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Extremist Freedom

April 8, 2010

To provide a little bit of background to WikiLeaks–you know, the site the Pentagon identified as a threat to National security–extreme freedom seems to require some extreme personalities: in this case, Julian Assange.

Powerful forces have come after the site, but without much luck. In 2008, after WikiLeaks posted documents alleging money laundering at the Swiss bank Julius Baer, the firm unsuccessfully tried to shut down its California servers. When the site posted a secret list of websites blacklisted by the German government, including several child pornography sites, the student who ran the German WikiLeaks site was arrested for disseminating kiddie porn. Even the hyper-litigious Church of Scientology has failed to get its materials removed from the site.

Such unsurprising reactions to WikiLeaks’ brazenness only seem to further energize Assange’s conviction that it’s always wrong to try to stop a leak. WikiLeaks isn’t shy about antagonizing its enemies. Its reply to the German raid sounded like the opening shot of an Internet flame war: “Go after our source and we will go after you.” In response to the Church of Scientology’s “attempted suppression,” it has posted even more church documents.

WikiLeaks can get away with this because its primary server is in Sweden (Assange says it’s the same one used by the giant download site The Pirate Bay), where divulging an anonymous source, whether one’s own or someone else’s, is illegal. Several mirror sites across the globe provide backup in case one goes down. (Much of the WikiLeaks website is currently inaccessible due to a fundraising drive.)

Despite my own moderateness and docility (and on many levels complicity with things I consciously disagree with) I am particularly envious of the authenticity of the lives that these extreme personalities lead. Examples abound. Take Banksy, the famous graffiti artist, for example:

‘My lawyer’s opinion is that the cops might not actually be able to charge me with criminal damage any more – because theoretically my graffiti actually increases the value of property rather than decreasing it. That’s his theory, but then my lawyer also believes wearing novelty cartoon ties is a good look.’

For intelligent youngsters, following a socially acceptable path and getting the associated strokes of praise for doing so makes it particularly difficult to assess whether or not one is dependent on that road. As Upton Sinclair once put it, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Maybe one just needs to do absolutely crazy and off-the-wall things every once in a while to remind oneself that one is not simply following the well-worn rut of the lives that have proceeded ahead on that path.

What I fear most is that the relevant and oft-quoted Benjamin Franklin sophism (i.e., “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”) has been reduced to such pedantry that it has lost its genuine ability to illuminate and shame people like myself who recognize the need for freedom, but generally allow those muscles to go unexercised. It’s not that I or my generation need a Vietnam; we need a cadre of hippies to make us feel good and authentic about protesting. And with my generation’s bullshit detectors honed to an overly fine edge, I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Cameron Joseph permalink
    April 8, 2010 10:13 am

    our parents had the money to do whatever the hell they wanted to. our generation faces a lot more financial burdens and a much more competitive, globalized world. it’s a lot harder to “follow your muse” when the average debt for college graduates is more than $23,000 a year, and there are no jobs to be had.

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