WikiLeaks, Assange and Social Order

C4chaos just made a post sharing his thoughts on WikiLeaks. I was surprised to find that Robb Smith, CEO of Integral Life, had this position on the matter:

Al Qaeda just announced they’re going to use Wikileaks to exploit security weaknesses to kill innocent people. Nice. Assange is a terrorist. His defenders will argue he’s preserving freedom. Not in the real world he’s not. He’s merely a criminal aiding other criminals. Man this is dying for an integral breakdown, wish I had more time.

He went on to have a more detailed explanation:

In a world with a lot of folks who will leverage another’s capabilities to do harm, Assange’s efforts and those of his allies will have serious consequences. I believe that I have to take full responsibility at every step for my ethics and my capabilities. Though I know many of the effects of these leaks will be unpredictably positive, others might be devastating. Just watching how these hackers are now using this interaction as an excuse to try to bring down global retailers, I ask myself: really, is this helpful? Is this humane? So now thug-like rioting in the streets and anarchy-like behavior is what we get? Mark my words, regular folks just trying to go about their day are going to get hurt before this is done. These are the effects that an ethical and mature world citizen would have accounted for. You don’t just shit all over civilization and the rule of law because you can. What an integral view calls for is a massively deep sensitivity to the power we wield and a deep humility at the outsize effects our actions can have.

My gut reaction was much like c4chaos: Really!? And I’m still feeling that way. I’d like to try to describe why I think this Smith’s more “conservative” outlook is really missing the bigger picture. While it sounds nice, and calls for humility and empathy for people who are just trying to live their lives, I sense there is a profound absence of historical understanding about these “thugs” and “rioters.” There is a line between what one might consider a divisive rioter and those who “doth protest,” or “think otherwise.” Political activism has never been a totally passive affair, and in the history of monarchies that have been toppled in favor of more democratic governments, not every revolution is bound to become Paris, 1789. But let’s look at France’s history for a moment…

As a society changes and new forms of social order emerge, they often cause a conflict between the established power and the emerging, often more complex system of rule. Not only is there a conflict, but often the “Old Rule” can no longer viably sustain itself and has gone into a deficient mode; Constitutional Monarchies become “Let Them Eat Cake” mentalities, and the sheer pressure to change in the face of great strife often pushes a people to conflict, civil war and in France’s case, the guillotine.

For better or worse, change often comes like a storm. The ruling power is unable to handle the complexities of a new social order, yet unwilling to yield its control. In the case of France, extreme decadence, stratification and famine preceded the Revolution. The Ancien Regime, which once had been a more benign form of holding society together, had now become a rotting tomb over the whole culture, and yes, people were mad. This doesn’t justify the mass slaughter that followed in the French Revolution. Instead I think it changes the way we perceive our situation today: in the face of an increasingly deficient social order that is unable and unwilling to deal with its limitations, how do we react? Political activism is now not only in the form of physical protests, but also a new kind of internet activism that appears like a nightmare to some and an ushering in of a new order to others. This new emerging “mentality” is characteristically described as “transparent” and “participatory.” It has no need for closed borders and secrets, for it thrives on an open and interdependent ecology. Like the democratic systems that erupted in Europe following the the “Age of Reason,” spreading like wildfire and bringing revolution and chaos to some nations, the internet and modern communication technology is a new kind of planetary flood. It has spread even more rapidly than the shift from what Weber called “Traditional” to “Legal Rational” authority. Now we are moving from a Legal-Rational age to an Age of Participation. It will emerge in ways vastly more complex than historical systems, and we can expect the previous power structures to buckle and resist.

Weber’s 3 Kinds of authority & the potential new 4th:

  1. Charismatic: Despots, Benign Kings, Dictatorship, Tyranny, etc.
  2. Traditional: Hierarchy, Monarchy, Class Rule, Ancien Regime, Divine Rule, etc.
  3. Legal Rational: Hierarchy, Representation, legal authority, property and economy
  4. Participatory: Decentralized, Participation, Information, Open-Source and Ecology.

We do not know how or in what ways this new social order will truly emerge, but what is beginning with a terrifying exposure of secrets might end with a totally new way to organize society; without the need for representation, or even governments as we know them. This may be centuries away, but we are seeing the beginning of it now. With the deficiency of the current system to respond appropriately to Wikileaks and other pushes for decentralization (Corporate attempts to centralize the internet, Government attempts at a “kill-switch), the “new” order of things will push back to establish itself. Which is really another way of saying that Corporations and Military-Industrial states have every reason to fear this new transparency. Robb Smith’s views are understandable, because this really is a chaotic “overturning” of a social order as it collapses on itself, but Julian Assange, the Pirate Bay and Anonymous are not the only ones to “blame,” a great deal of the problems we are in are a direct result of the secrecy, corruption and deception of those who currently hold the power, and this is exactly what these new activists are reacting to. I am sure that King Louis XVI’s sympathizers held a similar view to many Wiki-leaks protestors, in that they wished to assist somehow in change but didn’t see any reason to overturn the established social order.

From a planetary perspective, we should not limit ourselves to what we feel is morally right, but also to understand the forces of change. Good and evil do a dance, especially in a transitional period between one society and another.

Evil often announces the next world order. The Atlantic Civilization began with the Viking Invasion, mirroring future European conquests in the Americas. Now global corporations use governments to do their bidding and have a “hold” over the people in the same way the Viking Terror had over the serfs of Europe. Today, the Serfs are not necessarily the American people, but the majority of the Third World where corporations outsource their labor, transforming entire nations to serfdoms. Although their power holds strong, they have set the seeds for change to come again; now the terror comes in the form of a catastrophe, literally a “turning over” and a revelation of the underside of civilization. It is an ugly thing, but perhaps this is exactly what we need: in rendering the darkness to light, we now have an opportunity to transmute the sludge, prima material, into a divine and participatory openness. Just as the Vikings paved the way for modern Europe, perhaps the Dark Age of Corporate Globalization and the Military-Industrial Complex have set the stage for the new Planetary Civilization—and the first structure we are witnessing is this new global commons.

Can we create a new society that, while not being a utopia, at last allows for an ecology both human and non-human, to thrive? Can we develop a non-oppressive form of civilization? That has never existed before, and for any “integral” theorist or thinker, this should be the central question: what is the nature of transformation? What can be gleaned from the chaos today and of yesterday, so that even the rioters can be understood as ushering in a new participatory social order.

3 thoughts on “WikiLeaks, Assange and Social Order

  1. I mostly agree with the blog post here. The frothings at the edge of civilization are uncomfortable and inherently uncontrollable, and in many respects are a direct result of the repressions and suppressions of the dominant culture. Unlike France, however, our civilization is a lot more interdependent and we have seen what would have passed for relatively small and localized perturbations in ages past today running rampant through the world — take Libya and the cost of oil as one example. Then we have the excesses of the financial elite class, with folks like Goldman Sachs at their summit, bringing down the world economy. Or perhaps a single hacker bringing down the PSN network and affecting tens if not hundreds of millions of people. Where I might find myself in agreement with Robb Smith is that Assange should consider the potential downside of what, how, and when he releases information — mostly, the vulnerable terrorist targets is what I am thinking of here. “Rioters” could well help to usher in a new order, but I believe the Integral/Spiral Dynamics perspective would say that we still need functionality at the various levels of society, otherwise breakthrough becomes breakdown.

  2. Hey Tuvan, good points. John Ebert brought up a similar view in an interview I recently had with him over at Evolutionary Landscapes. Check it out, you might find it interesting as we dedicate a big chunk of the talk to Wikileaks, hackers, etc.

    http://evolutionarylandscapes.com/the-new-media-invasion-an-interview-with-john

    Aside from that I do think there must be some degree of stability – however, I don’t take it to the extreme Smith does. Hackers, for the internet age, seem to be retrieving the role of the nomadic Viking or Visigoth – co-arising with civilization but also a chaotic variable that disrupts order. As the years go by and everything becomes increasingly digitized, the old world orders may not be taken down by incarnate raiders who storm “Rome” but by disembodied hackers with the power to take down empires. It’s an interesting scenario, one in which I don’t feel inclined to side entirely with folks like Assange – though transparency is *very* important in this age – nor with conservative views. Seems like a new way is being called for, somehow.

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