The Mellencamp Doctrine

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Memo to Julian Assange: YOU'RE PROBABLY FUCKED.

So. WikiLeaks. Round three. Apparently, three strikes and you're out, because first they released that video of the chopper attacking civilians in Iraq, then it released the Afghan war documents. But now that they've released a few hundred thousand diplomatic cables, it's time to get serious.

I'm not talking about the Huckabeean calls for execution, or the general accusations of treason levied against non-American Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. I'm talking about the government stepping in and applying leverage to companies like Amazon and PayPal to try to cut off WikiLeaks' hosting and funding, respectively. The first is a largely futile gesture on the Internet. The second is slightly more serious. But there's no way both of them weren't corporate America helping out political America.

Because again, this is the third time WikiLeaks has made major news. And only now, Amazon and Paypal happen to notice violations of their Terms of Service? We've all not read Terms of Service agreements before. I'm guessing they all have "eating lunch" buried in them somewhere for just such an occasion. The crackdown is here, but why now?

I mean, arguably, the cables are the least damaging WikiLeak so far. Sure, there are a couple of juicy tidbits in there. I especially like the news that the Obama administration has been pressuring foreign countries like Spain to keep them from investigating and prosecuting Bush-era torture. I'd hoped that would have changed, if you know what I mean. But the only reason I can think of for this to bring the hammer down is that Julian Assange has shown that not only can he challenge authority, but he will continue to do so in the face of opposition and conveniently-timed sexual assault charges.

Now, you don't have to like Assange. It's probably bad if you do. His motives are questionable, his methods are questionable, and he's a bit of a freakjob. But that can't be helped. It takes a rare sort of person to challenge authority these days.

I'm not talking about questioning authority. Questioning authority is easy. I've done it for six years now, without even the slightest hint or fear of retribution. But I would never have the balls to challenge authority. And odds are, neither would you.

Challenging authority requires a combination of some kind of power base from and with which to challenge authority, and a willingness to endure the eventual consequences. Especially these days, when so many of the traditional avenues for challenging authority are cut off. Unions were designed to challenge authority, but they've been weakened and marginalized so that the people who should aspire to create and join them now just oppose them reflexively out of manufactured envy.

The legal system is great, if you have deep pockets and a half-decade of your life to spend on a pursuit that might end up being decided by Antonin Scalia. Talk back to a cop, if you want to get tased. Challenging authority is insanely difficult. So if the one guy who's really pulled it off lately is a bit of a nutjob, well, given the power authority wields, he'd kind of have to be, wouldn't he?

And authority needs to be challenged. Because unchallenged authority is complacent authority, and complacent authority is abusive authority. I understand that diplomats need to do confidential and secret things. But that doesn't mean we can just sit back and let them do anything they want, as secretly as they want. There should be a constant effort required on both sides - keeping things secret and finding out secret things - to keep the powers that be on their toes, and help them decide how much secrecy they actually NEED to employ to do their jobs.

Also, the mere possibility of stuff getting out is in and of itself a check on authority, or at least it should be. It means the shit they pull should ultimately be bounded at the upper limit by the shit they think they can get away with. It doesn't help with a Dubya, who not only thought he could get away with anything, but was proven right on that, but the point still stands.

All WikiLeaks is really doing is picking up where the press has largely left off - finding the dirt on authority and putting it out there so we can see it. Sure, the press has a level of standards and judgment that Assange lacks, but the press also has a level of laziness and complacency. Say what you like about Assange, but he's not lazy or complacent.

So while you watch everyone argue over Assange and watch the government try to grind WikiLeaks down to a safe, comfortable level where it doesn't actually threaten anyone in power, try to remember how much we need something like that in the world, even if none of us can step up and fill those shoes.