Thursday, December 02, 2010

Julian Assange is no dummy and that's why they're coming after him

Via Jay Ackroyd at Eschaton,  via zunguzungu (?),  you can read why Julian Assange is doing the Wikileaks thing,  and therefore why various political and media organs have demonized him.  From a the post  by zunguzungu:

Because he thinks of the conspiracy as a computational network, he notes in an aside that one way to weaken its cognitive ability would be to degrade the quality of its information:
Since a conspiracy is a type of cognitive device that acts on information acquired from its environment, distorting or restricting these inputs means acts based on them are likely to be misplaced. Programmers call this effect garbage in, garbage out. Usually the effect runs the other way; it is conspiracy that is the agent of deception and information restriction. In the US, the programmer’s aphorism is sometimes called “the Fox News effect”.
I’m not sure this is what he means, but it’s worth reflecting that the conspiracy’s ability to deceive others through propaganda can also be the conspiracy’s tendency to deceive itself by its own propaganda. So many people genuinely drink the Kool-Aid, after all. Would our super-spies in Afghanistan ever have been so taken in by the imposter Taliban guy if they didn’t, basically, believe their own line of propaganda, if they didn’t convince themselves — even provisionally — that we actually are winning the war against Talibothra? The same is true of WMD; while no one in possession of the facts could rationally conclude that Saddam Hussein then (or Iran now) are actually, positively in pursuit of WMD’s, this doesn’t mean that the people talking about ticking time bombs don’t actually believe that they are. It just means they are operating with bad information about the environment. Sometimes this works in their favor, but sometimes it does not: if Obama thinks Afghanistan is winnable, it may sink his presidency, for example, while the belief of his advisors that the economy would recover if the government rescued only the banks almost certainly lost the midterm elections for the Democrats (and was the death-knell for so many of the Blue Dogs who were driving that particular policy choice). Whether this actually hurts the conspiracy is unclear; those Blue Dogs might have lost their seats, but most of them will retire from public service to cushy jobs supported by the sectors they supported while they were in public service. And lots of successful politicians do nothing but fail.
This is however, not where Assange’s reasoning leads him. He decides, instead, that the most effective way to attack this kind of organization would be to make “leaks” a fundamental part of the conspiracy’s  information environment. Which is why the point is not that particular leaks are specifically effective. Wikileaks does not leak something like the “Collateral Murder” video as a way of putting an end to that particular military tactic; that would be to target a specific leg of the hydra even as it grows two more. Instead, the idea is that increasing the porousness of the conspiracy’s information system will impede its functioning, that the conspiracy will turn against itself in self-defense, clamping down on its own information flows in ways that will then impede its own cognitive function. You destroy the conspiracy, in other words, by making it so paranoid of itself that it can no longer conspire:
The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption. Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.
The leak, in other words, is only the catalyst for the desired counter-overreaction; Wikileaks wants to provoke the conspiracy into turning off its own brain in response to the threat.

This is fascinating in several ways to me,  as a Communications and Information Theorist, and as a Buddhist.   As the former, it's interesting as a way to bring down a network executing a strategy, and as the latter it brings up interesting questions of right speech, action, and livelihood.  Unfortunately for Assange, though, the Prisoner's Dilemma is operative here: no government on earth will likely stand down from its power to operate in a secret and conspiratorial way, and thus he's on some Interpol list, whether justified or not. 

Is what Assange is doing right speech?  In a sense that his goal is greater government accountability to the citizens, I would suppose that his actions are laudable.  On the other hand,  - here's the paradox - the ability of the government to function on behalf of the people lies in its ability to create and  keep secrets, and transmit them in a trusted network.  

It is very difficult to achieve Assange's objective, I'm afraid, without fatally compromising the other objective.  The organ of state that deals with transmission of secrets in a network is necessary to the healthy functioning of the state, and can be used for good or for ill, just as an arm may be used to feed another or kill another. 

Assange, to my knowledge, has disclosed not a thing that has compromised the security of the United States or any other national entity.     But because he has arrogated for himself something that all states prefer to arrogate to themselves, they're going to continue to come after him. 


Shodhin said...

Right speech or not, I confess I'm absolutely intrigued with his tactics and the responses they provoke.

Mumon said...

I'm intrigued with his tactics too, but I think he's slightly naive in that no government will take to kindly with anyone messing with any attempts to disrupt any government's or any other government's conspiracies.

It's an attack on their class, you know.

They don't like that.