden elite-society

Western Society is an hidden elite-society. Our “democracy” is only there on paper. “The people” have no real vote into what is decided by our government. Our “freedom” is still a hidden form of slavery. With more luxury goods to play with, but still a lot of hidden chains that bound us. Our government (at least that of the Netherlands) seem to perceive “the people” they “represent” still as children who should be protected from the harm others and ourselves could inflict. Decisions are made by a small group of people, based on information gathered by another small group of people.

What differentiates us from being in a police-state or dictatorship is our bill of rights. Including the right:

  1. Of Privacy – where what happens in your house and behind closed doors is your business and yours alone
  2. To be heard and to defend yourself in a court of law – so that you can try and prove your innocense
  3. To freedom of speach – to be allowed to say what you want to say, without prosecution
  4. To receive education – to form your own thoughts and theories
  5. To have access to information – even when this infomration might be in conflict with your governments agenda
  6. To be treated equal / for equal opportunities – as a human being, instead of based on your upbringing, heritage, skin color, gender or sexual preference
  7. To decide over the fate of your own body and mind – like having the option for healing, refuse treatment, have and ask for abortion, euthanasia, augmentation and self mutilation and choosing whatever belief-system you want

These rights – more than our government – make our society – for the people living in that society – something moving from oppressive, abusive and demeaning systems towards civilization.

It is quite easy to fall back into paranoia, fear and blaming “others”, as that is something you can do with words alone and without making any effort. You do not have to reach out, do not have to make conversation, do not have to learn about the other, do not have to get beyond your own preconceptions or limited belief-systems. You will not be challenged in who you are, or what you believe in.

It is this property, this easiness of words/no action that gives the extreme right and extreme left their votes in times of crisis. And as we tend to turn inwards in times of crisis and stop thinking clearly (if we did that at all to begin with), in general most will follow and only a few will protest.

Clay Shirkey – the long haul of wikipedia

Now lets take a look at this article by Clay Shirkey.

What struck me is the beginning of his blog post (bold added by me):

Citizens of a functioning democracy must be able to know what the state is saying and doing in our name, to engage in what Pierre Rosanvallon calls “counter-democracy”*, the democracy of citizens distrusting rather than legitimizing the actions of the state. Wikileaks plainly improves those abilities.

On the other hand, human systems can’t stand pure transparency. For negotiation to work, people’s stated positions have to change, but change is seen, almost universally, as weakness. People trying to come to consensus must be able to privately voice opinions they would publicly abjure, and may later abandon. Wikileaks plainly damages those abilities. (If Aaron Bady’s analysis is correct, it is the damage and not the oversight that Wikileaks is designed to create.*)

I strongly disagree with the “human systems ca not stand pure transparency” part. If you can not handle transparency as a government, you are very likely not be the government we want to have: to decide over our money, our future and the future of our children – via the institutes you fund and support from the money you received from our pockets – using and/or abusing the trust that you force us to give you by offering no alternative systems.

The way we seem to go

Based on the developments in the past years, Europe slowly seems to go in the opposite direction of a democracy. With 9/11 as one of the big markers in time, we increased the implementation of all kind of measurements to “ensure safety” including the increase of observation cameras, wiretapping and the recent talk about “deep packet inspection” which will allow our security agents to read the contents of information we citizens send over the web.

When Communist Russia became more and more grim in the 1920s and the 1930s and the rise and fall of Nazi Germany, writers like George Orwell, with Animal Farm and 1984 and less known writers like Karin Boye with Kallocain wrote about control-societies giving you messages that “all is well” while the world around you was falling apart and people you knew could be gone and erased from one day to another.

One thing that stroke me in Kallocain (see a brief review here, it has been a while since I read it myself) was the use of children as spies. At school, each child reports the doings of their parents. Each teacher is a representant of the government. Thus giving that government a look inside of each house and breaking any possibility of privacy.

In some dystopian novels, including the same Kallocain (which can be found online here), that government has a view inside the houses of the people via several observation systems, including the children – brainwashed and capable of betraying their own parents for “crimes against the government”.

According to reports Netherlands is one of the top-countries regarding wiretapping. We also seem to leas the eager bunch of officials to increase the earlier mentioned Deep Packet Inspection – in order to “block illegal websites” and using the aid of finding Child Pornography offenders as one of the excuses to get this passed.

Democracy (a free state) is a frail thing

When the government holds all major lines of communication – either by ownership as is the case in Italy, or by politically biased people like is the case in the US – it holds the minds and hearts and thoughts of the major part of the population.

When the government also holds the content of what is educated, it hold the minds.

When the state holds your debts and the possibility to block your bank accounts, it holds your freedom.

Many people rely on the media to inform them about things. What happened? What were the backgrounds? Is it wrong? Is it right? It is not hard to doctor this information. It is not hard to take over a broadcasting company. You do not need soldiers or force to control a state.

What I fear most is the “soft dictatorship” where the police “is your friend”, “everything is as it was” and the media diverts your attention from the things that happen right in front of you so that everything around you becomes only worse and nobody really has the means or mind to take a stand.

“Human systems can not stand transparancy”

In a child-parent relationship, the “parent knows best”. A child-parent relationship is per default not a democracy. The parent holds the money, the house and the responsibility over all decision making. The child lives, learns and is busy growing up.

In child-parent relationships that are distorted, for instance because one or both of the parents dies – like what happens in war, or both parents are drug-addicts, and the child has to take over the role of “adult”, the child can become the parent, taking care of financial matters, household and food. In some societies you are an adult when you reach the age of 13.

When you proclaim that: “children can not take responsibility” you simply proclaim a false truth. The same is with: “Human systems can not stand transparancy”.

Human systems without transparancy are – by default – crippled

Whenever you think you should hide one or more facts (as any “truth” is a fabrication) you assume something about the people that receive your message. Either they are:

  1. Incapable to handle those facts
  2. Will act in a way “against their own good” or act against your agenda – by leaving you, by condemning you

The result is that we have to make up reasons to motivate others. Spin-doctor the events and circumstances a bit so that you will buy our story and support our purpose. This cost time. And money. And effort. It slows the system down.

Making up and hiding things requires work and effort. It also debilitates the people involved, as rules come in place to limit their actions. Complete freedom of action is scary for systems with hidden agendas and skeletons in the closet. By limiting the people inside your system you also limit the reach and speed of your actions. Hiding things also creates unwanted ripple-effects, like when massive lay-offs are about to happen and nobody in the organization has a clue what will happen ans who will be affected. The stress and fear alone brings the entire machine to a grinding slow down.

Human systems can stand transparancy

From our current social standpoint transparency is quite an extremist take on life and our daily reeling and dealing. In general we lie. We hide. Being transparent means sharing what we think and feel and did. Instead of stating: “I was reading news-sites all day instead of working on your request” we tell a white lie. We do the same in our personal relationships. Social lubrication is what I called this, once I started to understand the value of this kind of hiding and small-talk.

Like children who can take responsibility long before they reach the age of 13, people can work (and thrive) in transparent environments. In general they feel much better in those environments and are more productive, as there is a bigger bond of trust and more clarity and no need for a paranoid side-track in the back of the mind that is trained to double-guess everyone and everything as “you can trust nobody”.

In general transparency is more appreciated than cover-ups. People and organizations who have the balls to be clear about their motives, actions and mistakes and to take responsibility over their actions are often perceived as reliable. More than that: in most cases they are more hardened and mentally stronger than the average you and me who believe that white lies are an better way to get out of things.

Wrapping it up

Hiding and cover ups start from fear. Transparency starts from trust and self confidence.

Believing that a fully transparent society is possible on a short term is naive and Utopian thinking. Believing that transparency will create a better world for all falls under the same category. Working towards a fully transparant society on a short term is a different story. It should be the first directive in all the societies claiming to be “civilized” and in the minds of all people living inside these societies.

To be exposed should be taken with dignity. “Yes I did this” and: “Yes, I was wrong”.

Right now, WikiLeaks is the best things to happen and more things should be exposed.

There is always the danger of governments going wrong, when the true powers emerge from behind the stage. “Even in Europe”. And exposure can hasten that process. But the slow killing that is the result of anything hidden is not the way either. Maybe we, the people – me included, being politically agnostic – will pick up our responsibilities for a time. Right now, in our “Free” and “Democratic” society, each of the rights I mentioned earlier are offended in one way or another:

  1. Of Privacy – where what happens in your house and behind closed doors is your business and yours alone
  2. To be heard and to defend yourself in a court of law – so that you can try and prove your innocense
  3. To freedom of speach – to be allowed to say what you want to say, without prosecution
  4. To receive education – to form your own thoughts and theories
  5. To have access to information – even when this infomration might be in conflict with your governments agenda
  6. To be treated equal / for equal opportunities – as a human being, instead of based on your upbringing, heritage, skin color, gender or sexual preference
  7. To decide over the fate of your own body and mind – like having the option for healing, refuse treatment, abortion, euthanasia, augmentation and self mutilation and choosing whatever belief-system you want
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