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Wikileaks Revisited

Entry 1249, on 2010-12-03 at 22:51:20 (Rating 4, Comments)

I'm sorry to have to continue on the same topic as my last post, but I feel I have to say more about Wikileaks. The latest leaks have been widely condemned by conservatives, senior members of the US and some other governments, and people who just don't understand what the internet is all about. To me, this is one of the most important attributes of the internet: the ability for information to be widely distributed irrespective of the wishes of the rich and powerful.

It's just too easy to make the following comment but I'm going to anyway: if conservatives, senior politicians, big business, and diplomats don't like it then it's probably a good thing for the rest of us! Yes, the fact that people like the Clintons have condemned the leaks, the fact that nutty conservatives want Julian Assange assassinated, the fact that the FBI have put Assange on some sort of "hit list", the fact that every day people in power are scared of what the next revelation will be, are all good signs that Wikileaks is doing the right thing.

This seems to be another issue which is creating a great split in opinion. A Pew poll showed about a 50/50 opinion for and against the idea that the Afghanistan leaks (from earlier this year) serve the public interest. In the "geek community" a poll showed overwhelming support for what Wikileaks is doing (only 4% wanted the leaks to stop), although some partly disagreed with the way it was being done. A conservative site showed significant condemnation of the leaks. A more liberal site showed the opposite.

As I have said in previous posts, it seems that the world is becoming more polarised. Some conservatives are becoming so conservative that they are verging on insanity. In some ways liberals are also becoming more extreme. Scientists are getting motivated about making the public aware of the facts on controversial issues such as climate change. The new atheists are attacking religious belief. No doubt the extreme reactions on each side are feeding the extreme reactions on the other.

Of course, I tend to support the liberals and I would say that the "extremists" on that side are only reacting to the outrageous lies the conservatives are indulging in. However, whatever the cause, the huge gulf between the irrational and rational groups in society is a problem.

Look at the issues: conservatives tend to reject scientific facts, like global warming, even though it's completely unjustifiable to do so (it's irrational not to act even though there is still some uncertainty). Conservatives believe their religion is the only one with any merit while liberals increasingly reject religion completely or accept them all equally. Conservatives think that interventionist and hard line military, economic, and political actions are justified while liberals tend to question these.

None of that is fundamentally different from what the world has always been like but I think the dichotomy of opinion is more extreme now and the consequences are more significant.

For example, if enough conservative nutters reject global warming and refuse to deal with it (as seems to be the case) then everyone will suffer. Unfortunately the moderates have to share the planet with the extremists. It seems unlikely that there is going to be anything done about climate change (although that's not just because of conservative nutters but also because of corporate and national greed and thoughtlessness.)

Here's another example: religious extremists hinder scientific advances (such as stem cell research) which means everyone suffers because of lack of new treatments. Why should they force their superstitions on society in general and cause everyone to suffer?

I've moved away from the Wikileaks issue now but I think these topics are connected. Irrational groups by definition can't be influenced by rational discussion (if they could they wouldn't be irrational to start with) but the majority of the population is in a sort of "undecided" category. If the facts can be made more visible to this group through sources such as Wikileaks then that has to be good in the long term.

The world has to change. We currently have a totally unsustainable system in place. The only way it will change is if the existing system's failures can be brought to the attention of the public. Wikileaks, and the internet in general, are the best hope we have of actually achieving this aim.


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