In the time of the Greeks, philosophy was developed through conversation. Socrates went around Athens talking with people and making them think about their life, their values and their actions.
The art of philosophy by dialogue has not been lost in the past millennia, but it hasn’t been used much lately. When’s the last time you read a philosophy in dialogue form?
Well, actually, I did just recently: When Google Met Wikileaks. At its heart, it’s a conversation between Julian Assange and top Google executives around a house in rural England. The Google people met Assange under the pretext of writing a book–but it gives Assange a chance to explain why he does what he does.
In short, Assange started Wikileaks to promote justice. I paraphrase: transparency promotes just acts, whereas secrecy promotes and supports unjust acts. If he can help the world do fewer unjust acts and more just acts, he will have served his purpose.
The book begins with a short introduction by Assange about the context of the conversation, the volume being used as a pretext to meet him, his previous encounters with Google, and other important information to understand the conversation. It’s all pretty easy to follow, and probably already stuff you know if you’ve been following this blog and/or Wikileaks and cyber-privacy issues for the last few years.
The conversation is broken up in smaller, thematic chapters to help break it down in sections. I really appreciated this touch; it helps keep every bit of conversation in perspective. Even though the talk sometimes gets technical, it never gets so much so that you can’t follow; in any case, the Google people are more interested in Assange’s motivation than his technical abilities.
Towards the end of the book, one of the Google executives asks Assange the most important question: “How do you know you’ve won?” Assange’s answer is, I think, the best explanation of the struggle of every pro-transparency activist, and probably every activist ever.
It’s not possible to win this kind of thing. This is a continuous striving that people have been doing for a long time. Of course, there are many individual battles that we win, but it is the nature of human beings that they lie and cheat and deceive. Organized groups of people who do not lie and cheat and deceive find each other and get together. Because they have that temperament, they are more efficient, because they are not lying and cheating and deceiving each other. That is a very old struggle between opportunists and collaborators. I don’t see that going away. I think we can make some significant advances and perhaps it is the making of these advances and being involved in that struggle that is good for people. The process is part of the end game. It’s not just to get somewhere in the end; rather, this process of people feeling that it is worthwhile to be involved in that sort of struggle, is in fact worthwhile for people.
So, dear Kittens (as raincoaster would say), it is worthwhile to be involved in the struggle against lying and cheating and deceiving. Just being involved will do good, whether or not you win every battle.
This book deserves a special place on every hacktivist’s bookshelf. It’s not obvious from its title, and Assange himself wouldn’t call it that, but in it I read the core of a philosophy of justice in the digital age based on collaboration, trust and transparency.
I urge you to read this, and read it as more than a conversation. Read it as the candid expression of a way of life that benefits everyone, of a struggle that seeks to restore justice to the world by shedding light on the darkest parts of human greed and evil.
I don’t know much about Assange as a human being. He’s probably not perfect–nobody is. But his motivations, as I read them in the book, are in the best interest of humanity.
And for that, we must admire him.