If you would prefer to listen to the podcast of this you can find it on my Patreon page.
Today I opened a can of worms, which is a bit like saying that today was like any other day. I pulled the trigger a few days late, because I am not a journalist, and not quick to jump on current events. But, I pulled the trigger by asking my Facebook community (link) of “friends” – most of whom are friendly, even on polarizing topics – where they stood on the subject of Julian Assange.
I am not going to lay out my thoughts about the varied views from that discussion. It’s now already on record (on the facebook page) in the link above, and you can click through. There were some well-written comments by people who have thought this out, and the comments covered the full spectrum of concerns from his journalism (or lack of it), to his biased trail of leaked information since 2015, to the allegations of his abuse of women, and the now closed cases in Sweden.
There was one comment that triggered the thoughts I am going to focus on here. My good friend Marq, an American living in Germany, posted this comment:
Many say he is a hero because he told the truth, but he only reported one side of the story in a biased partisan manner. That’s not telling the truth, that’s partisan politics.
I thought about Marq’s comment. We had been discussing the issue of his isolation in the Ecuadorean (Ecuadoran/Ecuadorian) embassy, and the potential knock-on effect to the Wikileaks leaks since 2015, when it seemed to be focused on going after America, and in particular, Hillary Clinton. Of course, Assange, who might have been seen as a counter-culture hero by the left suddenly was viewed as a pariah and shill for the Trump campaign and the Russians. So, I replied to Marq:
We’ve had some discussion above about the one-sidedness, which didn’t really begin until about 2015, when he was already in isolation. I would tend to think that the partisan nature of an individual has to be gauged over time, but then a person can simply go crazy.
I am sure that a person can go crazy sitting in a foreign embassy apartment, with the only view of the world being the people who are after you – people like the US government, which desired the extradition perhaps even more than Sweden. Assange had published the damning evidence against the US military that was hacked by Private Manning in 2010. Since 2012, Assange was holed up in the embassy, and anything he seems to have done from there has become increasingly one-sided, coming to a head when he embarrassed Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Convention with the leaks showing the alleged rigging of the Convention selection. Then he was a hero to Republicans and Bernie Sanders supporters at that time. Now, he is in British hands, which is probably as good as saying, now we’ve got him.
What I am going to say from here on is not being presented in absolute terms, but rather in a question form. I do believe that there are potentially some parallels to be drawn between the treatment of Julian Assange and the growing grotesque polarization on all issues of merit in our society: politics, religion, sexuality and gender, race, poverty and class, even science, and almost any other important topic.
We live a polarized society, and the polarization is growing slightly more severe each year. My Facebook page tends to be an exception to the rule, because I have worked hard to solicit dialogue among disagreeing parties. Yet, much of our culture doesn’t look like most of my Facebook page. Instead we accuse others who disagree with us, call them names, make comments about their lack of intelligence without evidence supporting our own opinions, and highlight our points with the requisite four-letter words your Junior High School child would find hilarious, but maybe not even so compelling. This is a divide in our world I spend a great deal of time trying to navigate across, and this is why many of my friends seem amazed with the patience I have toward incredibly disagreeable people.
I see our societal polarization in the story of Julian Assange and his increasing personal polarization against American politics, and particularly the left.
It was during the years of Obama’s presidency, and Hillary Clinton’s position as Secretary of State that Chelsea Manning released the classified military information to Wikileaks, and the government charged Manning, and began looking at Assange as an enemy. Hillary was, in some degree, part of the increased focus on Assange. During this time, he was also accused of rape charges in Sweden, and Sweden asked for his extradition from the UK. He in turn requested amnesty from the Ecuadorean Embassy in 2012. At that time, his stated concern was less about the rape charges, and more about being extradited to the US from Sweden. How valid that stated concern was might be impossible to ascertain at this point, but I would certainly be far more afraid of the US than Sweden, and the difference between rape charges and divulging government secrets could be a matter of decades longer in prison.
At this point, no accusations have yet stuck to Assange, but now the US has filed charges they are planning to bring him in on.
This is how this story reminds me of today’s polarization, and the growing radicalism of our society: everywhere I travel in the US and the UK people are living in their little echo chambers. They celebrate those who agree with them and mock and reject those who disagree. This is happening across the board in the multiple fields I listed above. I see people rejecting, and de-friending former friends because suddenly that friend is seen as a bigot, a racist, a sexist, or some other –ist. The lists of our –ists is growing daily as the lists of our friends who have differing opinions shrinks, and some of those benefitting the most from this polarization are the shrinks.
Assange embarrassed the US with classified information that gave us damning evidence about US military actions in Afghanistan. We went after him, and the result was radical isolation. Perhaps he isolated himself. Most likely not. Just because it’s a conspiracy theory going on in your head doesn’t mean they aren’t after you. The evidence is solidly in now. We were after him, and now we’ve got him.
The kind of isolation we have created against one another in our disagreements looks like the isolation of Julian Assange to me. Once isolated, Clinton became his worst enemy, even if it was exaggerated and at a distance. He struck back at the person he saw as, “a bright, well connected, sadistic sociopath.”
This attack–isolate–defend by attacking back pattern looks like the story of our religious, political, and social disagreements today. I can’t help wonder if perhaps this story of Julian Assange is being played out in the personal relationships around us daily.
I personally prefer to spend my time with people who disagree with me, and believe that I can both strengthen and challenge my own assumptions through those relationships. Yes-men bore me. People who just want to point fingers without substance similarly bore me. Give me a pint and debate about substantial issues. We may not change the world, but we will learn to work together to do so.
I want to hang with Conservatives and Progressives. I want to walk a pilgrimage with Pagans and Muslims. I want to sit in the pub with gay, straight, and none of the above. I want to listen to music with black, brown, red, yellow and white. I want to sing around the campfire with the rich and the homeless. I am not going to agree with any of you on all things, but you just might change my mind on some things and cause me to grow, and I hope to do the same for you.
I don’t feel I have enough information to give my opinion about Assange, but I can’t help but wonder if the isolation of Julian Assange is a perfect model for how create a biased and growingly suppressive culture. Accuse, isolate, and keep the gossip going; and I think we just might drag ourselves into a new millennium of post-apocalyptic insensibilities – before the apocalypse even arrives.
If you would
Wikileaks timeline: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/world/julian-assange-wikileaks.html