The WikiLeaks paradox

[ by Charles Cameron ]

Since my “HipBone” analytical approach, like the HipBone Games which inspired it, is based on networks of linkages between one “representable” (concept, fact, quote, anecdote, sound, musical phrase, image, video clip, statistic, cultural form, person) and another, there’s a special place in my analytic thinking for those representables which are self-referential – the category that gave rise to Douglas Hofstadter’s celebrated book, Gödel, Escher, Bach.

Indeed, I have a special glyph that I use in my games to notate ideas that are self-referential:

dragon eats


Okay, enough poetry for now.

The WikiLeaks business gives rise to one such self-referential puzzle – the one famously minted in classical times under the Latin tag: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Just how you tend to interpret the tag in English may depend on whether you read “custodes” as “guards” or “watchmen” – who shall guard the guards, who shall oversee the overseers, who shall watch over the watchmen…

But what does this have to do with WikiLeaks?


Let me rephrase it: Who will leak the leakers?

I mean, if transparency is so universal a good, will Julian Assange drop his encryption and allow us all (IC and foreign equivalents included) to access WikiLeaks databases at any time, leaking whatever we think might be of interest without consulting him?

Or is the point that some opacity, some secrecy is good — and Julian Assange believes he knows which secrecy that is, and can be trusted to reveal that which should be revealed and keep secret that which should be kept secret?


Perhaps the WikiLeaks paradox is a koan, eh Zen?

11 comments on this post.
  1. Joseph Fouche:

    I for one support capturing a live Assange, tagging it with ear tags and a radio collar, and, of course, CritterCam ( Such research is necessary for studying this rare albino species in its native habitat. Some attempts have been made at starting a captive breeding program but the outcome of such efforts is still a subject of ongoing study.

  2. Curtis Gale Weeks:

    Well this just shows the old conundra (? heh) about identity, absolutes, universals, and so forth, doesn’t it?
    There are those who operate as if they, and they alone, know the universal, the absolute; and, who assign it an identity.  Plato & his Forms, for instance.  Although, to be fair to Plato, he spent more effort suggesting that his Forms exist and far less effort trying to isolate them into easily observable and manipulatable identities.  The whole purpose of the dialogue, in conjunction w/ dialectical approaches, was — though I do not believe even Plato realized this — an early attempt at understanding performativity and the role performativity played in our interactions w/ the Universe (w/ nature, w/ the world, call it what you will.)
    "Performativity" is a relatively new concept and very ill-understood.  The concept has been used in highly specific contexts, with the original discoverers/coiners applying it to their particular fields for particular, narrower purposes.  It is interesting however that the whole issue of performativity is now often looked at in the context of performance, particularly the performance arts.  Any script, on the surface, is extremely bare; then, producers, directors, actors use props and, in the case of actors, their very bodies, speech, and inflections to give that script body; then, the audience must view these things from across a gulf:  whether the audience is getting an accurate representation of the original (bare) script is beside the point, because the audience is always adding something new to what they witnessed, as a consequence of the gaps and their own internal cognitive frameworks.  What emerges is something that none of the parties quite intended, individually.
    But there are those who continue to believe in direct transmission; i.e., who do not believe in gaps.  And so we bicker or else perhaps have koans about "transparency" — and even, about "WikiLeaks" and that other, er, form, "Julian Assange."
    (I have tried my best to keep these paragraphs separate.  I pray to the Gods of the ZenPundit Gaps that I have interpreted/interacted well!!!)

  3. Charles Cameron:

    So M. Fouche would withhold Madame la Guillotine on this occasion?
    Curtis, if you use multiple periods clustered like that (……) I can always fix the paragraphs for you (as above).
    There’s a lot of fun to be had in the gaps, but also a lot of fun in working skilfully towards closing them.

  4. Curtis Gale Weeks:

    Charles, my last comment here, I used periods; and, it didn’t work.  So this time I used multiple periods and put spaces in the line breaks between period clusters, hoping it would work. I swear I’ve done either of these before w/ success, but I must be missing, forgetting, overlooking something!
    The gaps can never be removed, although I do think we sometimes give more credence to their schismatic tendencies than we should.  It is my current belief that Shakespeare understood performativity better than anyone who has ever lived; and, that he built his plays (the best plays at least, meaning almost all he wrote) in order to "bridge" those gaps.  There are clues throughout Shakespeare’s dramas that he understood the concept of performativity all-too-well.  It may be possible, I think it is likely, that gaps aren’t so much bridged as that we can form, individually, memes — say, they emerge rather than "are formed" — in such ways that we can have the appearance of having bridged those gaps.  Still, the personal intrudes, always, in any transmission: even if some particulars emerge in common for people, the additions which are personal have some, er, "gravity" on the mass in toto.  I believe this may relate to the problems of dealing in universals and w/ absolutes.  For instance, even if you and I can have some identical understandings about such things as fear, love, truth, Julian Assange, etc., those particular understandings always appear in a larger context for each of us and the association will warp, however subtly or dramatically, our very interpretations of those shared understandings. 

  5. Charles Cameron:

    I saw your periods, and edited your post so that it works — at least on my browser, perhaps you could check back on yours.  I also noted the blank space in your more recent comment, and made it into a paragraph break.  It’s easier for me to see the multiple periods than the multiple spaces — but I can work with either one.
    I’ve mentioned it before, I know, but are you familiar with Keith Oatley’s paper [it auto-downloads as a .pdf if the link is clicked] Shakespeare’s invention of theatre as simulation that runs on minds?

  6. Bryan Alexander:

    Nice opening glyph, Charles.I think this depends on what value we place on asymmetry.   If this discussion is about universals, to which all players have access (or under which all might be arraigned), then one could make the case for leaking Wikileaks.  If we either follow Assange as see their cause as an insurgency of the weak against the tyranny of the strong, or we follow an anarchist approach, or use Foucault’s emphasis on power, then it is at least unfair to bring similar principles to bear.

  7. zen:

    "The dragon eats not its own tail only but it’s mouth even"
    Jörmungandr. The Ourobouros. 🙂

  8. Charles Cameron:

    I take your point, Bryan, and it makes me want to write up a comparison between "asymmetric warfare" on the one hand and (Quaker) "speaking truth to power" on the other. 
    For what it’s worth, Rumi, in the first of his sermons in Fihi-ma-Fihi, talks about a sufi coming into the court of a prince, and makes it very clear that in his view, "truth" has the upper hand…
    Compare Nigel Howard, writing in Confrontation Analysis: how to win operations other than war

    The problem of defense in the modern world is the paradoxical one of finding ways for the strong to defeat the weak.

  9. Charles Cameron:

    Ourobouros indeed, Zen!
    It’s also the imagery that Kekule claims prompted him to the discovery of the benzene ring:

    I turned my chair to the fire and dozed. Again the atoms were gambolling before my eyes. This time the smaller groups kept modestly in the background. My mental eye, rendered more acute by the repeated visions of the kind, could now distinguish larger structures of manifold confirmation: long rows, sometimes more closely fitted together all twining and twisting in snake like motion. But look! What was that? One of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail, and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes. As if by a flash of lightning I awoke; and this time also I spent the rest of the night in working out the rest of the hypothesis.

    … although he may have been joking, see Margaret A. Boden, Dimensions of Creativity, p 27.

  10. Bryan Alexander:

    That Quaker piece would be fun, Charles.

  11. Charles Cameron:

    First things first, though. And at the moment, there are quite a few of them. : )