<begin rant>

Some of the comments I received in response to yesterday’s post seem to suggest that there is some legitimacy to what WikiLeaks is doing to the SONY employees, given that some of those employees may have engaged in unethical behavior.

To me, this seems to be not only a highly flawed argument, but precisely the slippery slope to fascism. If somebody at SONY is doing something that might be illegal, that is certainly of potential interest to our law enforcement system. But we do not have rule by mob in this country. A citizen is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

I know it can be tempting to think of “due process” as a mere nicety, but it is actually the bedrock of a functioning democracy. Just because I happen to think that you did something wrong, this does not mean that I get to punish you. If you can simply be dragged out on the street in the middle of the night and branded as a witch, then you effectively have no rights as a citizen.

And it is absurd to say that SONY employees should have known better than to use company emails for personal conversations. I defy you to show me even one individual, among all the people you know, who has never used their company account to write an email with some personal content.

This sort of pretense — that a patently absurd fiction is the truth, and then to attack entire groups of people based on that absurd fiction — is precisely the precondition for fascism. It is what Kafka was writing about. It was also the game plan for a certain ambitious Chancellor in Germany.

It would be a mistake merely to dismiss Julian Assange as an insensitive asshole. He is something far worse: He is the destroyer of discourse, the bringer of fear, the troll who shuts down all useful conversation because everyone is afraid of him.

Sure, some people at SONY have made unethical decisions. As have some people at Google, Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, IBM, Facebook, the U.S. Government, the Spanish government, the Canadian government, the State of Delaware, and pretty much every single organization of significant size throughout history.

That is certainly something we should be concerned about. But it is no excuse to commit an act of violence against entire large groups of people, which is what Julian Assange has done here.

To put it simply, what he has done to these people is disgusting, and violent, and an act of pure terror.

<end rant>

5 thoughts on “WikiRant”

  1. I think you’re overreacting. I agree that Assange was an asshole for doing this. I don’t like the idea that it could happen to me. I agree that to pretend it’s at all reasonable to assume that all emails on a corporate account contain 0% personal/interpersonal content is naive at best. I agree that we should condemn Assange’s behavior.

    However, you then go on to make a slippery slope argument that if one supports Assange, then they are a part of an impending fascist revolution. Never mind that Fascism is characterized by a single totalitarian leader, and you’re fearing mob rule. Nor the fact that this isn’t an attempt to accuse people of some sort of nationalistic or idealistic crime. He was just throwing information at the public.

    I also fail to see how Assange’s actions effect due process at all. None of his victims are being sentenced to any legal punishment. Just as he released the information to the public domain, any ramifications based on that information are public ones. Nobody will be going to jail or getting fined without a trial. If relationships are compromised because of something personal in the emails (this is again why I think what Assange did was reckless and rude), that isn’t a breach of due process, ’cause there’s no due process for interpersonal relationships.

    Then, to say that if one uses a false premise (that workplace emails aren’t personal) to justify bad behavior, they are no different than Hitler is a ridiculous jump. In no way is that an accurate distillation of what made Hitler the terrible person he was. It was the intent of Hitler’s false premises to lead to heinous crimes, not a naive assumption about corporate life that lead to justification of a dick move.

    Finally, the incendiary language you use in this post is hyperbolic at best, and misleading at worst. For starters, all the definitions of “violence” I found specified physical force. To say he’s destroyed discourse because he’s made people afraid to share personal information over email is a gross exaggeration. In my opinion, you’ve destroyed discourse more with this flagrantly worded post. Assange may be a troll, but what I see in this post is an angry man ranting unreasonable things.

    I say all this because I agree with the previous post you made, and the list of things in the first paragraph of this comment. But if I said “I agree with Perlin on this” to a friend then, and that friend saw what you posted now, I feel that I can’t stand with you. I still condemn Assange for what he did, but I don’t think what’s in this post is a good way to look at it; nor is it a good way to convince others that what Assange did was wrong.

  2. Hey, I said it was a rant. Sounds like you and I may have different definitions of the word “rant”, and that’s ok. 🙂

    It’s funny, I wasn’t feeling angry when I wrote this post. I guess that’s one of the problems with written language — it doesn’t always convey emotion all that accurately.

    Assange did not just “throw information at the public”. He threw stolen information at the public. If I rob your house and then give some of it away, that doesn’t make me a philanthropist.

    And yes, I do think that wonton invasion of privacy is a key part of the slippery slope to fascism, and I feel quite strongly about that.

    And when I said “slippery slope”, that is exactly what I meant.

    I certainly don’t believe that invading privacy is equivalent to mass murder (that would indeed be absurd), but I do think that the acceptance of dehumanization of others is a precondition for the mind-set that allows such atrocities to start being seen as acceptable by a critical mass of people.

    I’m not too worried about “an impending fascist revolution” (although that is indeed a wonderfully colorful phrase). That could only be possible in a society where a large percentage of people agree with Assange that individuals have no right to privacy.

    I also don’t agree with you about violence. There are many forms of violence, and not all of them involve physical harm. Some of the most effective forms do not.

  3. Yow… First, I do agree with you that what Wikileaks did with the Sony email was criminal. Carefully leaked information can move society forward, indiscriminate dumps risk collateral damage that does more harm than good.

    However, on the point “…it is absurd to say that Sony employees should have known better than to use company emails for personal conversations…”, I still believe *everybody* should know this. If nothing else, for their own protection.

    If law enforcement suspects me of, say, bribing politicians, they [should] need a search warrant to go after my personal email. My employer, however, could easily decide to hand over my work email with mere a polite request. Their call.

    With tools like GMail on your phone available, there’s no reason to conduct personal business with work email. Just ask Hillary Clinton! : )

  4. Ah, it’s nice to respond to a comment by somebody who isn’t angry at me. 🙂

    Yes, I agree with you that people should know not to use company emails for personal communication. Alas, there is a large difference between what people should know and what is common practice.

    People are people, and it will never work to hold the distinction between “business communication” and “personal communication” to a paranoid standard of strictness. If the law does not provide adequate protection for email users in such situations, then it is the law that needs to be fixed, not people.

  5. Remember, Assange is not a rational actor. He will do things that are not rational or kind or that merge with societal norms. That is what “disruptors” do. I am not condoning his behavior, merely pointing out that he does kind of what he wants and doesn’t really go much beyond that.

    Did you see the Wikileaks documentary? (Not the Hollywood fictional biography, the documentary)

    The guy is 8 apples short of a dozen in the sanity supermarket.

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