The Afghanistan documents released by Wikileaks were criticized for not having enough material redacted. The Iraq documents are criticized for having too much redacted. The US government says there is nothing interesting or newsworthy in any of the information. The US military says the information contains important secrets that the public should not know. Some members of the public say they contain important secrets that we all desperately need to know. Have we all completely forgotten?
The medium is the message. At a huge, historical, society changing level, it does not matter at all what any of the documents Wikileaks has released actually said. All that really matters is, these were secrets, kept by very powerful organizations, and now we all have these secrets. The conclusion to be drawn from all of this data is not just how many Iraqi children were killed by US soldiers at checkpoints, and the desired result is not just trials for war crimes. The conclusion is that we can have access to the secrets of any powerful organization, and the result is that the powerful, by virtue of this one new fact, have lost a very significant portion of their power.
Control of information is such an integral and essential part of power today that we can, given the proper motivation, use our new access to information to strip the world’s most powerful organizations of all the rest of their power. Yes, that may happen to some through trials for war crimes, but if it happens to them, it can happen to anyone.
For a very long time, power and wealth have been held by thinner and weaker threads, until bank accounts begin to look like vapourware. A century ago, the very wealthy owned tangible assets and produced tangible goods. The McCain family sold potatoes, the Seagrams made whiskey, the Eatons bought and sold goods in their stores. The 70’s saw leveraged buyouts and playing the stock market, real estate speculation and hostile corporate takeovers. Money in the 80’s became completely separated from real life. Dot coms in the 90’s accustomed people to obscenely huge numbers as personal wealth. The new international trade relationships have removed business deals to a small group of the internationally powerful that deal with each other and block access to everyone else.
Even tangible possessions are only ours by the conventions of the society we live in. We all agree to the rules, or it does not work. If someone steals my iPod, and I cannot find out who did it and prove to the police that I own it, then I lose possession of it. If I load my iPod with stolen music, and I cannot be prevented, that rule no longer works in our game. The rules, and with them the ownership of the iPod or the music, just changed.
Today, most people have no idea who the rich and powerful are or how they got to be that way. For those who do know, it is terrifyingly apparent that all it would take is for an informed populace to stand up and say “The emperor has no clothes!” and all the money and power would be gone along with the translucent gauze left holding it.
The people who are currently in possession of both power and money in the world are not in possession of either because we as a society have agreed to it. They rarely have equivalent physical possessions, and they almost never have unique abilities which give them rights to power. They are theoretically there because we have agreed to the rules that put them there. But in actuality, we almost never have. Who in a ‘democracy’ really wants any of the two or three ‘choices’ we are given to be our leader and make all of our decisions for us? Who really agrees with the power for all choices impacting our health and environment lying within the hands of a few members of the military industrial complex? Only the very lazy and disinterested.
The powerful of the last few decades have been powerful for one reason only; we did not know how to stop them. Now we do.
Activate Reston 5.