Is WikiLeaks still relevant in 2018?

I

When I taught Write to Publish at Sheridan in the early 2000s, I used to warn my students to be very aware of the reality of publishing: it was not a get-rich-quick scheme. If you were looking for praise and validation and didn't like criticism, they were not going to like having their work published. 

After all, when TVQs were all the rage in the 1980s, only two celebrities had more than 50% of people who knew who they were actually like them (Michael J. Fox clocked in at 51% or so, only second to Bill Cosby); ergo, most of the public will not applaud you, nor should you ever expect it.

There was something else I used to tell my students: what is your goal seeking publication? If it is just to be published for the sake of being published, compromise away. If it is just an item on your bucket list, you need to build up a resume for more serious pieces, or you want to make your siblings jealous or wear a paper crown, pander away.

But if your goal is to share wisdom or a piece of your soul, you cannot compromise. You will face more rejection, insults, temper tantrums, and criticism from editors and publishers, but you have to be choosy and stand your ground.

If you treat your deeply personal and/or moral work the same way as the person who just wants to throw their name out in the public, you will get published faster, but you will have to make so many concessions that you will never want to look at that article or book ever again, and your retreatist tactics will haunt you.

I was always careful as an author. I did not compromise. I was never a weakling who thought writing in public was going to be easy. I have been criticized, and some of criticisms were downright bizarre. One forum threw a fit because my book Don't Believe It! didn't mention Scientology -- never mind that the book never claimed to chronicle every misinformation and hoax -- I gave numerous case studies, showed readers how to determine the veracity of a news report -- and then they could apply it to any news story.

There was no suppression of information: it showed the business of journalism, how reporters did their jobs, where they were vulnerable, and then illustrated real life cases to show readers how to apply it. The criticism in this case was, to be blunt, just plain stupid, but there is no divine rule that human beings have to be smart when they gripe.

And I never thought I was the hapless lone target of those kinds of attacks. If tomorrow, some brilliant mind found the absolute cure for all cancer that was painless, universally effective and had a 100% cure rate, made no damage to the body, and healed people without poisoning the body or cutting it up with no side effects and was cheap, there would be anger and outrage that now millions of people would lose their jobs. Pharmaceutical companies would launch public campaigns against the poor soul because their bottom line would be serious impacted. The person's motives would be questioned, conspiracy theories would swirl around them, and hate mail would be plenty.

Do not kid yourself. The heat would be so great, that the person would face lawsuits from people who would proclaim the cure was their idea. There would be accusations that a "culture" that came from being ill was under threat. Parents would complain their children's dream of being the curer of cancer were destroyed.

Not everyone who was cured would be grateful. 

That's reality.

You still fight solving problems because the motive must never be selfish.

That you want to please people or make them grateful.

If you choose to solve a problem as part of your career, you have to be absolutely aware of that reality.

It means forget about narrative. You focus on the facts that will help you reach your goal.

Once upon a time WikiLeaks seemed to understand that piece of reality.

But they never did, and it is beginning to show -- especially now that their leader Julian Assange played a game a Chess when it was a game of Go, and he is losing more and more liberties.

II

I find WikiLeaks interesting. The concept of hacktivists intrigued me in my fiction writing, but it also was a promising alternative model to traditional journalism.

A theory, but application would be very tricky.

It was patriarchal in execution with the usual young, rich white boys at the helm. Julian Assange was the leader, but the question was always could he hack it, and actually understood what it meant to do something as anarchistic as WikiLeaks.

I had my doubts, but I appreciated the theory. As I have said before, people who play chess are no match to those who play Go, and Assange is a chess master.

Chess is a game about paper crowns and following set scripts: kings, queens, rooks, and the like: bishops can do certain things, but not others -- classic "It's not my department" in the box thinking that slowly erodes critical thinking and active progress.

Go is a different game. No stone gets a title. There is no pawn promotion. The game is about surrounding an enemy as he loses his liberties. It is the intellectually superior game to chess. Chess's inherent flaw has always been to feed an ego. Go is a game about getting the job done.

If Assange understood the reality of power, he would be playing Go. If his hypothesis was based on Hollywood patriarchal bedtime stories used to lull privileged white boys, he was going to play chess.

He played chess.

His enemies were playing Go, and you never play chess during a game of Go.

The Hollywood white boy bedtime story is all about the Hero exposing the Villain's nefarious schemes, the enslaved citizens are all shocked, awaken brave, help the Hero chase away the Villain, crown the Hero the King and Winner, and he lives Happily Ever After, always with some dumb fawning blonde drooling all over him.

If you are going to expose the dirty laundry of the Man, remember, they are the ones who are putting those propagandistic stories out there for a reason. They know the Middle Class are very tolerant of the Man's dirty work, and may express surprise, but they don't want change that may result in tearing down the industries that employ them. They were never going to overthrow any government when they would rather get a tattoo and watch Game of Thrones. 

There wouldn't be gratitude for WikiLeaks. They wouldn't see Assange as a hero, but a nuisance. 

And so would the people whose emails were being exposed. They don't want their rivals to be privy to their scheming and plotting -- they have too many issues about being the most cunning person on the planet for that.

The Monkees' song Pleasant Valley Sunday pretty much nails North American thinking to this day. There would not be a revolution over leaked emails, but for those in power, they would find anything to strike back at Assange.

And they found it. A damsel in distress who told a story about Assange and while other women who made the same complaints to police about other men, suddenly, this women's accusations were immediately believed -- and the police went out to look for the bad boy.

It is here that Assange's test as leader was put to the test. If he was brave and willing to put his skills to practical use, he would march to the police station and turn himself in. He would put his freedom on the line, and stand up to that Authority. You want a fight? It's a fight you'll get. After all, if you have dirt on that authority, nothing stops you from leaking it all while being on trial.

It didn't happen. He fled.

And for the last few years, has been a prisoner of a different sort, retreating in an embassy as his liberties have been removed one by one. His health declined. His clout declined. His credibility eroded. His communications was removed. His visitors have been banned.

Even prison inmates have more freedoms and access to the outside world.

Chelsea Manning, on the other hand, faced grimmer odds, and made it through. She survived prison, and she has a vastly different life -- one where she is currently running for a senate seat.

Assange's flaw has always been his equations have always been misaligned with certain realities. He is shrewd in many respects, but naive in others. The concept of WikiLeaks was excellent, but if you go in with unrealistic assumptions and something goes wrong, you better be someone who can improvise with an alternative plan -- and when you do what WikiLeaks do, you have to account for the possibility that you still have far less intelligence and plain old dirt than those you are exposing -- and less power. They will make a play to punish you because insecure control freaks who function by schemes have way too much on the line to allow their house of cards from collapsing.

The trick is not running away and hiding in a rabbit hole -- it is by standing up to those tormentors to show them you took their manipulations into your equations, and they don't scare you. 

Assange turned from would-be Hero to Victim.

And then it started going downhill from there.

III

It is not as if WikiLeaks hasn't exposed important information (they have, and consistently so), but without the proper guiding sense of reality from the top, corrupting elements would inevitably creep in, and since Assange's power came from mass communications, and then lost his sole source, things have taken a very concerning turn for their fortunes lately.

The first sign of a appeasing gambit came with Assange's opinion piece (mentioned here previously) in the Washington Post, where he tried to draw parallels between WikiLeaks and the Post. If it were a strategic move to gain sympathy with the very Establishment press WikiLeaks it threatened, it was a passable chess move, but in the wrong game. All it managed to do was shift the centre of gravity -- and WikiLeaks was the loser, especially as there have been many journalists have allowed themselves to be arrested covering protests and unrests -- as well when they refused to divulge the name of sources -- and Assange is hiding in Limbo rather than face the Devil himself in Hell.

The Freedom of the Press Institute picked up on the theme with this opinion piece, but the effect is not one it may have intended: what is happening to journalism is not remotely the same as what happened to WikiLeaks. Journalism is an Establishment tool. WikiLeaks was the underdog fringe. The two are not comparable, and yet, those who proclaim to be outsiders are trying to establish a sentimental connection on two separate groups, when none can exist.

Journalism and WikiLeaks are two different beasts, and are more than rivals, but incompatible elements. Once upon a time journalism held all of the communication power, and were a thing -- the thing.

WikiLeaks is the upstart that was never an Establishment property. It is akin to a high schooler with a column in the school paper comparing himself to a best-selling author. The tumbleweed is comparing itself with an old tree, even if the tree now has rotten roots and fell to the ground because neglect.

But there was a time where the tree was strong and had firm roots. The tumbleweed never did.

That the corpse of journalism is being devoured by vultures is not the same as the attacks on WikiLeaks. It is the reason we need an alternative to journalism -- because the sole contender is not doing what it needed to do.

WikiLeaks needed to fortify itself, but Assange's actions have prevented it. Instead, WikiLeaks is making moves toward trying to build a bridge to the press that failed the world, such as this tweet, praising the Associated Press for their "scientific journalism," though looking at their evidence shows it is anything but scientific or journalism (the documents are not a smoking gun showing skulduggery of one operation or man; that is the way corporations all do business). When your work is based on a confirmation bias that skews raw information, and leaves out key information, that is not science, but quackery.

And WikiLeaks was never in a position to declare what is good journalism. That isn't their place. They were created, in theory, to expose the very things journalists refused to do, either out of fear, complacency, or for partisan reasons.

WikiLeaks was raw data told in an epistolary style. Journalism is processed information drowned in narrative. There is no middle ground.

IV

If WikiLeaks was supposed to be the answer to the dying journalism, its results have been uneven. It was still a step up, but without the gravitas that required to breakthrough. It once had swagger, but with a leader who refuses to come out for a single battle, it is not fighting a war. It is throwing stones from a fortress, and hence, has trouble comprehending the battleground.

Because fact-gathering is a form of an intangible war where you have soldiers who liberate truth from lies -- or more fundamentally, liberate reality from delusions.

And that liberation begins when we are free from narratives.

We may have a story to tell -- infinite stories -- but stories are maps to show us new paths and unexplored spaces. Narratives are boxes that confine us and deaden our senses. Stories require active exploration, while narratives induce passive opining that hinges on forcing others to validate our fantasies.

WikiLeaks is in danger of becoming co-opted -- if it hasn't been so already -- and with that, it is neutralized as a genuine threat. If it requires a single face to survive, its prospects become dimmer. Assange is not a martyr, nor is he a soldier. He had a very good idea. He took bold steps to make that idea a reality, but there were obvious weaknesses that he could not see, and those weaknesses are usually hidden behind patriarchal narratives.

Is WikiLeaks relevant in 2018? It still is, but at its current trajectory, I doubt it will survive in spirit. It has made too many concessions and compromises, despite its angry alpha male tough talk. Its leader isn't leading. You cannot make progress unless you take real and serious risks -- and the consequences of those risks. Had Assange bit the bullet -- regardless of the threats I am certain his enemies made to frighten him in order to prove to the public that he cannot defend them as he is not a soldier at heart -- it would have been over and done, and he would have been in a bigger position of power, and I wouldn't be doing what I am doing now because there would have been a viable alternative to journalism firmly in place.

It didn't happen. I seriously doubt its fortunes will change, but that doesn't mean a journalistic alternative cannot happen, even if an earlier model had some of its equations off the first time round...