Over at Truthdig, Richard Reeves makes the case that, unlike most stories clogging annual journalistic top ten lists, Wikileaks is the one big new development:
No. 1 on the game-changer list would be WikiLeaks. If we need final proof that the new information technologies change everything, WikiLeaks is that proof. The engine of democratic power—and totalitarian rule as well—is control of the flow of information to the people. For better or worse, leaders have been losing that power for at least the last three decades, beginning probably with the development of CNN in 1980.
That power, the power to shape public opinion and reaction to specific events, is gone. If there were another Pearl Harbor or another Holocaust, we would all learn about it at the same time, details to follow in minutes. We might not do anything about it, but we would know.
I think Reeves is right here. The power shift under is way, way, way bigger than Julian Assange and it's bigger than Wikileaks. Whatever happens to them specifically, the larger forces they represent aren't going away any time soon. To me, it's like unauthorized file-sharing. Napster and various other iterations of it was definitively croaked (including Pirate Bay just this past year). And downloading is bigger than ever.
As long as the insta-cliche of "game-changer" is in the air, let's take a moment to proclaim the radical loss of secret knowledge by governments, corporations, and the like "the new normal." Like it or hate it, better get used to it. The proper reaction isn't, "How do you stop it?" It's "How do we live with this?" As Reason's Jesse Walker wrote recently, it's a leaky world and no umbrella is gonna keep us fully dry.
Contrary to the various Dems and Reps and handmaidens in the press calling bloody sedition, I think the U.S. government has come off looking relatively decent in the recent batch of cables that have been aired (accent on relatively). Our diplomats and agents abroad do not seem to be participating in the grossest form of hypocrisy and corruption that is commonplace. Which isn't to say that the U.S.'s foreign policy isn't stupid, poorly conceived, and generally ineffective. Only that we're mostly on the up-and-up in being as stupid as we seem. The Sauds, the Russians, the Afghans, and the Pakistanis can't boast that.
And for those who think that Wikileaks is inherently anti-American or pro-lefty, do remember the group's role in circulating the emails of East Anglia University's Climate Research Unit. Wikileaks represents a new alphabet, a new grammar, a new language. Long after it's purged the Holocaust deniers on its payrolls, disappeared from memory, and Julian Assange is a cast member on Dancing with the Stars or Celebrity Rehab, we'll still be living in the world they helped create. The net result just may well be governments, scientists, businesses, and other sources of power that act more openly and honestly.
Reason.tv asks four journos whether Wikileaks is a force for good: