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Martyrdom, messianism and Julian Assange

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

[ by Charles Cameron ]

Martyr and messiah are two of the more intense “roles” in the religious vocabulary, and unlike mystics and saints, both martyrs and messiahs tend to have an impact, not just within their own religious circles but in the wider context of the times.

Martyr and messiah are also words that can be bandied about fairly loosely — so a simple word-search on “messiah” will reveal references to a third-person platform game with some gunplay and the white messiah fable in Avatar, while a search on “martyr” might tell you how to become a martyr for affiliate networks, just as a search on “crusade” will turn up crusades for justice or mental health – my search today even pointed me to a crusade for cloth diapers.

1. Martyrdom and messianism in WikiLeaks

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, both terms crop up occasionally in WikiLeaks, with the Government of Iraq, for instance, banning use of the word “martyr” for soldiers who died in the war with Iran, and US diplomats wiring home a report by an opposition psychiatrist to the effect that “Morally, Chavez [of Venezuela] combines a sense of tragedy and romanticism (a desire for an idyllic world) to project a messianic image.” Indeed, the whole paragraph is choc-a-bloc with that kind of imagery, and worth quoting in full:

Ideologically, Chavez wants to project an image of a “utopian socialist,” which de Vries described as someone who is revolutionary, collectivist, and dogmatic. In reality, de Vries argues, Chavez is an absolute pragmatist when it comes to maintaining power, which makes him a conservative. Coupled with Chavez’ self-love (narcissism), sense of destiny, and obsession with Venezuelan symbolism, this pragmatism makes Chavez look more like fascist, however, rather than a socialist. Morally, Chavez combines a sense of tragedy and romanticism (a desire for an idyllic world) to project a messianic image. De Vries, however, said Chavez is a realist who uses morals and ethics to fit the situation.

PM Netanyahu of Israel was using the term “messianic” with a little more precision when he described the Iranian regime as “crazy, retrograde, and fanatical, with a Messianic desire to speed up a violent ‘end of days.'”

2. Julian Assange in the role of martyr

The words martyr and messiah, then, carry a symbolic freight that is at the very least comparable to that of flags and scriptures – so it is interesting that both terms crop up in the recent BBC interview with Julian Assange.

My reading of the interview suggests that it is Assange himself who introduces the meme of martyrdom, though not the word itself, when he answers a question about the impact of the sexual accusations against him, “What impact so you think that will have on your organisation and what sort of figure do you think you, Julian Assange, cut in the face of all this. How will you be regarded? What will it do to you?” with the response, “I think it will be quite helpful for our organisation.”

In the follow up, interviewer John Humphrys twice uses the word “martyr” explicitly:

Q: Really? You see yourself as a martyr then?

JA: I think it will focus an incredible attention on the details of this case and then when the details of this case come out and people look to see what the actions are compared to the reality of the facts, other than that, it will expose a tremendous abuse of power. And that will, in fact, be helpful to this organisation. And, in fact, the extra focus that has occurred over the last two weeks has been very helpful to this organisation.


Q: Just to answer that question then. You think this will be good for you and good for Wikileaks?

JA: I’ve had to suffer and we’ve had incredible disruptions.

Q: You do see yourself as a martyr here.

JA: Well, you know, in a very beneficial position, if you can be martyred without dying. And we’ve had a little bit of that over the past ten days. And if this case goes on, we will have more.

3. Julian Assange in the role of messiah

If the role of martyr implies, at mimimum, that one suffers for a cause, that of messiah implies that one leads it in a profound transformation of the world. Both terms are now found in association with the word “complex” – which applies whenever a individual views himself or herself as a martyr or messiah – but a “messianic complex” is presumably more worrisome than a “martyr complex” if only for the reason that there are many more martyrs than messiahs, many more willing to suffer for a cause than to lead it.

It is accordingly worth noting that it is the interviewer, John Humphrys, who introduces both the word “messianic” and the concept of a “messianic figure” into the interview, although Assange makes no effort to wave it away…

Q: Just a final thought. Do you see yourself… as some sort of messianic figure?

JA: Everyone would like to be a messianic figure without dying. We bringing some important change about what is perceived to be rights of people who expose abuses by powerful corporations and then to resist censorship attacks after the event. We are also changing the perception of the west.

Q: I’m talking about you personally.

JA: I’m always so focussed on my work, I don’t have time to think about how I perceive myself… I had time to perceive myself a bit more in solitary confinement. I was perfectly happy with myself. I wondered what that process would do. Would I think “my goodness, how have I got into this mess, is it all just too hard?”

The world is a very ungrateful place, why should I continue to suffer simply to try and do some good in the world. If the world is so viciously against it ,why don’t I just go off and do some mathematics or write some books? But no, actually, I felt quite at peace.

Q: You want to change the world?

JA: Absolutely. The world has a lot of problems and they need to be reformed. And we only live once. Every person who has some ability to do something about it, if they are a person of good character, has the duty to try and fix the problems in the environment which they’re in.

That is a value, that, yes, comes partly from my temperament. There is also a value that comes from my father, which is that capable, generous men don’t create victims, they try and save people from becoming victims. That is what they are tasked to do. If they do not do that they are not worthy of respect or they are not capable.

4. Julian Assange, martyr and messiah?

I think it is clear that both Assange and his interviewer are in effect reframing the religious terms “martyr” and “messiah” in non-religious, basically psychological senses — although I don’t suppose Assange is exactly claiming to have the two “complexes” I mentioned above.

Here’s what’s curious about this reframing, from a religious studies point of view:

Assange’s implicit acceptance of a “messianic” role undercuts the specific force of the role of “martyr” – one who gives his life for the cause. “Everyone” he says, “would like to be a messianic figure without dying.” Assange wouldn’t exactly object to being a martyr without dying, too.

WikiLeaks in conspiracy space

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

I thought my response to a comment Lex posted at ChicagoBoyz might be of equal interest here.

Lex wrote:

This is starting to remind me a little bit of Robert Anton Wilson. Even the squirrels in the trees are in on the conspiracy. What conspiracy? You know, the conspiracy

My comment follows…

Indeed, it seems there’s plenty of room in conspiracy space for WikiLeaks:

Wikileaks – A Big, Dangerous US Government Con Job
By F. William Engdahl

The story on the surface makes for a script for a new Oliver Stone Hollywood thriller. A 39-year old Australian hacker holds the President of the United States and his State Department hostage to a gigantic cyber “leak,” unless the President leaves Julian Assange and his Wikileaks free to release hundreds of thousands of pages of sensitive US Government memos. A closer look at the details, so far carefully leaked by the most ultra-establishment of international media such as the New York Times, reveals a clear agenda. That agenda coincidentally serves to buttress the agenda of US geopolitics around the world from Iran to Russia to North Korea. The Wikileaks is a big and dangerous US intelligence Con Job which will likely be used to police the Internet.


WikiLeaks – More Israeli Game Theory Warfare?
By Jeff Gates

“The United States is the real victim of WikiLeaks. It’s an action aimed at discrediting them.” Franco Frattini, Foreign Minister of Italy

The impact of the WikiLeaks release of diplomatic cables fits the behavior profile of those well versed in game theory warfare. When Israeli mathematician Robert J. Aumann received the 2005 Nobel Prize in economic science for his work on game theory, he conceded, “the entire school of thought that we have developed here in Israel” has turned “Israel into the leading authority in this field.” The candor of this Israeli-American offered a rare insight into an enclave long known for waging war from the shadows. Israel’s most notable success to date was “fixing” the intelligence that induced the U.S. to invade Iraq in pursuit of a geopolitical agenda long sought by Tel Aviv. When waging intelligence wars, timing is often the critical factor for game-theory war planners. The outcome of the WikiLeaks release suggests a psy-ops directed at the U.S.

BTW, both theories come via the same publisher, rense.com.

WikiLeaks: Counterpoint at the State Department?

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

[ by Charles Cameron ]

[ note: all links are to youtube videos ]

The pianist Glenn Gould is celebrated for his ability to bring the different and at times positively oppositional voices in a fugue by Bach to our attention, so that we follow each one separately while hearing all at the same time as a single whole. What is less known is that he liked to sit at a table in a truck stop and listen to the different conversations at the other tables and booths, mentally braiding their pale or brightly colored threads of human together into an analogous tapestry — one voice harmonizing with or conflicting against another, here a new subject introduced, there an echo of an earlier idea heard in a fresh context, with the murmurings of waitresses punctuated by the kaching! of the cash register, the hydraulic hiss of a door closing — conversation as counterpoint.

Organizations and individual alike, we all have different and at times dissonant voices, and strive to bring them to some kind of resolution. The many stakeholders debating an issue in town halls, blogs or letters to the editor, the many drives within each one of us, idealistic, hopeful, defeated, paralytic, angry, evasive, sluggish, vengeful, curious, alert, defiant, all have voices, all constitute an experience of polyphony, a “music of many voices”, in point counter point.

One of my interests is to find a way to score these many fugues, these musics of meaning.

My DoubleQuotes, then, can be considered as two-part inventions, attempts to show the multiple tracking of the mind — whether of a single individual, as in this case, or of a group, a community, a world divided – so that something of the music begins to be visible, and some of the dissonances can move towards necessary resolution.




I believe there is unresolved irony between these two statements, made on the same day by Philip J Crowley, the US State Department’s Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs – but each has its reasons, and there are arguments to be made for both transparency and opacity, diplomacy and publicity, secrets and revelations.

Between them lies the possibility I think of as a virtual music of ideas.


Bach published a series of two-part inventions, BWV 772–801, and wrote of them that he intended to offer them as an honest method

by which the amateurs of the keyboard – especially, however, those desirous of learning – are shown a clear way not only (1) to learn to play cleanly in two parts, but also, after further progress, (2) to handle three obligate parts correctly and well; and along with this not only to obtain good inventions (ideas) but to develop the same well; above all, however, to achieve a cantabile style in playing and at the same time acquire a strong foretaste of composition…

Later comes the Art of Fugue.

Google as a Dishonest Broker?

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

This strikes me as an exceedingly bad idea from Google:

From Drudge:

Mon Apr 12 2010 08:15:34 ET

GOOGLE CEO and Obama political activist Eric Schmidt declared this weekend that his machines will help decide what news you receive!

News sites should use technology to PREDICT what a user wants to read by what they have already read, Schmidt told the AMERICAN SOCIETY OF NEWS EDITORS, where a few humans still remained in the audience.

“We’re all in this together.”


Schmidt said he doesn’t want ‘to be treated as a stranger’ when reading online, POLITICO reports.

He envisions a future where technology for news editing could help tailor advertisements for individual readers.

And he wants to be challenged through technology that ‘directs readers’ to a story with an ‘opposing’ view.

[An odd suggestion from the CEO of a company long accused of offering little to no conservative-leaning links on its news page, while aggressively promoting left-leaning hubs.]

Schmidt said GOOGLE is working on new ways to push adverts and content for consumers, based on what stories they’ve read.

What stories his machines have selected.


If this no-choice “opposing view” meme sounds familiar, that’s because a prominent friend and appointee of President Obama, former U. of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein, has, for several years, articulated a sophisticated  theory on the need for government to regulate speech, “reformulate” the 1st Amendment to ensure greater “diversity” and compel the presentation of “opposing views”. While I share Sunstein’s concern that many people are deliberately corrupting their OODA Loops by only reading sources with which they already agree, forcing legal adults to read something else isn’t the answer. It’s a free country and with liberty comes the right to be left to wallow in ignorance in peace.

Getting the Congress and states to turn the free speech and free press clauses on their head is a task with small chance of political success. Persuading or pressuring a small number of friendly CEO’s of search engine companies to optimize their own systems to produce politically favorable results for the administration and the Democratic Party is a lot easier, far less transparent to the public and more difficult for the GOP and conservatives (or for that matter, dissident progressives and unpopular minorities) to combat.

To put it simply, the long term strategy here is that the information aggregators – Google being the 800lb gorilla – will become the new “gatekeepers” with their finger on the scales that determine the page rank of opposing views on controversial issues.

I feared that Google might be tempted to go down this road when they first became entangled with the Chinese government in a way that compromised the integrity of their search engine. At the time I asked:

” If you have agreed to censor what information can be accessed in China in return for greater market opportunities, have you also agreed to censor what information can be accessed about China by the rest of us ?”

As far as I am aware, that question has never been answered, though I think the answer has bearing on American national security and our domestic tranquility. The temptation to use the enormous informational power of Google to deliberately shape public discourse and cultural evolution to “manufacture consent” for policies favored by the elite without the commoners being aware of the manipulation, appears to be very difficult to resist.

I like Google. The company has provided a truly amazing array of informational services that – and I do not think this is an exaggeration – have added real and significant value to civilization. But part of that value comes from Google being regarded universally as an “honest broker” of information. Their CEO’s proposal jeopardizes that trust and once credibility is lost, it is gone for good.

The odd thing is, that this proposal is a really poor business strategy for Google – unless the objective is to create paranoia and drive a large segment of the population to use rival search engines or create new ones free of elite political gamesmanship.

Armstrong on Wikileaks

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Matt Armstrong has a must-read, incisive, take on the manipulatively edited propaganda popularly known as the “Wikileaks video”:

The true fiasco exposed by Wikileaks

….The Wikileaks release apparently caught the Defense Department flatfooted. Even today, three days after its release, there is largely silence from DOD, save a brief public comment and a link to documents and photos at http://www.centcom.mil/ (hidden in plain sight through the link labeled “Link to FOIA documents on July 2007 New Baghdad Combat Action“). Don’t bother going to http://www.defense.mil/ as that site, and hence the Pentagon, has nothing readily available either. The April 6 briefing pack did not include the explanatory imagery and there is no news release explanation the Department’s position. It’s as if nothing happened. When asked about the situation, senior official at DOD pointed me to the “great piece” in The New York Times explaining how trained soldiers view and operate in these events differently than civilians. This, however, misses the point.

Despite the vigorous discussion online and over the air whether there was a violation of the laws of war, the old belief that if you ignore a problem it will go away continues to dominate.

Read the rest here.

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