Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Leak soup

Recently I began to wonder why I've so drastically reduced my blogging. There seem to be two reasons. One is that many of the events on my mind are related to committees and other activities in which I'm required to observe confidentiality. The second is that a lot of my blogs express frustration about the way society is, but of late I've started to realise that frustration is harmful to one's own peace of mind. This is an issue I want to analyse for a while (why does one feel frustration or anger? what is anger really??).

But back to confidentiality. These are not the best of times for people who want their communications to be kept a secret. Wikileaks has published an extensive collection of cables sent by the US to various countries. According to the website, "Publishing improves transparency, and this transparency creates a better society for all people. Better scrutiny leads to reduced corruption and stronger democracies in all society's institutions, including government, corporations and other organisations." Sounds good to me! But not, evidently, to Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Conn.) who wants to shut down the website, nor to Rep. Peter King (N.Y.) who wants it declared a terrorist organization.

Mikkel Fishman writing in The Moderate Voice observes that there hasn't really been any earthshaking revelation from the recent spate of leaked cables, which have merely confirmed what we already know:

"President Sarkozy is thin skinned! PM Berlusconi is vain! The US is worried about Islamism rising in Turkey! Pakistan has a poor handling on its nuclear technology! Iran has been working with North Korea on missile technology! The US actually pressured Canada not to make a fuss about kidnapping and torturing one of its citizens that wasn’t actually a terrorist, and tried to get its CIA agents in another case to be let go! Did you know that the Queen is more respected than Prince Charles?"

This suggests the leaks will not have the claimed effect of damaging diplomatic relations between countries. BTW it is reported that Berlusconi laughed when he read them (but I'm sure Sarkozy didn't!!).

In short, the leaks may be embarrassing but hardly the stuff to bring the world as we know it down. Reading some of them, I feel I'm watching a reality show with Hilary Clinton, the Saudi royal family and Pakistan's ISI in the same house. Which actually brings me to my point: while I don't see much potential for harm in these leaks, I don't see much good coming out of them either. Are they going to make us question our prejudices, or our selfishness, or our futile quests for power (where by "us" I mean the human race)? Not really. Seeing the participants of a reality show clawing at each other physically and verbally hasn't made anyone less prone to similar violence against those who challenge them, as far as I know. The press and free-speech advocates (I count myself among the latter) are, for different reasons, having quite a ball. But just because it's fun doesn't really make it the major social change the world so desperately needs.

All this reminds me of Bertrand Russell's observation:

If we were all given by magic the power to read each other's thoughts, I suppose the first effect would be to dissolve all friendships.

I can't find on the web what Russell went on to say, but I remember reading it in his book long ago. His point is that after the "first effect" of dissolving friendships, the transparency of our thoughts to each other would re-make friendships in a better mould. We could not hide secrets, therefore there would be no mutual suspicion or doubt. Everything would be out there in the open. It would create a different and, he thought, better society.

If as it seems the Wikileaks cables have not damaged diplomatic relations then Russell is already wrong on point one. I would have hoped for him to be right, because then we could have looked forward to his second prediction coming true.

1 comment:

vbalki said...

One thing does emerge from the leaks. Their rather unsurprising nature itself reaffirms the suspicion that is generally harboured by observers who are not in the inner circles of government or diplomatic services. Namely, the essential correctness of one's general impression that even at the highest levels of government, policy and response are largely based on naive stereotyping, lack of cultural attunement, failure to understand root causes, ignorance, prejudice, insensitivity to larger causes, cynicism, duplicity, and a total lack of morality of any kind. So what's new?