Controlling interpretations

An extremely valuable book for those who want to learn how two greatest technological minds of the 21st century think about power Information, like climate, is intimately linked with the nature of the contemporary world. The world is nothing for human beings but a broad range of interpretations. It means the world, since the emergence of Language, has mostly existed as information (interpretations of the world). Controlling the number and scope of possible interpretations that circulate in the public sphere is the most powerful tool for any system of thought control. It is precisely for this reason that Big Brother, the dictator in George Orwell’s novel 1984, removes all the adjectives from the dictionary. Adjectives help people pass judgements, he reasons. For George Orwell, thought control was the ultimate tool for controlling the present, the past, and the future: “He who controls the past controls

the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” (1984). In this context, this book is about the right to control the world through information. For Julian Assange, keeping information secret is “crimogenic,” as in it produces crime. His argument is quite convincing: if the governments of the world are doing things that are not criminal, they do not need to hide anything. In his views, governments lie all the time but they lie more often just before they want to start a war. The lies that a government wants to tell its people are spread through the media. It means that journalists are becoming directly involved in the process of war and peace: “Most wars in the twentieth century started as a result of lies amplified and spread by the mainstream press” (pp. 126-127). Assange’s interpretation of this fact is counterintuitive and very astute. He believes that the fact that governments have to lie before they can start a war is very encouraging. It means the peoples of the world dislike wars and they have to be lied into wars. It means that telling the truth before a war breaks out can save lives. This is “a tremendous opportunity” in Assange’s vision because truth is linked with peace and the combination is a “cause for great hope” (p. 127). In Assange’s views, governments lie all the time but they lie more often just before they want to start a war. As far as direct confrontation with extremely powerful structures is concerned, the political tactics and strategies of Julian Assange are very similar to the ones identified by Ashis Nandy in his book The Intimate Enemy. In Nandy’s interpretation, the Native Americans got decimated because they took the idea of bravery too seriously. Because the coloniser has superior weapons, the coloniser promotes bravery instead of deceit. Because of their bravery, the dominated group comes in direct conflict and leaves the stage empty for the coloniser. Assange echoes the same thoughts in his

model of resistance: “I am always hesitant in saying that everyone should go out and become a martyr. I don’t believe that. I believe the most effective activists are those that fight and run away to fight another day, not those who fight and martyr themselves. That’s about judgment — when to engage in the fight and when to withdraw so as to preserve your resources for the next fight” (p. 137). His ideas on the trap of identity are not as sophisticated as those of Michel Foucault. For Foucault, identity was an illusion and often worked as a trap for the individual. By taking his or her identity as something real instead of a product of various convergences of discourses, the individual becomes a predictable subject. For Assange, identity is something real but it should be kept secret if a subject has to resist the superstructures of power: “If you have perfect anonymity you can fight forever, yes. You don’t have to run away” (p.137). Julian Assange’s understanding of the nature and scope of ideological power is staggering. He believes that 30 per cent of the American population is directly and indirectly connected with the secrecy-producing structures of the government: “There are 900,000 people in the United States with top-secret security clearances at this moment. There are two and a half million that have classified security clearances. If we go back over the past twenty years and ask how many people had security clearances, maybe it is 15 million. If we then go and look at all their spouses and

business partners and children we are looking at something like 30 percent of the population of the United States that is one degree removed from that ideological structure and that patronage system. It is quite difficult in the United States to say something that is against that system” (p.141-142).

If this is how power saturates society, those citizens who are not linked with power are basically foreigners in their own countries. Their governments are not working for them. If the scope of those segments of population is linked to oppression producing bureaucracies and industries produces fear, Assange has theorised fear as well for the reader. He believes only fools can be totally fearless. Courage is not about becoming fearless but rather

about overcoming your fears by testing the limits of your freedom: “courage is the intellectual mastery of fear by understanding the true risks and opportunities of the situation and keeping those things in balance.” (p.138). The book is extremely valuable for those who want to learn how two

greatest technological minds of the 21st century think about power. The heart of the book is a record of a lengthy conversation between Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, and Julian Assange, the publisher of Wikileaks. Assange thinks the internet is inherently democratic and it should not be allowed to be colonised by Google because Google is helping America maintain its status as a superpower. If Assange is correct, China’s ban on Google and Facebook makes sense. It appears all those who want to control the world are basically trying to control its interpretations. 

Published in The News on Sunday

dated November 23, 2014