Wikileaks and the Nightmare of History

“History… is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake” says Stephen Dedalus in Joyce’s Ulysses. Power is central to the nightmare of history. That has always been the case except where land was communally owned and women were empowered to make decisions with respect to their bodies. If Wikileaks was dangerous enough to provoke the powers that be (a phrase coined by William Tyndale, one of the early translators of the Bible into English who eventually was burnt at the stake for “heresy”), Julian Assange’s plight would not be very different from that of Tyndale himself. “Leaks” could be as political as heresies if they threw light on the role of corporations – the powers that be – in manipulating the state machinery to serve private ends at the expense of the masses.

I sincerely fail to understand what Wikileaks is attempting to demonstrate by unleashing this deluge of information most of which is in fact common knowledge. Isn’t this a working of capitalism within capitalism – that this kind of seemingly “critical” information is accessible in corporate-driven societies no matter how hard we rant against their ills? Isn’t this another kind of manufacturing consent or something that would fill a global gossip column? What governments, leaders and diplomats think of each other in their cloakrooms is as uninteresting and pointless as the slander ordinary folks indulge in on a day-to-day basis to fill their time. The Wikileaks is a storm in an empty tea-cup and not anything that would wake you from the nightmare of history.

The above criticism is not to ignore the fact that Wikileaks is dishonest and unethical in the larger sense of the term. The only way that the agendas of governments and states can be challenged is with truth expressed as plainly as possible. The activism of men like Chomsky and Finkelstein or that of the journalist Robert Fisk falls in this category. Tell the truth and the lies of the powerful fall like a house made of cards. The naked emperor starts perishing with embarrassment unable to bear his stark nakedness. Truth has a child-like simplicity that sycophants find hard to understand.

The role of the state in the 21st century must be understood in the context of revolutions in the areas of media and telecommunications. To make or break lives is a dangerously simple thing. Attach a file to your email and click ‘send’ and the damage is done. This is something scary to the powerful as well. Frankenstein in his oedipal agony has forgotten the face of his “real” masters. The missile has deviated from the trajectory and is coming back to destroy its makers. The metaphor begs the question with respect to what kind of a state we live in.

The nation-state in the West is gradually disappearing to make way for the ‘global state.’ The global state is a coordination of vested interests operating beyond the bounds of passports and citizenship or in other words laws that apply to people on the street. The remnant of the nation-state in the third world is more by way of resistance rather than power. Pockets of the global corporate state are more than visible in spaces that powerful elites inhabit in very poor countries.

This is the “nightmare” in which we must examine what Wikileaks is attempting to do. No one trusts a politician anywhere on this planet and states and governments are laid bare before the common eye. There is nothing new about it. At the level of activism remarkably honest writers, socialists and other committed men and women have done everything they could, sometimes at great personal risk, to expose the wrongdoings of their governments. Yet the truth is simple. Autorickshaw drivers who barely make ends meet on the dusty streets of Hyderabad knew that Iraq under Saddam Hussein did not have any weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The profound ignorance of average westerners is daunting to say the least. They continue to believe the lies that their insane power-hungry governments invent on a day-to-day basis with the active assistance of the media.

My point is that the truth is far more terrible than Wikileaks could dream of telling. Each and every one of us is implicated in that truth. We’re responsible for the millions of the homeless and the hungry across this planet. Says Bertrand Russell at the beginning of his autobiography “What I have lived for:” “Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.” We too cannot alleviate the evil, but we don’t want to suffer. We want to ignore the fact that it exists. The absence of the angst shows in the kind of media frenzy we see among those who’ve access to these spaces. The obsession to be looked at is cancerously devouring those who mistake illusion for reality. The victimizers are victims to their own illusions. The seller of dope is a dope addict. The profit-monger stays far from it because his only addiction is to power that comes with ownership. No one can describe that addiction with singular admiration as the novels of Ayn Rand can do. Property is an objective state. The objectivity of wealth is that it is the face behind all the masks. The exploitative and hollow character of that face is what needs to be brought to light.

Wikileaks is asking questions that are political while attempting to maintain an apolitical stance. Such a stance that does not declare where its real affinities lie is problematic. T. S. Eliot’s poem, “The Rock” famously asks the question: “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” Wikileaks is exactly the kind of information that is the enemy of knowledge. It is information that ends up being information – it informs and yet surprisingly no one comes out knowing anything particularly new.


Categories: Rethinking The World

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