"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant." ~ John Stuart Mill
Sneering as a Tactic: The Campaign Against WikiLeaks
Column by Glen Allport.
Exclusive to STR
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Be very cautious when hearing any argument against someone that relies on a sneering tone. To put it bluntly, decent people don't use such tactics.
On the web are blog posts and columns that attempt to link Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks organization to Israel, or to the Rothschilds, or to the CIA. WikiLeaks, these pieces insist, is a psy-op designed to somehow help bring about the New World Order, to bolster the power elite at the expense of the rest of us, to undermine (or enhance, depending on who you read) American power or Israeli influence. What distinguishes and unites these smear pieces is tone: the authors sneer at Assange personally and at WikiLeaks, using snide remarks and insinuations.
In The Wiki-Weasel, We Thought We had Seen it All…, Gordon Duff quotes F. William Engdahl on the nature of WikiLeaks:
Wikileaks is a big and dangerous US intelligence Con Job which will likely be used to police the Internet.
Duff also quotes Bob Levin, said to be an FBI whistleblower, as saying:
Supporting WikiLeaks founder, Julius Assange and . . . calling for revolution due to government cover-ups are intended results of a counterintelligence reverse tactic.
Duff goes well beyond the slams of the major media against Assange and WikiLeaks, and he is not alone in doing so: This is the method being used, it appears, to undermine Assange in the alternative media among readers who don't believe the MSM. The "policing the Internet" fear is very real, for example, and blaming Assange for the problem is a natural for the smear campaign. But anyone who believes the U.S. government, or any other government for that matter, is not already working feverishly to monitor the web and to put controls in place has simply not been watching. Monitoring and controlling the Internet is just another goal of the anti-freedom elite, along with monitoring and controlling everything else: air travel, border crossings, broadcast media, printed news, education, and anything else we see, hear, or do. Those in power don't need WikiLeaks to justify a clampdown, although of course WikiLeaks will be used as an excuse (as will any other such attempts at providing truth) – but the clampdown was in progress long before and would have continued regardless of whether Assange came along. Any excuse will do: porn, copyright infringement, or the über-excuse of "terrorism." The Cyber Security Act of 2009, written well before the current WikiLeaks hysteria, may be in force by the time you read this, for example. [Added 12/22/2010: as for the content of the cables being leaked, see Lawrence Ludlow's excellent comment below the column itself].
Meanwhile, neocon pro-Israel Senator Lieberman has managed to get Amazon.com to stop hosting WikiLeaks and has – along with other power players in the major media and the federal government – shown a vivid antipathy to Assange and his mission of bringing at least some transparency to our governments and major corporations.
The massive and frantic response to WikiLeaks contrasts strongly with government responses to those who have actually been responsible for, or failed in their duty to prevent, serious crimes. Osama bin Laden has still not been arrested nearly a decade after the 9/11 attacks our government blames on him; neither the perps of the 9/11 attacks nor the bureaucrats and officials who failed in their duties so catastrophically that day have been inconvenienced by prison, fines, or anything else. But since the Big Leak a few months ago, PayPal, Bank of America, and several other corporations have cut off WikiLeaks' main avenues of fundraising and Assange has been arrested on "sex by surprise" (or Ex Post Facto Rape, as my wife puts it) charges – brought by a nation that seems to care little about actual rape. Naomi Wolf on the topic:
Indeed, the Swedish authorities — who are now being depicted as global feminist sex-crime-avenger superheroes in blue capes — were shamed by a 2008 Amnesty International report, Case Closed, as being far more dismissive of rape, and far more insulting to rape victims who can be portrayed as 'asking for it' by drinking or any kind of sexual ambiguity — than any other country in their comparison group. As Amnesty International put it in a blistering attack: "Swedish Rapists Get Impunity." ~ Sweden’s negligence in prosecuting rape shows up politics behind Assange arrest
Assange has also been the focus of serious threats from powerful figures, including public suggestions that he be assassinated. Bradley Manning, the alleged source for the big 250,000-cable leak that triggered the elite's hysteria, has been imprisoned for seven months already without trial and is being treated with chilling cruelty by his captors. How does all that square with the psy-op theories? It doesn't, of course, and many other governments are also condemning WikiLeaks and Assange, because Power and corruption only thrive in the shadows. WikiLeaks terrifies the elite because it brings a (feeble and intermittent) light to their actions.
It says something important that Power is threatened by any glimpse, however small, into the workings of America's foreign policy, and of the other governments and organizations discussed in the leaked material. Imagine the fear being generated in corporations and governments world-wide at the prospect of having their too-often sleazy and criminal behavior outed for all to see: That is WikiLeaks' mission, and it is having an effect in the world.
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Meanwhile, supporting Assange's right to publish information obtained from whistle-blowers, and opposing sanctions against him and his organization, is a diverse group that includes people with decades-long track records of supporting freedom of speech and of calling for transparency in both the government and corporate realms. These include:
Republican congressman Ron Paul, who himself has been sneered and laughed at on national television by fellow candidates in the 2008 presidential debates (you can hear laughter from a fellow candidate in this clip from one of the debates – at about 4:20 – for suggesting we end the IRS and the Federal Reserve, bring our troops home from Iraq, and generally follow the Constitution) and by commentators in the corporate media during his campaign. The clip is quite rousing, incidentally: Paul is in great form here.
Left-wing gadfly Michael Moore (includes video, 10 min 43 sec)
Salon's Glenn Greenwald (who has also revealed the cruel treatment being inflicted on Bradley Manning)
Investigative journalist John Pilger (includes video, 1 min 48 sec)
David Samuels of The Atlantic
The Icelandic Parliamentary General Committee (which may revoke the operating licenses for Visa and Mastercard in response to those companies cutting off WikiLeaks)
Anti-fascist left-wing author Naomi Wolf, quoted above
Veterans for Peace (video, 6 min 37 sec; excellent)
Antiwar.com's Justin Raimondo, who points out that:
". . . the prospect of having a web site devoted to spilling the secrets of the elites has brought out everyone’s true colors. To those truly devoted to liberty, it has evoked cheers; for those with other agendas, it has provided a target for their polemical arrows."
This group – the relatively few visible supporters of Assange and his cause – does not sneer when talking or writing about people or groups they oppose. Ron Paul and the others above are outraged when appropriate, but civil even then.
By itself, civility is not proof of honesty, or correctness, or anything else – but it does seem to correlate at least somewhat with honesty and empathy. Personally, I find uncivil behavior – including a sneering tone in an attack on someone – to be a huge red flag.
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WikiLeaks and Julian Assange are only the latest victims of such a campaign – of a smear campaign that relies, in part, on a sneering tone. Any person or group successful at exposing and demystifying Power is likely to suffer such an attack.
A successful effort to oppose the coercive elite and to bring more love and freedom into the world will always be met with resistance, and since it is difficult to argue the facts against someone who espouses truth and openness, and who eschews government coercion to further their goals, attacks from the elite typically employ tactics that are effective despite not being true, logical, fact-based, or in harmony with simple human decency.
Assassination, false imprisonment, slander, and threats are common examples of such tactics. In many cases, however, a smear campaign is the weapon of choice – at least initially. If the smear fails, other approaches are tried; in the case of Assange and WikiLeaks, it appears that several approaches are being tried at once.
A smear campaign can be as simple as sneering at the target (with or even without an accompanying accusation), because a sneer – in word, in tone of voice, or on someone's face – bypasses upper-brain logic and powerfully connects with human genetic social rules. When you see or hear someone sneering at (or about) someone else, it is difficult to avoid the feeling that the person being sneered at is disgusting (unless you already have a strong negative feeling about the person doing the sneering). That sense of disgust trumps almost anything else about the person being sneered at; the victim of a successful sneer campaign is, for all intents and purposes, no longer a human being in the eyes of the public. Whatever his or her message, the public's first response is disgust at the person – rendering the message harmless to those who might be inconvenienced by it.
There is an excellent discussion of this approach to overcoming one's opponents in Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate: The modern denial of human nature. I was stunned when I read it, especially since Pinker is talking about the allegedly dispassionate scientific community. The world of power politics is, as you'd expect, even worse.
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There are dark and secretive forces in this world, and some are featured as supposed puppetmasters in the sneer campaigns against WikiLeaks. But WikiLeaks is a threat to darkness and secrecy, not an agent for them. Whether this delicate new breeze of information, this small glimpse behind the veil of elite secrecy, will have lasting positive effect or be snuffed out by Power – as Power is openly and rabidly trying to do – remains to be seen, but either way, the WikiLeaks saga has put a spotlight on the secrecy, corruption, and cruelty that characterize Power in this world. That is something people of goodwill can all be thankful for.