Tweaks and leaks: An experiment with truth

It is apparent that it is indeed used in non-Indian pastures too. With respect to the recent hullaballoo over the arrest of WikiLeaks owner Julian Assange, tweaking the finger (or the ‘reasons’ to catch him, if one can) is the only recourse when faced with the impunity of not being offered the customary ‘ghee’ as part of being the rulers of an established status-quo.

Indeed, WikiLeaks, among its other endeavours, was raging a cyber jihad against the equally revered and hated nation of the world — the United States — through strategically timed, leaking of the ‘truth’ and thereby debunking the country’s credibility across eyes that behold. The US had to do something — albeit that ‘something’ was shrouded in legal and technological confusion as to what could be done — since Assange claimed his efforts as ‘investigative journalism’, and WikiLeaks has fought and won over 100 legal challenges since its inception in 2006. Finally, lady luck smiled on hurt parties like the US, as Assange was recently arrested on charges of various sexual offences which he claims to be not true; quite, in the same vein, the US and UK agencies have been claiming the leaked cables as not true.

Consequently, Assange’s arrest has brought to the forefront not only a cyber gang war, as Visa and Mastercard websites were hacked in supposed retaliatory reactions, and an article in the ‘Washington Times’ saying that Assange should be treated “the same way as other high-value terrorist targets”, but also the question as to who should control the representation of ‘truth’ and how. Should everybody know everything? Or should news/facts/truth be privy to the powers that be?

As a recent nationally renowned journalist claimed, it is within every mediaperson’s powers what should transpire and what should not, the overlap of moralistic prescriptions and dominant preferences on ‘truth’ notwithstanding. Post-Matrix (the movie) and post post-modernism, it is common understanding that there is no single truth. Truth is subjective and dependent on agreement by two or more individuals on the experience and interpretation of a particular event, leading to the formation of an emergent consensus on reality.

Assange sought to strike on this consensus, and while his arrest on irrelevant (that is, irrelevant to the ‘real’ grounds on which he was most sought after) grounds has led to media and mass speculation on what would happen next, whether one could continue to receive the forbidden pleasures of having sneak peeks in the green rooms of the major powers, the audacious question meekly raised is: whether the US or hierarchical superlative powers could really do anything to silence voices against it?

Disciplining attempt

To revisit this question from a Foucauldian perspective, through punishment, a disciplining process is attempted. It is expected that this disciplining attempt would create docile entities — that would work in unison in economics, warfare, politics and the media — and be subjected to continuous surveillance, recordings and notes for subsequent internalisation of the principles of the status-quo. Jeremy Bentham might be dead, but his Panopticon design of the prison, framed in 1785, still continues in latent form, as lesser hapless mortals are watched by bigger mortals without being informed of the process. Is it then really surprising and illegitimate, given the circumstances, that bigger powers would retaliate when the gaze is reversed/directed at them?

Despite Assange’s arrest, WikiLeaks has declared it will return and continue to expose true facts. After all, facts exist independent of human perception and/or experience. Whether a statement is true or not, is largely dependent on certain other facts presented as supplementary evidence. Holding the control and access to those evidence adds on to one's position in any hierarchy, local, international or informational. To clarify, supervisors hold facts/truth from their subordinates in the office, adults contain truth from children, friends keep secrets too, and percolating these small, restricted scenarios of taking liberties to the broader level, holding down of facts or truth become a classic and fascinating display of power struggles.

Changes in regimes and powers happen not when one power is overthrown but as Vilfredo Pareto said, one elite takes upon the other. We would like to believe that the media would behave like the famous character in the cult movie ‘Gunda’ in which the protagonist always professed that he kept everything open (“mera naam hain Bulla, main rakhta hoon sab khulla”). However, the role of the common man is but to accept such transformations in power struggles without much ado, as supporters or followers of one elite or the other and less as initiators or reactors to the proceedings.

As they used to say, whoever goes to Lanka, becomes Ravana. As for finding the truth behind things in general, in this so-called age of information, the fun has just begun. Welcome to reality as it continues to ruin our lives, as Calvin said, and get more bites, sorry bytes out of it.

(The writer is a PhD scholar at the University of Calgary, Canada)

Comments (+)