Speech, knees, and critical thinking

"One person's heroic anarchism is another's self-indulgent immaturity. Just sayin'."

That was me "just sayin'" on Facebook. I got unfriended by someone when I wrote that, although the statement was general, it was inspired by the Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks on perceived enemies of WikiLeaks.

I'm disturbed by what seems to be a lack of critical thinking on the issue of WikiLeaks and the DDOS attacks. There seems to be a lot of automatic, uncritical support for both of these operations, and it comes from my side of the political spectrum.

As usual, the spin starts in media releases—and never mind the irony of self-proclaimed defenders of "the truth" engaging in spin. WikiLeaks is described as "whistleblowers." It doesn't matter what they release. This is an example of devaluing the currency. A whistleblower exposes wrongdoing, often at great personal risk. Some of what WikiLeaks is doing seems to fall into that category, notably documents on operations in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. But as a whole, should what WikiLeaks is doing be described as whistleblowing? The release of diplomatic cables, basically gossip? What about the release of a document that changed the result of an election in Kenya and led to the massacre of more than a thousand people? Should those be called whistleblowing?

But it seems we have no choices other than to support WikiLeaks completely or oppose them completely. That is not critical thinking. That is a knee-jerk reaction. I don't understand how anyone can support a political position uncritically. That's just toeing a party or ideological line. That's what leads loyal followers to overlook atrocities.

What about the DDOS attacks on Visa, Mastercard, and a few other targets? Do those really have anything to do with defending free speech? Or are the hackers simply having the kind of fun they would be having anyway in service of nothing but their own strange idea of pleasure?

One thing that gets lost in such anarchistic operations is democracy. Julian Assange decides what gets exposed. I don't. Neither do you. A group of hackers decides whether you can reach an e-commerce site. I don't. Neither do you. People declare themselves champions, but no one voted for them. No one can hold them accountable.

Free speech is not at one end of a continuum between "I can say anything I want" and "I can't say anything." It lies somewhere in between. Freedom without responsibility, without thinking, without some grasp of the meaning and usefulness of confidentiality, is dangerous. Yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre is technically free speech, but does anyone find it acceptable? What if someone told me something in confidence, and I decide that it should be splashed all over the Twitterverse? Am I exercising free speech, or just being a bitch?

As a trained counsellor, I understand what confidentiality is for. Without it, people cannot speak freely. When I was seeing clients, they had to know that they could say what was truly on their minds without being afraid that I would break that confidence.

Confidentiality, like free speech, has limits. Counsellors work under a "duty to report" in cases where a client talks of harm to self or others, especially children. Clients are told that up front. I would say that in some of the leak situations, there was some kind of "duty to report." Some of that stuff should have been exposed, and I'm glad it was.

The trouble is, WikiLeaks uses no judgment. Everything goes out, no matter how trivial, regardless of the potential for harm. Absolute free speech becomes a god, and anyone who brings up even the idea of a limit on it is accused of espousing censorship.

I am in favour of free speech. I truly am. But can't I do that while also understanding that discretion might sometimes be a good idea? Can't I do that while understanding that confidentiality is useful and indeed sometimes vital in international relations? Can't I do that while thinking that children bombarding commercial websites are not, in fact, the champions of freedom? Can't I use my brain to decide exactly what I support?

1 comment:

Anji said...

A lot of people spend a lot of time on 'diplomacy'. It may seem trivial from the outside, but the future of the world as we know it depends on it. I agree, there is information which should be known, I was shocked at the triviality of some of it.

I remember reading something to the effect of "This is a free country you cant's stop me. - This is a free country, I can try" Does anyone know where it comes from.

Is democracy really a good thing?