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‘When Google Met WikiLeaks’: An Exclusive Excerpt

Posted on Oct 29, 2014

By Julian Assange

Editor’s note: WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange, who has been in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012, was under house arrest at a British estate in 2011 when he received a special visitor: Google Chairman Eric Schmidt. Now Assange has a new book out, “When Google Met WikiLeaks,” that in part is about the meeting.

Below is one of the chapters, “Censorship Is Always Cause for Celebration,” reprinted here with the permission of OR Books, publisher of the book, which is available exclusively from OR Books and is copyrighted by Julian Assange. The chapter consists of the transcript of a conversation among Assange, Schmidt and three associates of Schmidt’s—Scott Malcomson, a book editor, writer and onetime member of the U.S. Department of State; Jared Cohen, a Google executive and a former member of the State Department; and Lisa Shields, a vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Click here to see an open letter to Google from Truthdig Publisher Zuade Kaufman concerning censorship.

Readers may purchase the book for 20 percent off if they enter the code TRUTHDIG at checkout. Click here to buy.

SM: I am just wondering, on the human side of this—you have such experience of the world that you described earlier. I had three hours’ sleep, so forgive me if I don’t remember exactly what you said, but the combination of technical and altruistic people, and what amounts to a kind of subculture that you’ve been involved in for some fifteen years now. So you know how that subculture works. And that subculture needs to either stay the same or expand in order to do the work that you are describing. And so, since our book is about ten years away—

JA: It has dramatically expanded.

SM: What are the patterns there in terms of the people part rather than the technical part?

JA: That’s the most optimistic thing that is happening—the radicalization of internet-educated youth. People who are receiving their values from the internet and then, as they find them to be compatible, echoing them back. The echo back is now so strong that it drowns the original statements completely.

The people that I’ve dealt with from the 1960s’ radicals who helped liberate Greece and fight Salazar in Portugal, they say that this moment in time is the most similar there has been to what happened in that period of liberation movements. 219 [See numbered footnotes at the end of the excerpt.]

SM: Do you see it scaling differently than it did in the sixties?

JA: I wasn’t alive in the 1960s, but as far as I can tell, in the West—because there are certain regions of the world I am unaware of—their statement is true. The political education of apolitical technical people is extraordinary. Young people are going from apolitical to political. It is a very, very interesting transition to see.

SM: This is your world. Why do you think that took place?

JA: Fast communication; critical mass of young people; newer generation; and then some catalyzing events. The attack on WikiLeaks was a catalyzing event, and our success in defending against this attack was a catalyzing event. Do you remember the PGP case, the grand jury with Zimmermann?220

ES: He had a lot of fun with that.

JA: I wrote half a book on that. It was never published, because my co-writer went and had children.

[LS spills water all over her note-taking laptop. JA quickly grabs her laptop and turns it upside down.]

LS: Oh no, ha-ha-ha-ha!

ES: Ha-ha-ha!

JC: Why do I feel that has happened before?

LS: That was really funny.

SM: So much for the historical record!

JA: As I said, multiple copies!

[Laughter]

ES: Why don’t you save whatever you were doing?

SM: Get it into the name tree before everything goes wrong.

LS: Did you see how fast he was? It was like an impulse.

JC: Yeah, I almost feel like you were there before the computer even got water on it.

ES: Computers are important in our line of work.

[Laughter]

LS: That was sweet, thank you. Go right ahead.

SM: But young people aren’t inherently good. And I say that as a father and with regret.

[Laughter]

JA: Oh no, I think that actually . . . Well, I’ve read Lord of the Flies and I went to thirty different schools, so I’ve seen plenty of Lord of the Flies situations.221 But no, I think that the instincts human beings have are actually much better than the societies that we have.

ES: Than the governments, basically.

JA: I am not going to say governments. The whole structure of society. The economic structure. People learn that simple altruistic acts don’t pay off, and they see that some people who act in nonaltruistic ways end up getting Porsches, and it tends to pull them in that direction. I thought about this a while ago when I saw this fantastic video that came out of Stanford in 1971 on nuclear synthesis of DNA.222 Have you seen it?

SM: No.

JA: It’s on YouTube. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s explaining nuclear synthesis through interpretive dance. There are, like, 130 Stanford students out there in the middle of a sports field pretending to be DNA: a whole bunch pretending to be a ribosomal subunit, all wearing the hippy clothes of the day. But they were actually all very bright people. It was a very good bit of education; it is not that it was cool and unusual—rather it was extremely instructive, and before computer animation it was the best representation of how a ribosomal unit behaves. Could you see Stanford doing that now? Absolutely impossible. Stanford is far too conservative to do that now, even though it was extremely effective. You can bet that everyone who was in that dance remembers exactly how nuclear synthesis occurs, because they all had to remember their parts. And I remember it having seen it.

The period of peak earnings for the average wage in the United States was, what, 1977?223 Then certain things happened. Those people who were altruistic and not too concerned about finances and fiscalization simply lost power relative to those people who were more concerned about finances and fiscalization, who worked their way up in the system. Certain behaviors were disincentivized and others were potentiated. That is primarily, I believe, as a result of the technology that enables fiscalization. So, fast bank transfers, the IRS being able to account for lots of people—it sucks people into a very rigid fiscalized structure.224

You can have a lot of political “change” in the United States, but will it really change that much? Will it change the amount of money in someone’s bank account? Will it change contracts? Will it void contracts that already exist? And contracts on contracts? And contracts on contracts on contracts? Not really. So I say that free speech in many Western places is free not as a result of liberal circumstances but rather as a result of such intense fiscalization that it doesn’t matter what you say. The dominant elite doesn’t have to be scared of what people think, because a change in political view is not going to change whether they own their company or not; it is not going to change whether they own a piece of land or not. But China is still a political society, although it is rapidly heading toward a fiscalized society. And other societies, like Egypt, are still heavily politicized. Their rulers really do need to be concerned about what people think, so they expend proportionate efforts on controlling freedom of speech.

But I think young people actually innately have fairly good values. Of course it’s a spectrum, but they have fairly good values most of the time and they want to demonstrate them to other people, and you can see this when people first go to university. They become hardened as a result of certain things having a payoff and other things not having a payoff.


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