Sunday, December 12, 2010

Question revolution, or still more on Assange (by Suzie)

I’ve had a problem with authority as far back as I can remember. I’m a strong believer in questioning authority, and by that, I mean anyone who makes decisions for me or tells me what to do or how to think.

I’m galled that so many others who question authority have no trouble trusting Julian Assange. I haven’t seen such over-the-top worship since leftists deified Obama in 2008. When you admire a carefully crafted image, when you don’t have a clear idea of a person’s beliefs, it’s easy to project your own onto him.

In an individualistic society, revolution can be so sexy, letting people feel like they’re being bad and good at the same time -- whether it’s a Southerner calling himself a Rebel, a guy on an unlicensed broadcast thinking of himself as a pirate or me thinking I’m a radical feminist.

Judge the causes as you will; we have a similar desire. We want to believe that we’re challenging the status quo to make things better.

When men play the most prominent roles in revolutions – which would be most of them – women often end up with traditional tasks. Why would Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of the Iceland parliament, feel the need to bring Assange a change of clothes or cut his hair while he typed? (She has since resigned from WikiLeaks.)

When a revolution succeeds, it does not necessarily lead to improvement, especially for women. Take the French Revolution, for example. The following is from my academic writing. The quote comes from "Women and the Public Sphere in the Age of the French Revolution" by Joan B. Landes, with additional information from Edward Berenson's "The Trial of Madame Caillaux."
Although patriarchal, France’s Old Regime allowed women to participate in public. Most men and women were excluded from power, but some elite women assumed powerful roles that had nothing to do with domesticity, similar to their male counterparts. After the Revolution, republican men talked of individual rights applied universally. They either had to include women or explain why women differed from men. They chose the latter. Republican men ended up devaluing “women’s contribution to public life to a degree rarely matched in earlier periods.” In general, women had fewer rights after the Revolution than before. For a while, it was even a crime for them to appear in public. Next came the Napoleonic Code, with various laws to remove women from the public sphere.
Conservatives have compared Assange to various villains, but I expect their understanding of history to differ from my own. What I want to know is: How can someone believe in radical democracy, the power of the people, etc., and still contribute to the Great Man theory of history? Supporters have compared Assange to Che, Neo, Ned Kelly, Robin Hood and who knows who else.

Change does not depend on one man. And I do mean “man.” I doubt the response would be the same if Julian was Julia. If a woman did what Assange has done, I imagine she would be criticized for leaving her only child behind as she worked around the world, having sex with supporters, or acting dictatorial.

Look at the double standard as applied to Hillary Clinton. Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize in his first year in office “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy,” and he gets credit for any improvements in foreign relations, as if Clinton were just bringing him clothes and cutting his hair while he worked. In Cablegate, however, Assange and others are calling for her resignation, as if Obama had no idea how the State Department has functioned.

There have always been people who spread information that others wanted kept secret, even if the medium was word-of-mouth. Exposing information on the Internet happened before Assange and will continue, even though he gets credit for doing it on a grand scale. Leaking only the information that will grab the world’s attention means there’s lots of other stuff out there that will not see the light of day. Good journalists have plenty of story ideas. But they often work for profit-driven companies that allow them limited time and resources to investigate.

Meanwhile, the Internet has unimaginable troves of information. But millions of people have little or no access. Those who do, even those of us with time and skills, may have difficulty sorting through all the crap. In the Assange case, every day seems to bring a new alligator in the sewer. (Can this really be his computer-dating profile from 2006? If so, a close reading will be forthcoming.)

People are still repeating the lie that consensual sex can be prosecuted as rape in Sweden. Liberals bang our heads against the wall when we see how many people believe that WMDs were found in Iraq and that Obama is a Muslim. Our side shouldn't do the same.

I wrote about the sex-crime allegations against Assange Dec. 3. Since no one reads me, I'm glad Jessica Valenti had an article on rape Friday in the Washington Post. The Guardian has a piece on Swedes who don't believe the conspiracy theorists. Some supporters said he had been charged with “sex by surprise,” a category that doesn't exist in Swedish law. For those who hadn't already looked it up in the Urban Dictionary and then jumped off a bridge, NY mag explained that “sex by surprise” is a trivializing synonym for rape.

People who confuse WikiLeaks and Wikipedia get laughs. WikiLeaks = very sexy and serious. Wikipedia = you can’t trust it because, theoretically, anyone can publish or edit information. As PC magazine notes:
WikiLeaks actually has much stronger editorial controls when compared to Wikipedia. The worldwide network of volunteer editors at WikiLeaks determines newsworthiness -- not the public.
In journalism in democracies, editors are known. People can investigate their background and that of their bosses, including financial ties. Former colleagues of Assange have questioned WikiLeak's finances. Birgitta, the parliament member, said:
You can't run an organisation like this with one person in charge. Maybe there's nothing wrong with the money, but why can't he be transparent about it?
Is it possible that people donated to WikiLeaks not knowing their money might go to defend Assange against accusations of rape and other sex crimes? He has an army of lawyers in different countries that have spun conspiracy theories about the women making the accusations. When he wanted a new lawyer in Sweden, however, he hired one whose defense is all too common: The women lied because they were jealous and they wanted to get back at him.

Meanwhile, the group handling the defense of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the alleged whistleblower, said WikiLeaks hasn’t paid all it promised for his defense. Protesters are demanding: “Free Assange.”Where are the T-shirts and signs saying, “Free Manning”? quotes him saying that decision-making must be based on truth. I guess they decided they had enough truth to write off the women.

Before Assange turned himself in, he was sheltered in a club for journalists. They, too, must be convinced that the women are lying, even though they haven’t heard all the evidence. (Here’s my guess: Men dominate as club members.) Here's more from Birgitta:
There are two sides to the story and these women are on the receiving end of a lot of hate mail. How does anyone who calls for his release and the dropping of the charges know the truth? In this battle for Julian's release, Bradley Manning has been forgotten. ... [T]his creating of a martyr and icon [in Assange] has got completely out of control.
Assange has poisoned WikiLeaks for me. I look forward to OpenLeaks, which is supposed to launch Monday.