Secrets And Lies

(Publisher’s Note: Don’t let your small kids read this…M.C.)

Maybe the issue is too serious for the comparison, but I can’t help thinking of Santa Claus when the subject of Wikileaks is raised. I know; Christmas right? I never have been serious enough for the news. But hey, if the battle of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is really about whether we Americans are mature enough to take communal showers, then Wikileaks is really about whether it is good and proper to tell your kids the Santa Claus story.

The issues relating to the theft and release of millions of secret documents have dominated news cycles for months now. Should governments have secrets, what limits exist on freedom of the press, and what defines national security? I would argue that another issue, lying just below the surface, is fueling this story. Is the United States government ours, or is it some outside entity bent on malevolent control? If this is still the government of we the people, then only a hypocrite would suggest it not be permitted secrecy. In fact, it is my argument that many who line up now to cheer the perpetrators of this theft are indeed hypocrites.

Just this moment, Wikileaks chief busybody Julian Assange is waging a scorched earth campaign to ensure that no one learns his secrets. How many of the hackers, snitches, and thieves who have lied, stole, and cheated their way through this process want the world to know their secrets? The tricky balancing act of any free society is the walk between public good and personal liberty; can we ensure that our government does not perpetrate evil in our name if our government is allowed secrets? The answer is yes; but that answer requires a level of political involvement and attention that many in the generation most likely to applaud Wikileaks have never shown.

The simple facts of the matter are that most of the acts of our government for which Americans are most embarrassed happened in the full light of day. But while senior citizens and sober-minded conservatives were writing their representatives letters of thanks for the enhanced interrogation that “kept us safe”, the demographic most likely to condemn torture sat on its hands. Not until 2008 did 20-somethings take note of their country and vote their conscience. Just 1 month ago, many of the same 20-somethings now trumpeting the success of Wikileaks and blasting the acts of the government stayed home. Elections matter.

But we are left with the easy path; whine about how bad things are and either stay home on election day or silently plot petty revenges against them. Most of those now fighting for the Wikisneaks have a ready answer for boring old pro-government liberals like me; they fight for the principle of the thing! If only I hadn’t betrayed the faith, I would understand. I would understand that honesty is everything, unless it involves telling some what their deficiencies as students, or workers, or people are. I would understand that they should be allowed to copy the work of everyone else, without acknowledgment, in the pursuit of their art. I would understand that we wouldn’t need military secrets if we would just stop fighting; because then everyone else would stop fighting as well.

I know that many who got involved in Wikileaks did so to protect whistle-blowers. I know that many of those whistle-blowers had good reason for their actions. But no action happens in a vacuum. Principles in the service of the many matter; principles in the service of the minority define liberty. Principles defined by the one, in accordance with their needs, and bereft of consideration of the big picture are nothing more than the useless rantings of a child. Wikileaks may have had its origins in an honorable goal, but it is the destiny of any such organization to overstep its honorable boundaries. Who decides what needs to be revealed to the world? Who is the arbiter of justice? I am repulsed by Sarah Palin, and consider her archetype to be a danger to the future of this country; should that give hackers the right to expose her private communications? Should that give Wikisneaks the rights to publish the findings.

What dirty laundry do you have in your closet? Should your employer’s personnel records be exposed? Should juvenile criminal records be available on the internet? How about the evidence kits from rape investigations; should Wikisneaks become a resource for Nancy Grace? You are a bus driver, or cabbie, or cop, or teacher; your medical records are therefore my business. What say you about local government; traffic citations, divorce court transcripts, your child’s test scores…you won’t be the one allowed to determine whether that information is relevant. The slippery slope away from privacy and liberty is always best navigated with thoughtful and carefully places steps; one foot in front of the other.

We have a court system that, by design, works methodically. We have the Freedom of Information Act. We have journalists already working on the fringes of private information; the profession has been on that slope for some time now. The big movies and TV that form our popular culture still cling to the stereotypical “Big Evil” as the cause of the world’s biggest problems. I would submit that it is the righteously indignant that cause the greatest damage; principles run amok. The unrestrained destruction of a perceived conspiracy has one outcome only; the creation of a new conspiracy to fill the vacuum. We should allow our government some secrets, and be vigilant for the lies, but the government of the people can never be held to standards that the people can’t themselves reach.

The Rational Middle hopes the hackers who froze Pay-Pal aren’t too mad at this column…

2 thoughts on “Secrets And Lies

  1. I share Michael’s sense of a right of privacy and secrecy, but believe it can be overridden. I find the revelations daily are revealing more and more wanton abuse of power, often costing many lives. I don’t see the alternative mechanism functioning to address these issues.

    I don’t think you have fairly represented Wikileaks disclosures with your examples. Wikileaks has exercised disgression. They have revealed more than I feel appropriate, but if I were asked on a take-it-or-leave-it basis whether Wikileaks has been a net positive, I would have to offer a resounding yes.

    While I think your examples are not at all a fair representation of Wikileaks behavior, and I don’t expect them to indulge in any of those activities, I do think that a case can be made that Wikileaks may have precipitated an erosion of respect for secrecy and privacy that will find others who many engage in some of the activities that you have listed.

    For me, I keep going back to my governments unconscionable behaviors. And my sense of the rights to privacy and secrecy are overridden by the disclosures of these crimes and betrayals.

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