Six years ago my friend Julian Assange started telling me about his idea for an organisation. I thought it was a pretty good idea.
As we understood it, the way information circulates in our society, and around the world, is deeply problematic. In authoritarian societies, in undemocratic societies, information is controlled by coercion and force. In the democracies, the situation is different, but the result still bad: information is not so much controlled as constrained by economic and institutional forces within governments and corporations, by ideologies. It is more subtle, but we only need turn on the TV to see the results.
Either way, it’s hard to figure out what’s going on. Either way, to put it in quintessentially Australian terms, the people of this world are treated like mushrooms: Kept in the dark, and fed shit. Wikileaks is a fundamentally anti-mushroom organisation.
Wikileaks proposed that the people reject their status as fungi – find out what their governments are doing, what corporations are doing, what the powerful are doing, what the 1% are doing. And to present it via facts, in true scientific fashion, by primary documents, by falsifiable data. Science and fact in the cause of justice.
Moreover, by presenting new and fresh information, Wikileaks would not only bring truth to the world, but new and newsworthy truths. We imagined that Wikileaks would be a force for the empowerment of the people of the world, for the people of the world to use facts, to use understanding, to use science to build a better world.
Or at least, not to be fucking mushrooms.
And we’ve come a long way.
In 2008 I was sued by a Swiss bank and its Cayman Islands subsidiary over Wikileaks’ publications of bank documents alleging tax evasion and money laundering. We won that case, convincingly. The court agreed with us that freedom of the press, freedom of speech, is fundamental. We won. And nobody ever again tried to attack Wikileaks directly through the courts that way. Now more indirect methods are used.
And in the present circumstances, in today’s circumstances, I think it is important not only to focus on EU extradition law or allegations in Sweden, but also on the bigger picture of where we are.
In 2006 I wrote, along with others, a FAQ, frequently asked questions for WL. We wrote:
“Principled leaking has changed the course of history for the better; it can alter the course of history in the present; it can lead us to a better future.”
And today, Bradley Manning, if indeed he did do what he is accused of, is the greatest principled leaker of this century. If we can successfully resist the backlash, the persecution of Assange and even more the persecution of Manning, then we can change the course of history; we are doing so already.
We wrote in 2006:
“with authoritarian governments in power around much of the world, increasing authoritarian tendencies in democratic governments, and increasing amounts of power vested in unaccountable corporations, the need for openness and democratization is greater than ever.”
In 2012, we can only add, all the more so.
In 2006 we wrote:
“WL may become the most powerful intelligence agency on earth, an intelligence agency of the people. It will be an open source, democratic intelligence agency… It will have no commercial or national interests at heart; its only interests will be truth and freedom of information. Unlike the covert activities of national intelligence agencies, WL will rely upon the power of overt fact to inform citizens about the truths of their world… WL will resonate not to the sound of money or guns or the flow of oil, but to the grievances of oppressed and exploited people around the world. ”
Well, since 2006, I think Wikileaks has made a start on that mission. And it can hopefully continue on that mission – but it needs our support.
In 2008, after being sued, having become a target, and living in the United States, I shifted from the secrets of governments and corporations to the secrets of mathematics and the secrets of the universe. I ended my involvement with Wikileaks. But as the great Bertrand Russell said:
“Love and knowledge… [lead] upward toward the heavens. But always pity [brings us] back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors … and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.”
But together, we can do something. Wikileaks has brought us back to earth, exposing the suffering that we cannot now say we did not know. And looking around the human world today, things are changing. People are waking up and thinking hard about the way the world is and the way the world could be. So let us add, as Bertrand Russell did, that
“[people] fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth – more than ruin – more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible; thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid… Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of [woman and] man.”
All around us people are waking up and starting to think fearlessly. They are starting to take control of their own lives. From the uprisings across the Arab world; to the occupy movements in New York, Boston, Oakland, and here too; to the struggles in Europe against austerity and corporate domination; to the peoples of Latin America and Africa overcoming centuries of foreign domination; to the democracy struggles in Asia; to the epic human struggle against war and foreign domination; from the students in Montreal to indigenous struggles in Australia and around the world; to the movements for global justice and for the 99%. The world is moving. I do not know if it will move fast enough to avert the impending economic and ecological catastrophes. But we must try. And so we must take control of our own lives, from the workplace to the planet at large — and demand that we have a say, and participate, in decisions that affect our own lives.
This global struggle, and that small part of it which is the struggle of Wikileaks, can be assisted if the people of Australia force the Australian government to accept a simple proposition: that the Gillard government do as much for Julian Assange as it did for Schappelle Corby. Advocate for the human rights of our compatriots, and bring them home.
That is all. We are not mushrooms, and we demand as much of our government. Thank you.