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Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

The Athenians put Socrates to death for being a provocateur, for asking too many questions. The power elite were threatened by Socrates, but still more by the influence he had over his pupils, each of whom Socrates challenged to “know thyself.”

Socrates was charged with the capital crime of irreverence (asebeia), a failure to show piety toward the gods of Athens. His pursuit of reason undermined the accepted institutions of the state and therefore made him a threat to the state.

By disputing the state’s demands for unquestioned obedience, Socrates became a martyr to truth and conscience. His pursuit of truth implied that the authority of the state requires constant questioning as a means of ensuring its moral legitimacy.

Julian Assange is a chip off the old Socrates block. The founder of Wikileaks strips off the emperor’s clothes to reveal, layer by layer, the shroud of secrecy that has become an acceptable shelter for institutions of power and influence.

Assange is routinely condemned because the power elite feel vulnerable to public scrutiny. They cover themselves with a veil of “discretion,” which should be the first reason to suspect them, their integrity, and the organizations they run.

Rather than denigrating Assange, the world should be grateful to an individual who dares to question authority at the highest levels and uses technology to broadcast disclosure. This stripping of secrecy not only reflects Assange’s radicalized upbringing, it issues from man’s innate desire to ensure personal freedom by challenging whatever power holds him in sway.

Americans are assured legal and political guarantees to open government and fair legal process. These rights are the foundation of our democracy. If our leaders act in the best interests of their citizens and trust those citizens to comprehend and endorse the nuances of their leadership, then there’s no reason for secrecy. If our foreign policy is well reasoned and above board, it, too, should be transparent.

Truth-seeking begins in childhood, when it’s natural to question one’s parents. Ruled by parental authority, a child matures to recognize individual rights and assert them. Such coming of age is a birth rite. Healthy human beings break from their parents by challenging the implicit privilege of their rule.

Such was the basis for Socrates’ actions. He questioned everything, and he was sentenced to death for it. He took his own life by drinking hemlock, a poison. He acted in willing obedience to the edict of the state, in which he was a responsible citizen, while holding firmly to his own values. This made Socrates a symbol for truth and integrity, and raised him to an exalted stature among thinking people through the ages.

Society seeks to compel conformity in church, state, schools, the military, and any institution that rules by dictate. History is full of such examples: the Roman Empire, the Church of England, Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, the authoritarian rule of Singapore, the cultural conformity of today’s China. Compliance is foremost in every ruling power that has ever existed.

“Theirs not to make reply/Theirs not to reason why/Theirs but to do and die,” wrote Tennyson in “Charge of the Light Brigade.” The poem inspires heroism, but reveals the cost of blind obedience for the individual. Every man deserves the right to sacrifice himself to a cause, but no cause should sacrifice every man’s right to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Wikileaks is a phenomenon of the Information Age, where truth spreads virally. The many sources feeding Wikileaks take huge risks to free the world of secrecy. Many of these secrets are not necessarily devious, but the cultivation of subterfuge invites devious purposes.

It is easier to misgovern the ignorant than the informed. The saddest thing about Wikileaks is that a vast number of the people it supposedly serves are ignorant by choice, complacent about the potentates behind the curtains who are pulling their strings.

Albert Speer, the Nazi mastermind of armaments during WWII, described his education as utilitarian and amoral. He and his Nazi cohort were ill-prepared to question the morality of Nazism. Such blind obedience led to the Holocaust.

The essential question is why secrets should be held from the public. Why does entrenched power resist the magnifying lens of openness? The answer is that the exercise of power is deemed easier in a blind than under the watchful eye of an informed citizenry.

Unfettered authority, shielded by deceit, dies like a mold spore when exposed to fresh air and sunshine. Wikileaks helps let in the light of day to our morally challenged institutions, which need all the light they can get.


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