Julian Assange and Aperspectival Consciousness
Let’s lay aside the distracting issue of Julian Assange’s sexual peccadilloes (which, under the peculiar and unique sex laws of Sweden have become inflated into rape. In Sweden what we call “rape” is defined very broadly as “sex by surprise,” — or maybe surprising sex. Isn’t part of the charm of sex the element of surprise?). Oh well… I want to focus here on Assange’s principal purpose in doing what he and the Wikileaks crew did rather than what “sex by surprise” actually means, or why it justifies involving Interpol and an international manhunt.
Summarising Assange’s views (apart from sex) as I’ve tried to ferret them out and mull them over for the last few weeks, I’ve arrived at this assessment.
Main Point: the principal aim and intent behind the actions of Julian Assange and the Wikileaks crew is not to expose secrets per se, but lies in the disruption, disaggregation, and disintegration of groupthink. “Mass leakage” is the strategy for disrupting groupthink by inducing a kind of nervous breakdown or senility, in terms of an aroused anxiety and paranoia amongst its core “planning coterie” (or “cognitive decline”). Let’s quote once again the relevant passage from his essays,
“The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption. Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.”
All of that has been made more than amply evident in the reaction to the leaks, quite regardless of the actual contents of the cables.
You may ask yourself, a) what groupthink is, and then b), why disrupting groupthink and making it ineffectual is desirable, and finally, c) whether the Great Diplomatic Document Dump of 2010 actually accomplished the disruption and disaggregation of groupthink in the direction Assange anticipates.
Well, then…congratulations on being a rarity! Because these are rare and very reasonable questions that are seldom asked. Let’s try to answer them.
“Groupthink” we have already touched upon in an earlier post. In Assange’s terms, groupthink is — in the context of the corporate-state regime and the modern nation-state system (the so-called “international community”) — what he calls an “authoritarian conspiracy”. Assange’s understanding of conspiracy, however, is far more sophisticated than what is commonly understood by the term “conspiracy”. It is not necessarily or principally the consciously secretive and deliberately conspiratorial hatching of vile plots against the public good by cloistered cabals in smoky rooms, military men in so-called “defence” bureaucracies (as, for example, Operation Northwoods), businessmen in corporate boardrooms, or politicians behind closed doors. These might form the organisational core of the conspiratorial mind, but it is not the essential factor in groupthink. Most participants in groupthink aren’t even really aware that they are part of a conspiracy to enhance the power of an “invisible government”. They are simply and loyally “doing their job” and following directions. “Ours is not to reason why….”
“Authoritarian regimes give rise to forces which oppose them by pushing against the individual and collective will to freedom, truth and self realization. Plans which assist authoritarian rule, once discovered, induce resistance. Hence these plans are concealed by successful authoritarian powers. This is enough to define their behavior as conspiratorial.”
Operation Northwoods is a more spectacular instance of this authoritarian conspiracy, but it is only an instance. The actual entire conspiratorial matrix of groupthink is, like a womb, what makes hatching a plot like Operation Northwoods possible. In fact, concealment itself, rather than what is concealed, is more important in giving definition to the in-group as a single cognitive entity with boundaries. It’s a “wego”, as Buddhist-oriented sociologist David Loy called such structures.
“…[M]any of our social problems can be traced back to this deluded sense of collective self, this “wego,” or group ego. It can be defined as one’s own race, class, gender, nation (the primary secular god of the modern world), religion, or some combination thereof. In each case, a collective identity is created by discriminating one’s own group from another. As in the personal ego, the “inside” is opposed to the other “outside,” and this makes conflict inevitable, not just because of competition with other groups, but because the socially constructed nature of group identity means that one’s own group can never feel secure enough. For example, our GNP is not big enough, our nation is not powerful (“secure”) enough, we are not technologically developed enough. And if these are instances of group-lack or group-dukkha, our GNP can never be big enough, our military can never be powerful enough, and we can never have enough technology. This means that trying to solve our economic, political, and ecological problems with more of the same is a deluded response. (David Loy, “The Suffering System“, Shambhala Sun, July 2009)
Groupthink, though, is much like “hive mind”. If an analogy is wanted, it might be the Borg Collective from Star Trek. It is almost instinctual, rather than deliberative. That also is an exemplar of “hive mind” with the harvesting drone bees under the coordinative direction of the Borg Queen Bee. The harvesting drone or worker bees in the groupthink “cognitive device” are the diplomatic corps dispatched to all corners of the globe with instructions to collect the honey for the Queen Bee. The Queen Bee is vaguely called “the national interest” and comprises all those who have clearance to feast on the honey — those documents classified “top secret.” These functionaries form the nerve centre of the hive mind. The ganglions are the linkages that become “exquisitely vulnerable” to mass leakages.
(In fact, you can think of nation-states as bee hives. As a point of interest here: although Nazis pursued a war against the Jews, there was at least one Jew — Mischling, actually — in particular who the Nazis left relatively free to pursue his studies and publish his results — Karl von Frisch. Dr. Frisch was an expert on bee behaviour and the hive mind. The Nazis considered much of his research of uncommon political interest).
What Assange did was map out the cognitive links of the groupthink entity as comparable to the functioning of a computer network. This was, perhaps, his innovation. It bears comparison, though, to Dr. Frisch’s research into the language of the bees and hive functioning, including identifying the vulnerabilities that interfere with that functioning. In other terms, though, groupthink is just another term for what is called by other names like logocentric, ethnocentric, ideocentric, anthropocentric (all of which are actually variants on ego-centricity). That makes it another form of narcissistic mind, insofar as the groupthink mind is a closed-loop system which makes for an “inside” as against an “outside”. The entity constitutes its own subjectivity, as such — a “wego”. In that sense, we recognise in David Ehrenfeld’s complaint about our present deficient rationality the same elements of groupthink,
One of the most serious challenges to our prevailing system is our catastrophic loss of ability to use self-criticism and feedback to correct our actions when they place us in danger or give bad results. We seem unable to look objectively at our own failures and to adjust the behavior that caused them. — (“The Coming Collapse of the Age of Technology“)
This is, in fact, a partial definition of groupthink that bears favourable comparison with the formal definition I provided earlier by Irving Janis, where groupthink is defined as
A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.
The important thing to remember about groupthink, though, is that it functions as a single entity in the aggregate. As Assange puts it, it functions as a singular “cognitive device.” An “invisible hand”, as it were, directs and guides the perceptions and actions of its participant members and organs. (It functions, in effect, much like a corporation). What constitutes the horizons or boundaries of the cognitive device of groupthink is its internal in-group communications and information flows. When these communications flows start to leak, the hive mind begins to disperse through the process of dehiscence. It loses its boundaries and disaggregates. It now moves towards becoming an open system rather than a closed-loop formation.
Which brings us to question b): why Assange considers disrupting or disaggregating this “Wego”, hive mind, groupthink, or “cognitive device” in such a way to be desirable.
The four key values and desiderata as we find them expressed in Assange’s writings are freedom, truth, self-realisation, and justice. For Assange, then, the hive mind represents not just an obstacle to realising these values, but as an “authoritarian” conspiracy groupthink is a repressive function and construct by its very nature. Although “the international community” everywhere pays overt lip-service to these values (and perhaps even really believes it), its actual and covert function is to suppress them and derail the expression and manifestation of these values as far as possible (something akin to what Herbert Marcuse called “repressive tolerance“). A very similar view about the state and the state system was expressed by Friedrich Nietzsche in a quote from Thus Spoke Zarathustra (“The New Idol”) to which I linked in an earlier post and which Nietzsche also addresses as a singular entity with its own “wego” subjectivity. Very many other statements, even by defenders of the state-system, actually prove the point that the democratic state-system is not open and does not exist to promote these values (particularly self-realisation) but conspires to effectively suppress or divert them — usually by propaganda, but also sometimes violently (after failed propaganda comes the mailed fist).
One of the key statements reflecting this was the publication called The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies (Trilateral Commission) which lamented the rise of citizen activism and the need to restore citizen apathy because there was too much freedom. (see, in part, Noam Chomsky’s critique)
Assange calculates, therefore, that the disaggregation of the hive mind through disrupting its channels of communication and, consequently, his meddling in the ability of the participants of the hive mind to effectively conspire amongst themselves, will create an opening for the possible realisation of these four related values — freedom, truth, justice, and self-realisation. As he confidently put it, “the world will be elevated to a better place” (Interview, The Guardian). Assange’s strategy is, therefore, to provoke this groupthink mentality into exposing itself publicly as a conspiracy through its own excessive and disproportionate “counter-overreaction” — busting open the beehive, as it were, as it loses its boundaries along with its mind. With the disaggregation of the groupthink entity, the participants are in effect thrown out of context and upon themselves. This dehiscence induces anxiety and paranoia because it is, in effect, the death of the entity constituted in and through the process of groupthink.
Of course, you’ll enrage the bees and will get stung as they attempt to protect the queen and the hive — the meaning, the core, the nerve centre and the purpose of the hive. Once upon a time, in an Industrial Age, this was called “throwing a spanner in the works”. Formerly, this was a brute force act of industrial sabotage against things like the introduction of Taylorism in the workplace (Charlie Chaplin famously parodied this age in his film entitled Modern Times). Assange has updated the strategy, though, based on a different metaphor or paradigm — knowledge of how networks, mental and electronic, function in the computer age. In another sense, Assange has effected also to make us conscious of how our perception is subtlely biased by our media.
So, you can choose your metaphor for what Assange has done from whatever historical horizon you happen to occupy as your perspective — a monkey wrench in the works, a busting open of the beehive, or “throwing sand in the diodes” of computer network. Basically, it amounts to much the same act depending upon the temporal horizons or context of your particular historical consciousness. Assange is a bear busting open the hive mind of the beehive state. Of course, he will duly to get stung by the bees.
Which brings us finally to question c): has the Great Diplomatic Document Dump of 2010 actually accomplished the disruption and disaggregation of the groupthink entity as “cognitive device”.
Yes. Evidently so, judging by the absurd and even insane over-reaction that is wholly disproportionate to the actual contents of the diplomatic cables themselves. This near hysteria has nothing to do with the contents. It has more to do with the decoherence or disaggregation of hive mind of groupthink. In a sense, it is not the individual participants (who aren’t really self-realised much at all) who react here, but the groupthink entity — the “wego” — itself as it loses its internal coherence and definition. Again, the word “dehiscence” is the most appropriate and fitting term to describe this process.
It is actually quite useless to rage against Assange and Wikileaks, for this development represents the implicit probabilities of the new media itself. In a sense, Assange and the Wikileaks crew are simply the agents — even the sexual reproductive organs — for realising these implicit probabilities in the new media. We repeat: Typographic Man of the Gutenberg Galaxy of linear thought meets Digital Man of Chaos Theory and the nonlinearly encoded cosmos. Typographical Man is not happy about it because in the encounter he is losing self-definition along with his familiar horizons, borders, and boundaries. He does not care to “go softly into that good night”, as Dylan Thomas put it.
Marshall McLuhan, decades ago, actually warned about this. With the extension or projection of the human nervous system into space (computer networks are this extension or biomimicry) also came a vulnerability — an opportunity for some to do tap-dances on our extended and exposed nervous system. McLuhan probably had in mind, here, advertisers and perception managers rather than someone like Julian Assange. The principle is the same, though. Assange is doing a tap-dance on the exposed ganglions and synapses of the state’s extended nervous system — it’s intranet. And the state finds it irritating.
So, a breach has been made in the wall. The closed-loop system has been opened. For some, this is a wound and a death. For others, it is a birth and a renewal. It is both an Order and a Chaos — a clash of the Titans in terms of times past and future. What it reminds me of, just off-hand, is that strange science-fiction film I once saw entitled Zardoz, starring Sean Connery — the rupture of the boundaries between the immortal and the mortal.
There is something very mysterious at work here in contemporary events which has become world historic. Observing it, I can only think that it has very much to do with what historian Jean Gebser anticipated as a “mutation” in consciousness and an essential (even apocalyptic) restructuration of the terms of being and existence — a bifurcation and discontinuity in time and evolution that Gebser broadly called the “irruption” of “aperspectival” or “integral” consciousness (which means, essentially, nonlinear consciousness as linear consciousness is perspectivalist). This is, I think, the deeper sense for interpreting Assange’s use of the term “self-realisation”, and why he finds the old order of things to be an obstacle to it’s unfolding. It is, in any event, clear that Assange has employed aperspectival (non-linear) reasoning to map out groupthink and to bring to effective realisation the outcome he aimed for, while perspectivist consciousness (linear) finds this disturbing, disrupting, and even terrifying.
In other words, “there’s more to the picture than meets the eye”.