“Nothing is lost if one has the courage to proclaim that all is lost and we must begin anew.“
– Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch (1963)
There’s a new collection of Julian Assange’s sayings and recountings and anecdotes coming out in mid-October, titled, Julian Assange In His Own Words. I was lucky enough to be provided an early galley copy from the publisher, OR Books, a small independent alternative to Amazon. They’ve published other books on Assange and Wikileaks worth reading, including In Defense of Julian Assange (my review); When Google Met WikiLeaks (my review); Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet; and, Women, Whistleblowing, WikiLeaks.
You might wonder: Why read about a book not publicly available for a couple more months? Well, to keep alive his words and perceptions of power, to fight The Man by continuing to resist their full court press of his mind and the isolation of his voice (we never hear from him) at a time when we could use a guy savvy to Deep State machinations and MSM misdirection. As we build up the marching bands and parades (did you see where she caught that baton!?) in tribute to the coming spectacle of horror known as the 20th Anniversary of 9/11™, you might want to re-read some Assange material and re-consider the value of his journalism in Keeping the Bastards Honest with the sunshine of his wicked revelations.
Remember. They did Julian. With all that dark irony they so love. Sweden’s strong whistleblowing laws would be used to trap. A publicized intentionally leaky condom showed how reckless Assange was with data he posted (an attempt at hoisting him on his own petard). Yanks would be waiting to escort him back to the US to face a show trial. So, he broke bail and went on the llama across town to Ecuador (more or less) and was given political sanctuary. Then they took him out, confirmed that a secret US indictment wanted him in the US. And now he waits for a British court to free him or hand him over. A process which could take another year to complete. In the meantime, he’s silent, and journos have stopped looking at his leaks, and some have taken on a sinister patina reflected in the surface of their fallow minds.
Without turning him into Jesus, we can still be inspired by his self-described mission to seek radical transparency of government (as if it were a Linux system), while, at the same time, he remains one of the world’s bolshiest champions of privacy. As the publisher puts it in an online description of the book, “Assange may be gagged, but in these pages his words run free, providing both an exhortation to fight for a better world and an inspiration when doing so.” Exactly.
The book, in its current galley form, still needs some tightening up. It seems to want to be a kind of book of aphorisms or political etudes, after the tradition of Montaigne or Nietzsche, but it’s not quite there yet. In the introduction the reader is invited to go at the text as if s/he were reading Julio Cortázar. We’re told:
This book has no beginning and no end. Like Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch, you can read it from the beginning to the end or start anywhere, jump around. You can choose pages randomly. You can follow a particular subject, censorship, for example, or follow a particular year, to have an idea what Julian might have been thinking then. You can go through the book just reading the headings to each quotation—they give an encapsulation.
I don’t entirely get the gist of the Cortázar reference. Mendax ain’t no Cortázar. But here are some of the subject headings that light the way: Activism. Censorship, Empire, Internet, Journalism, Justice, Power, Prison, Society, Surveillance, War, and Wikileaks. And all the quotes are from previous published utterances of Assange. So no deep thoughts from the belly of the Belmarsh beast or the firing of his gulag kathinknakov.
But it did get me watching some Cortázar-based films. I started watching the Michelangelo Antonioni Criterion Classic Blow-up last night (photographer, crime, stalking), but seemed to remember having seen it before and left off after several minutes, thinking I’ll return later. Tonight, I’ll try Godard’s Weekend, a comedy-drama adventure, based on Cortázar’s short story “La autopista del Sur.”
But mostly, engaging the Cortázar experiment more to the spirit of the man’s genius, I decided to methodically number all of the highlighted sections (44 of them) of my reading and randomly choose 10 bits to respond to. To leave any hidden agenda I might have had out of the tough yakka of analysis ahead, to preclude any privileging of information, and to ‘guarantee the randomness’ (Hesse, 1943) of my choices, I put the numbers, with corresponding topic titles, on a wheel of fortune, and spun 10 times until my yarrow sticks (as it were) were lined up (or not), and I soon found my way as an essayist. Should the reader find a pattern of meaning in the following reading, it must be construed as akin to an I Ching fortune.
So, then, spin by spin, here we are:
25: Neoliberal Pyramid
“The internet is underpinned by extremely complex trade interactions between optical fiber manufacturers, semiconductor manufacturers, mining companies that dig all this stuff up, and all the financial lubricants to make the trade happen, courts to enforce private property laws and so on. So it really is the top of the pyramid of the whole neoliberal system.”
Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet was co-written with Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn, and Jérémie Zimmermann. It’s a book about the need for hacktivists to stay hidden, to preserve their anonymity and personal identity and privacy, and they encourage readers to do the same. When you think about what Assange is saying here, he is describing a world truly composed of equal parts horror and science fiction that is controlled by lefty neoliberal rhetoric and enforcer neoconservative forces. He and the hacktivists were way ahead of the curve on this one.
At heart, the Internet is literally a system of manipulated electricity, ones and zeroes, ons and offs, that like Morse code make up packages of information that are sent and received. In the beginning, such exchanges were between academics and scientists, and seemed benign (I wuv you, TimBL), but Capitalists saw a way of monetizing the system by storing and manipulating the ones-and-zeroes of people’s desires and algorithmic behavior, and then the exchange of people’s ideas in free-flow harmony became threatening to the loose notion of State and “needed to be” controlled by warrior types who began collecting everybody’s information and storing it in permanent records (Snowden, 2013).
True Democracy means we are all “enemy combatants,” in principle, since freedom of thought and expression work against the prevailing structures of power. The Internet started out as a military product of the Cold War (ARPANET) and you could argue that it has been not only monetized but militarized — literally made into a futuristic battlefield where our hearts and minds are being constantly manipulated and won over. This state of affairs was most recently brought to our attention by some of the designers and managers of Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Amazon in the film, The Social Dilemma (2020). Do No Evil types explained how humans were being herded into a hivemindedness that essentially took away their individuality and mental freedom without their knowledge or consent.
So, where will future wars be? Places where raw materials for the infrastructure of the Internet are in plentiful supply. Rare minerals, oil, water. And Assange and company argue that by declaring the Internet a battlefield, it needs to be controlled like any other battlefield by the military (in cooperation with the merchants of our desires). Essentially, the Pentagon has repossessed the Internet. As unindicted “enemy combatants” we have a right and a duty to fight back before it’s too late by encrypting our presence and, in the hacktivists case, doing deeds online that reveal the true intentions of the State. Think Mr. Robot.
“I have been isolated from all ability to prepare to defend myself: no laptop, no internet, ever, no computer, no library, so far, and even if I get access it will be just for half an hour, with everyone else, once a week. Just two visits a month and it takes weeks to get someone on the call list and a Catch-22 in getting their details to be security screened. Then all calls except [those with] lawyers are recorded, and calls are max ten minutes and in a limited thirty-minute window each day in which all prisoners compete for the phone. And credit? Just a few pounds a week and no one can call in. The other side? A superpower that has been preparing for nine years with hundreds of people and untold millions spent on the case. I am defenseless and am counting on you and others of good character to save my life.”
– Assange, letter from Belmarsh Prison, published in the Canary, May 13, 2019. This letter was written one month after Julian was imprisoned in Belmarsh.
This is what the State does to those who allegedly cross the line. Privacy advocates get isolation cells. They’d prefer to drone you. But that’s currently against the law, although by calling Assange an “enemy combatant” the Pentagon could try to justify his “assassination” by ginseng blades, ala Iranian general Soleimani.
“If the future of the internet is to be Google, that should be of serious concern to people all over the world . . . for whom the internet embodies the promise of an alternative to the U.S.
cultural, economic, and strategic hegemony. A ‘don’t be evil’ empire is still an empire.”
– from The WikiLeaks Files: The World According to US Empire (2015)
Most lefties now know that this sentiment has the ring of truth to it. In When Google Met Wikileaks the battle between the radical transparency of government went up against the Corporate State. Assange describes a visit made to him during his house arrest in London by Jared Cohen, then a member of Obama’s state department and later Google executive. They each questioned the others’ right to control the flow of information to the public. A year after the visit, Cohen and Google CEO Eric Schmidt put out a kind of manifesto tome, The New Digital Age. Assange reviewed it for the NYT and said in part:
[It] proselytizes the role of technology in reshaping the world’s people and nations into likenesses of the world’s dominant superpower, whether they want to be reshaped or not. The prose is terse, the argument confident and the wisdom — banal … This book is a balefully seminal work in which neither author has the language to see, much less to express, the titanic centralizing evil they are constructing.
Yeah, and then it was revealed the pair had withdrawn their original title for the book, The Empire of the Mind.
Google’s days as gypsy grifter seemed to have been revealed by its secret attempt to build a censored search engine and system for the Chinese that would remove references to activist sites and words (no Tiananmen Square found), while also providing the IP address and other details of the searcher to the State. The project was called Dragonfly. Remember the myth when we were kids about the danger of dragonflies — they were scary because they could sew up your mouth. And that, in turn, made me think of that terrifying sci-fi story title, “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison, which seems to be where we’re heading.
26: Mass consensus
“Despite this mass surveillance, mass communication has led to millions of people being able to come to a fast consensus. If you can go from a normal position to a new mass consensus
position very quickly, then while the state might be able to see it developing, there’s not enough time to formulate an effective response.”
This is true and not true. As we saw with the Joseph Kony con game, and in the details of mass manipulation by “Russian” bots in the 2016 US presidential election, and in the general viral contagion of memes passed along by social media and the MSM, people can be mentally “mobilized” in a hurry. It comes down to their level of consciousness regarding the process. I’m not sure the “consensus” manufacturing described here is a good thing at all, whether by the State, Corporates, or Activists, there’s a creepy reactionary aspect that suppresses critical thinking and suspends ones autonomy. Icky. Although I wouldn’t mind having a go with it by getting a warmy swarmy consensus to shut down the Bigs — Oil, Agro, Food, Pharma….
Also, Assange may have been unaware of the scope and depth of the surveillance state in 2012, when Cypherpunkscame out. A year later, Snowden would blow the top off what the Surveillance State was really up to and how far they had gone. There are companies out there that do just what Assange says consensus can beat, such as the CIA-seedfunded Recorded Future, which monitors all communications online and draws up forecasts for “players.” Recorded Future is of special interest, as their CEO, Christopher Ahlberg, came out publicly against Snowden, saying his revelations has caused “terrorists” to change their tactics and therefore potentially putting lives at risk — a charge similar to the one raised against Assange in 2010.
42: Burning Sources
“Most of the media organizations do burn sources. Edward Snowden was abandoned in Hong Kong, especially by the Guardian, which had run his stories exclusively. But we thought that it was very important that a star source like Edward Snowden was not put in prison. Because that would have created a tremendous chilling effect on other sources coming forward.”
– “We Are Drowning in Material,” interview, Spiegel International, July 20, 2015
It’s what they do, burn them to sell papers, then decide on hagiography (Ellsberg, Mark Felt) or pariahship (Assange, Snowden) or, in Trump’s everlovin’ saleability, a permanent two-minute hate. Burn, baby, burn. Ka-ching! Ellsberg was a Master of War who Broke Good and who now writes wonderful books about Doom ahead. Mark Felt was Deep Throat, an underling exec of J. Edgar Hoover, who spilled the beans when he wasn’t installed in Hoover’s place by Nixon. Deep Throat – Hoover: Get it? But Ass and Snow and Chelsea and Reality have to go gaily skipping to the gas chamber for exposing the Nazi-esque traits of American power elites. I’m as angry as a stereotyped Angus beef burger at Mickey D’s/ Beam me up, Scotty, I’m already outta here in my mind, as the Bard from Dulth would say, and that’s good enough for now.
41: Founding Values
“Our founding values are those of the U.S. Revolution. They are those of people like Jefferson and Madison.”
– 60 Minutes Rewind, interview, January 30, 2011
Go light on the secret sauce there, Julian. Why do you say, “Our?” In Australia, where you come from, and where I am currently stuck, like that Dylan song, you could get yourself killed talking Jefferson and Madison. There is no Bill of Rights in the “conservative” country you come from, and nobody wants them (“Nuh”) here; mateship will have to do, or else. The Gough saga here years back shows that the Queen of England can still dissolve government here with a phone call to a governor general, and there was no subsequent revolution, no tea was tossed in Sydney Harbour, and the flag that nationalists wrap themselves in here still, ironically, is stamped with the Union Jack. Lest they forget.
There are lots of speculative reasons for giving Gough the ol’heave-ho, but it should be duly noted that he started up the kind of democratic socialism American conservatives hate and will not truck, that he was against the war in Nam, Nixon was in office, and Gough had even allegedly threatened to close down the spy station in the Northern Territory known as Pine Gap, which has proven so useful for the geospatial coordinates required for the drone murders in, say, Yemen. It could have been worse for Gough; he mighta disappeared like another PM, Harold Holt, who went swimming one morning and never came back, and had his reputation further sullied when the Prevailing Culture had the moxie to name a swimming center after him. Droll or what? I’m thinking maybe, in Australia, ‘he went swimming’ is a euphemism for, you know, going to Dallas. Gough was no swimmer; he ‘abdicated’ without much of a fight.
Beware, Julian, you’re not American, and your releases can be seen as hypocritical and an information war you’re willing to wage against the Yanks but not against your own government’s secrecy. All the stuff you do is outlawed here. You’d be in prison here if you leaked Australian secrets — witness what They did at the ABC a few years back. In fact, they’d probably put you in prison for releasing American secrets, if you ever came home to Oz. Although, the Boochani-ites could probably set you up with some funds and positive spin, if you were willing to write a tell-all prison book, preferably by dribs and drabs on WhatsApp. (Talkin about our generation.) Your subsequent prison time here could be a sequel. A prison escape arranged, you on the lam, like Gregory in Shantaram, ensconced in India, a busker of blues outside the Taj Mahal.
But, then, maybe you were just being cheeky, hypothetically granting yourself American citizenship (I’d give it to you, mate) to tweak the nose of the Hypocrites in control in America, who spout liberty while they just plain wear… her… out.
“When you are exposed to an unjust situation, rather than the pressure causing you to fold, the injustice in the pressure generates an anger that is sustaining.”
–“Pardonnez-moi: L’interview de Julian Assange,” interview by Darius Rochebin, Radio Television Suisse, March 16, 2015
You and me both, Julian. I’m so fucking angry I could explode. Scanner hot from the excess absurdity of Mankind. Evolution my ass; there’d better be a new paradigm ahead or I’m fuckin outta here.
“It is the modern implementation of Orwell’s dictum: ‘Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past’—because all records of the past are stored physically in the present.”
– When Google Met WikiLeaks
See Recorded Future above. But also Facebook’s Timeline. It could, for the coming generation who grew up with it from childhood — the post-9/11 generation, which, as Snowden points out in his memoir, is the first to grow up entirely under the Surveillance State — it could become a global anti-dissent operation where someone is pulled into a kangaroo court — maybe even in their own mind — and made to answer to ghoulish goon gods for alleged doings on a timeline many years ago, now outlawed, retroactively. Mind mafiosi. Orwell’s slogan is one more reason to listen to the Buddha: Be Here. Be Now. You are the presence you’ve been waiting for, unwrap the morning goodness.
“I think the attacks on us by Visa, PayPal, Mastercard, Bank of America, PostFinance, Moneybookers, and other U.S. companies—predominantly banks and financial intermediaries—is the most interesting revelation that has come out of what we’ve been doing. Like the Pentagon Papers case, the reaction and overreaction of the state and other groups involved in it will be seen to be one of the most important outcomes of the revelation itself. What we see is that the United States, in its reaction to us, behaved no differently than the Soviet Union in the 1960s towards Solzhenitsyn, and in the 1970s towards Sakharov, just in a more modern way.”
– Obrist, “In Conversation with Julian Assange, Part II,” Journal #26, e-flux, June 2011.
The attacks came out of the Cablegate release of documents that showed how naughty diplomacy could be. Snowden was more forthcoming in his memoir of 2013, Permanent Record, writing that the worst kept secret was that US embassies overseas were little more than spy stations.
But the key thing here is that Assange is no Solzhenitsyn. The stuff that S. describes is so harrowing and depressing, and the gulag so existentially experimental, you wonder how he could have come out of it writing books, and you’d have to read the dissident boat Kurd reject Boochani’s ordeal at the Manus Island detention center, ankle-deep in shit all day that it took three smuggled mobiles to document for activists in Melbourne. Yes, it implies Boochani had internet access. (Soon to be a major motion picture.) Probably Harvard acolytes helped Solzhenitsyn. They always do. They’re like that. Helpful to a Cause.
And the other thing is, the list of banks and financial operators Assange lists above includes EBay, owned by Pierre Omidyar, who, after dissing Assange, went on to buy up PayPal and to finance The Intercept, with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitrast as founders of the alternate media mouth, who brought in some great talent and had themselves an all-star Travelling Wilburys thing going for awhile, before Glenn left in a huff over “censorship,”and Laura stormed off when she learned she was being grossly underpaid (by six figures) compared to GG and Jeremy Scahill. Omidyar kicked the tires of WaPo before saying, Nah, and letting his main marketplace competitor, Amazon’s Bezos, have the slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Some of us were hoping he’d die in the darkness of space, good people everywhere wondering, Why, Lord, why? Why do you take Sally Ride but not Jeff Bezos? Maybe Omidyar panicked, sensing that his Iranian background could pull up the bunny ears of DC pol bigots and warmongers and fellow billionaires would laugh at his fiscal Loss at parties for the Filthy Rich and Mad, Mad, Mad.
“Our civilization is only as strong as its ideas are true.”
– Statement by Julian Assange after Six Months in Ecuadorian Embassy, December 20, 2012
Truth, huh? Well, we’re in the so-called post-Truth days, a slogan which in itself has no cachet or meaning — or, maybe I’m trying to be cute by waxing counter-epigrammatically. Excuse me while I give myself a backhander I’ll never forget. In any case, as much as I admire a lot of Assange’s ‘revelations’ of power at work (they’re certainly more coherent than fuckin Foucault at times, although having said that….), They are already ‘recovering’ from his assaults on their deep state secret men’s business. Shhh.
I sent a letter to Julian a while back. Don’t know if he ever got, or, if so, read it, and, if read then, cared. But I did enclose my translation of the Heinrich Heine poem “Wahrhaftig” (1827). Heine was a Jew poet whom the good Germans loved and often quoted until the Reichstag fire ended the romance suddenly one night. The following poem is all I have to say about Truth and I’m done with the dumpling:
When the springtime shows up with its sunshine,
then the little flowers blossom and bloom;
when the moon begins her luminous course,
then the little stars swim in behind;
when the poet sees two sweet little eyes,
then songs gush forth from the depths of his soul; —
and yet songs and stars and little flowers
and little eyes and moonlight and sunshine,
no matter how pleasing all this stuff is,
it’s far from being the whole world.
FIN, back to French Borstal for me, a little soccer toy passed from ankle to ankle.
Also, another good reason to pre-order the book is that if you act now you can get a 15% discount. Know what I mean?
Footnote: Herman Hesse, The Glass Bead Game or Magister Ludi, Bantam, New York, 1943.