Conscience, Consciousness, and Planetary Civilisation
“A guy as personally hampered and sociopathic as Julian may in fact thrive in an inhuman situation like this. Unlike a lot of keyboard-hammering geeks, he’s a serious reader and a pretty good writer, with a jailhouse-lawyer facility for pointing out weaknesses in the logic of his opponents, and boy are they ever. Weak, that is. They are pathetically weak.”– Bruce Sterling, “The Blast Shack“
Before I leave off for the time being from my musings about the mind, meaning, mode, and medium of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks within the context of the times we live in, I thought I would address this one further particular passage from Sterling’s “hack” of Assange (as it were). “In the beginning was the deed” (Goethe) and Assange’s act is that deed. He’s thrown a very big rock into a large pool and the ripples have become a tsunami.
That is, of course, the effect he desired. If your audacious goal is to “redefine global history” and “elevate the world to a better place” you really can’t begin to achieve that except by engaging with history and the world in a very big way — an almost inhuman task. This redefining of global history, of course, frightens a lot of people in very destructive ways. Assange knew that this would happen too. Even a quasi-admirer of Assange’s hutzpah of the deed like Bruce Sterling is frightened of it. But does that justify the description of Assange as “sociopathic” or “inhuman”?
To my mind, “sociopathic” is a more fitting description for the authors of malware and spyware. A sociopath is allegedly someone “without conscience”, as the title of a recent book on the subject put it. That doesn’t describe Assange. He’s motivated by all the same principles that his opponents and critics merely espouse but never really act on — justice, freedom, truth, self-realisation (which used to be called “self-determination”. That change in emphasis is in itself interesting and worthy of note.) Assange, on the other hand, has acted on them, not merely paid lip-service to them. Just because someone’s act disrupts the soporific happiness of the existing public arrangements (or the groupthink entity), are we justified in describing the author of the act in pathological terms? Is dissidence and “living in truth” to become associated with sociopathy? Maybe it is the groupthink entity itself that is sociopathic and diseased.
“Julian Assange’s extremely weird version of dissident “living in truth” doesn’t bear much relationship to the way that public life has ever been arranged. It does, however, align very closely to what we’ve done to ourselves by inventing and spreading the Internet.” — Sterling.
Is this supposed unfamiliarity with someone like Assange to be taken as an objection to Assange and WikiLeaks? What if the way all public life hitherto arranged is actually the core sociopathic problem in itself? It’s rather obvious, too, that anyone who sets about to redefine global history and attempts to accomplish the Archimedean task of levering the world into a “better place” will necessarily bring about a re-arrangement of public life. History is not one thing, public life another. That’s a hangover effect that still lingers from its source in Cartesian metaphysical dualism. We are not really spectators of history, as much as elites would like to reduce us to merely spectating and watching them produce our history for us on television. Real history — vital history — is, as Rosenstock-Huessy once put it, autobiography.
Is it not more the case that a man or woman who knows the truth, and yet declines to act on it, more likely “without conscience”, and more deserving of being characterised as a sociopath than the man or woman who does act on the truth despite the risks to his or her personal interests, security, safety… perhaps even to their dignity and reputation? To my mind, it is the man who knows the truth, but fails to act on that truth — or obstructs others from acting on the truth — who is, as the old saying goes, “in mortal peril of his soul”.
But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in [yourselves], neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. (Matt: 23:13).
That is actually the meaning of the term “diabolical”. It means, to cast obstacles in the way of (dia, across + bolon, to throw). In larger terms, this “dia-” means to divide or to rend asunder the primal unity of Being or integrity of the whole, or to prevent the recovery of this unity and integrity. This is why hypocrisy — which is lack of integrity — is considered such a mortal and diabolical flaw in the New Testament — the lack of unity between one’s words and one’s acts (or, as we say today, “not walk the talk”).
As a point of interest: the devil is characterised as having a forked-tongue, while Jesus is described in The Book of Revelation as having a tongue like a two-edged sword. They are closely connected in meaning. But, again, I invoke Khayyam’s Caution here: “only a hair separates the false from the true”. The forked-tongue symbolises hypocrisy, division, dualism, while the two-edged sword symbolises paradox and the coincidentia oppositorum or unity of opposites. (Have pity on the snake. It is not responsible for the duplicity of men who have only projected themselves upon it as scape-snake). The tongue here is significant, for it is speech. The word “symbolic” which means “to bring together”, is, in fact, the contrary of the meaning “diabolic“. The diabolic is thus symbolised by the forked-tongue, the symbolic by the double-edged sword.
This is, in effect, Assange’s principal interest — that speech should be restored to power again as creative speech. To quote him on this once again from a recent interview,
“The west has fiscalised its basic power relationships through a web of contracts, loans, shareholdings, bank holdings and so on. In such an environment it is easy for speech to be “free” because a change in political will rarely leads to any change in these basic instruments. Western speech, as something that rarely has any effect on power, is, like badgers and birds, free. In states like China, there is pervasive censorship, because speech still has power and power is scared of it. We should always look at censorship as an economic signal that reveals the potential power of speech in that jurisdiction. The attacks against us by the US point to a great hope, speech powerful enough to break the fiscal blockade.” — Julian Assange, The Guardian, 3. December, 2010.
Now, compare this quote from Assange with a passage from Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s Speech and Reality,
“The energies of social life are compressed into words. The circulation of articulated speech is the lifeblood of society. Through speech society sustains its time and space axes. These time and space axes give direction and orientation to all members of society. Without articulated speech, man has neither direction nor orientation in time or space. Without the signposts of speech, the social beehive would disintegrate immediately… When speech is recognized as curing society from the ills of disharmony and discontinuity in time and space, grammar is the most obvious organon for the teachings on society.”
As Clinton Gardner wrote in the Introduction to Speech and Reality, summarising Rosenstock-Huessy’s overall views, “Sin is the abuse of the word, the speaking of words that destroy the peace and the truth that all language seeks to establish”.
Here’s the upshot of it all, (and it’s brilliant if it succeeds in breaking the “fiscal blockade” on the free circulation of speech): We have largely been reduced to being mere spectators of our own history– estranged and alienated from that history — rather than its authors. The public is treated like irresponsible children, so it’s not surprising that the public does correspondingly speak and act irresponsibly and childishly and is encouraged to think of this as “free speech”. This is certainly not what Assange understands by “free speech” or by “self-realisation”, which has been blocked by this same “fiscal blockade” imposed by the new “scribes and Pharisees”. We are no longer permitted to collectively and publicly write our own autobiography. We leave this now to specialists or “power elites”. This is what is implied in the now infamous interview Ron Suskind conducted with the unnamed senior Bush aid (generally assumed to have been Karl Rove):
“In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.
The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” — Ron Suskind, “Without a Doubt”, New York Times Magazine, October 17, 2004.
Suskind’s unnamed aide revealed the existential problem for which Assange’s act is the ostensible remedy and corrective. The aide assumed that he was authorised to be among “history’s actors”, while the rest of us were relegated to being merely his spectators, celebrators, or the side-lined cheerleaders for his glorious acts of creative destruction. They, not we, would decide our history and pen our autobiography. This was also implied in the notoriously narcissistic statement made by the aide’s associate Richard Perle,
“This is total war….If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war…our children will sing songs about us years from now.” (Richard Perle: interview with journalist John Pilger. Cited from Pandora Hopkins: House of Cards and the Use of Shame and Stigma as Strategy: A Folklore Study of an Elite Group)
(As another point of interest, John Pilger, who interviewed Perle here, was one of the people who attended Julian Assange’s bail hearing in London and offered to provide surety to secure Assange’s release).
The fiscal blockade on free speech, which makes speech impotent by depriving it of its creative potency, is what turns history into mere spectacle for us, rather than our own autobiography. Assange’s purpose is to break that elite blockade on free speech through restoring to speech its creative and transformative potency (an issue we raised earlier in the post called “The Blockade Runner“, with particular attention to Rosenstock-Huessy’s diagnosis reproduced there)
Sterling has suggested in “The Blast Shack” that, henceforth, after “the deed”, all diplomats will have to become more like Julian Assange. On the contrary, all of us will have to become more like diplomats of the Global Village or risk becoming useless and irrelevant bags of proto-plasm (and I actually do know some people who have “simplified” human life to the bare consumerist functions of essentially eating and defecating and not much else). Sterling has missed the point, here, of Assange’s intentions to liberate speech from the elite and fiscal encumbrances placed upon it (which it has duly demonstrated in its censorial over-reaction to Assange himself). The global circulation of articulate speech is the necessary precondition for the emergence of a truly global and planetary civilisation and for founding that civilisation. For Assange, this must be a truly public work, not a hidden specialist and elite one. It will be a work of the world’s peoples, not that of state-interests or corporate elites. With the internet, we are all required to become global emissaries and envoys, while the specialist function of diplomacy (and the nation-state system) takes a back-seat to citizen initiatives. We are all required to become mature, adult citizens of a global community (Assange has used the term “ennobling” for this gain in maturity). For along with restoring power to speech also comes the responsibility for that speech and for speaking responsively.
People today can, and do, speak childishly, impetuously, irresponsibly, and inarticulately and mistake this for “free speech” simply because public speech has no power, having become a specialist activity of elite interests. We think we are free because we can shout vulgarities from the rooftops and hurl insults across borders. That’s not free speech. That’s a sop thrown to those whose speech is powerless, but who are allowed the childish delusion that shock value has power and meaning. But when public speech is restored to power, that casualness about speech becomes impossible and irresponsible. We will all have to become responsible for our speech thereafter, which is to say, mature. We will be compelled to become adult. For much of the infantilisation of public discourse today is the result of having surrendered up to others our responsibility for our own speech and acts to specialist functions — like diplomacy, or to “professional persuaders” and “communications consultants”.
It is in that sense that we need to re-interpret Sterling’s remark that “Julian Assange’s extremely weird version of dissident “living in truth” doesn’t bear much relationship to the way that public life has ever been arranged”. But public life hitherto has been characterised largely by the progressive dis-empowerment of the public conversation as reflected in its descent into infantilism, pettiness, and childish babble. You only have to look at advertising, for example. The global internet bypasses much of the specialist functions of the nation-state and corporate system in mediating and monopolising the relationships between and amongst peoples. This breakdown of the specialist and monopoly functions of state and corporation is what gives Assange confidence in his act as “redefining global history”. So, it is quite inept to describe this as being “sociopathic”. It is the present public arrangements that are sociopathic, even in Rosenstock-Huessy’s terms as well.
Unfortunately, though, our education approaches are not keeping up with the potentialities of the medium itself. This is the greater concern. This is, potentially, the real sociopathic situation. For where real speech surrenders to the impotent ‘”what da’ fuck'” style, it no longer has the power to establish social or global peace, fellowship, community, or to mutually realise and manifest shared truth. Today, capital and goods are free to cross borders, while there still exist nation-state (and “groupthink”) barriers against the free movement of people and speech. Hillary Clinton’s “international community” with its corporate “partnerships” and sundry “alliances” doesn’t really involve you or me. And if this “community” doesn’t involve you and me, then it’s a fraud to speak of it as a “community” at all.
Assange’s tactic was, in large part, to actually demonstrate that fraud in action.