Cantabile Posted December 2, 2010 Share Posted December 2, 2010 Scott Bakker just had an article on the Wikileaks fiasco published here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/opinion/wikileaks-not-all-hypocrisies-are-equal/article1821262/The father of ancient cynicism, Diogenes, became famous for decrying human hypocrisy. The ancient Greeks were so impressed they began calling him kunikos, from which the word cynicism is derived.Nowadays, the Internet has replaced the Grecian agora; WikiLeaks has taken up Diogenes’s mantle. As the largely pedestrian nature of the documents becomes apparent, more and more pundits seem to be questioning the significance of the massive disclosure. Who could be surprised that administration officials talk one way to their international counterparts and another among themselves? This is what humans do.Think about this in terms of your own family. Sure, you complain about your mother-in-law, and odds are, she has a pretty good sense of the things you say. Then, for whatever reason, your sister-in-law decides to tell her something that you said. What do you do?Cringe. Curse. Then begin saying things about your sister-in-law.No one is surprised – yet everyone is scandalized. Why?Because so much of human communication is strategic in nature. Whether we realize it or not, we speak to the future as much as we speak to one another. We spin. We recruit. We delegitimize perceived competitors. We fudge to leave room for future rationalizations. And at some level, we always understand that we are talking on the record, so we parse our words accordingly.You curse because your sister-in-law has robbed you of the ability to deny those assumptions, which is just to say, the ability to pretend. She has, in fact, done real damage to your familial status and prestige. Rob a person of their ability to pretend and you rob them of real social power.She is sure to take the moral high ground, saying things like, “I’m sorry. I just assumed you weren’t the kind of person who talked behind other peoples’ backs.” No one, after all, advertises themselves as a pretender.And you, for your part, will also take the moral high ground and accuse her of betraying the family trust. Instinctively, you will understand that the more you undermine her reputation, the more you will be able to repair your own.Some members of the family will take sides. But most will try to stay above the fray by saying strategic things. Far and away the biggest question will be, “Why the hell did you tell her anything in the first place?”In other words, “How could this leak have happened?”Given what we now know about human nature, we can safely assume there will always be a chasm between our public ideals and our private actions, be they institutional or individual. This just means that pretense is a crucial background feature of the human game. Hypocrisy is literally inescapable. Demonizing it on principle, the way Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, is prone to do, is simply another way to secure prestige through verbal posturing.So, should we just shake our heads with a here-we-go-again sigh?The fact remains: When you damage an individual’s or institution’s ability to strategically communicate, you damage their ability to realize their social ambitions. This means this latest WikiLeaks disclosure is anything but insignificant. It also means the question of whether WikiLeaks has done a good or bad thing really comes down to what you think of the U.S. administration’s agenda.The same goes for you and your sister-in-law. Maybe you’re honestly trying to spare your mother-in-law her feelings. Maybe you’re angling for a larger slice of the inheritance pie.Not all hypocrisies are equal. Even when they come in batches of 250,000.The line about the chasm between our ideals and actions strikes a chord; human nature does indeed seem to dictate that this will always exist, yet that seems more a product of socialization than any innate quality of our species. If we are stripped of our ability to pretend and deceive, then our actions are forced to coincide with our ideals, otherwise we risk standing out as hypocrites, liars, or worse That is the vital value I see in a resource like Wikileaks: if dirty laundry is shoved in the public's face, it might just force the government to wash it. Obviously this doesn't have much meaning for trivial details that are posted in leaks, but documents that directly show that the government's actions are not aligned with their ideals, or their claims, should be screamed out from the mountaintops. The more secrecy you grant, the more room for corruption and abuse you allow. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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