Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hitchens On Assange

Over at Why Evolution Is True, Jerry Coyne rightfully agrees with Richard Dawkins that Christopher Hitchens is a heroic figure. As an aside, Coyne linked to Hitchens' most recent piece (on Julian Assange) at the bottom of his post.

Julian Assange is also someone that I find heroic, and I said as much in the comment section, which prompted the following reply from Russell Blackford:

"I don’t think that Assange is especially heroic – some of his actions seem at least questionable – but I do want to see the rule of law applied to him. In this context, that means no retrospective criminal laws, no extra-territorial laws, no arrests on trumped up charges.

What’s coming across at the moment is that the US authorities, aided by those of other countries, are out to get him, come what may, whether or not he actually broke any laws that were in operation at the time in the jurisdiction where he was located at the time. In particular, it’s coming across that the authorities of his own country are happy to hang him out to dry."

to which I replied:

"I think that it is heroic to put your personal freedom and safety at risk to further the cause of an open society, which is something I believe in personally. For all of the anti-authoritarian/totalitarian talk that Hitchens injects into his public case against God, I think it’s interesting that he’s not an Assange supporter. I also agree with you that the charges against him seem fishy. Personally, I find it hard not to sympathize with a man who has managed to turn many of the world’s governments against him simply by disseminating information.

One of the interesting reactions to Assange that I’ve noticed among lower and middle class liberals and conservatives in the U.S. midwest is that they all seem to be generally in favor of what he has done. The big complaints seem to come from government officials of all political stripes.

This is not so much a left/right issue as it is a top/bottom one."

What do you think of Julian Assange and the response that he's gotten?

PS, leave it to Politico to ask the important question in all of this: Who will play Assange in the movie?


After some reading, talking, and reflection, I think I’m going to have to adjust my position on Julian Assange and wikileaks. The two best arguments against my position that I have encountered have been as follows:

1)some of the disclosed documents put people’s lives in danger.

2)a totally open society would lead to total government dysfunction.

The only argument that I can concoct to support putting lives at risk in order to force the world into an open society is an ugly, utilitarian one. I’m not an ‘ends justify the means’ kind of person, so I can’t put forward that argument in good faith.

I can’t answer the government dysfunction challenge either. Imagine trying to broker a deal with someone as macho and paranoid as Vladmir Putin: Obviously, He’s not going to give any ground publicly, and with the threat that his private communications with various diplomats and middle-men may come sensationally to light via wikileaks or some such organization, it becomes more doubtful that he’ll give any ground behind closed doors either (after all, in an open society there are no closed doors).

So, I have to cede those points.


Willie Y said...

He is the Daniel Ellsberg of this generation. I think what he is was heroic, in my eyes. He seems to be really pissing off some people.The minute I heard, at first, the trumped up charges against him I knew that someone really important wanted him badly.

the elegant ape said...

Rock on. Assange. The fact that he has set up a dead mans switch to dump thousands of more classified documents if he is prosecuted is sublime....