On Julian Assange: The Exit Door Leads In

by Brian Allen Irvin

“No Oxygen, No Fire” by Brian Allen Irvin
“No Smoke, No Fire” by Brian Allen Irvin

Every society honours its live conformists and its dead troublemakers.”

— Mignon MacLaughlin

Julian Assange, the Australian founder of Wikileaks, has made his share of trouble for governments the world around. He is most known for publishing information from whistleblowers that serves the highest degree of public interest. Depending on who you ask, Assange is either a menace to society or a living martyr. Presented as a moral imperative, isn’t the dilemma a whistleblower faces at the heart of every leap in societal ethics?

Today, Julian Assange sits in Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh — a prison analogous to America’s black site in Guantanamo Bay designated for suspected terrorists. ©Prisonimage.org

Assange’s physical and mental health has been in decline since his asylum for 7 years in the Ecuadorian embassy. Experts have acknowledged that Assange is showing signs of psychological torture. Under conditions of his contentious Ecuadorian sponsorship and now his stay in the medical ward of Belmarsh, he’s been denied medical consultation for nearly a decade. Denial of adequate care comes along with denial to parent his two sons with his fiancé (once part of his legal team), Stella Morris. The latest development in the Assange saga saw UK District Judge Vanessa Baraister denying his extradition to the US on charges of espionage and hacking. Baraister noted the barbarity of the US prison system would all but guarantee a suicide attempt by Assange due to the fragility of his mental state. To the relief of his advocates, the fight forges onward to secure his release from Belmarsh and see to it that the US does not get their way pending appeal. (Currently, the Biden administration, in solidarity with the Trump administration, is attempting to extradite Assange with assurances to the UK court that it won’t put Assange in a supermax prison or treat him badly.)

Manufacturing Consent

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people that are doing the oppressing.”

— Malcolm X

The impetus for Wikileaks’ existence must be addressed first. Public trust toward news media is a general mixture of deference by brand authority (e.g. “CNN: Most Trusted Name in News”) and a universal mistrust of legacy news sources by generations with long memories of being misled without apology by newspapers and networks of note. Cultural differences withstanding, major outlets find common ground with topics that go unaddressed. In matters of empire, whether it’s the geopolitical affiliations with Saudi Arabia or the unquestionable alliance with the state of Israel, American media shows an obedience that renowned linguist Noam Chomsky stated: “any dictator would admire.” The revolving door between the American intelligence apparatus and the American news media is brazen and easily noticed. Every network features a roster of former intelligence officials, never mind the explicit purpose and storied history of their former employers.

John Stockwell, former CIA officer turned whistleblower. This excerpt is taken from an interview during Vietnam Reconsidered, Lessons from the War at the University of Southern California, Feb. 6–9, 1983.

Mainstream discourse is noticeably void of multiple fronts of military adventures costing Americans so much blood and treasure (for decades now.) Both cause and effect, Americans are reliably fed the language of America as the reluctant police of the “developing” world. Various political and cultural third rails assure that conversations remain derivative with monotonous perspectives in order to construct a reality that poses as truth and dare not be called propaganda — ‘manufacturing consent.’ Through these exercises, it’s apparent that the machinery built to influence the masses wouldn’t exist if the sentiments of the masses did not matter. The trajectory of how the world is shaped in the modern era greatly depends on how successfully interest-laden conglomerates can persuade the average voter that their leaders are working exclusively to see to their interests and not waging campaigns that benefit the financial elite.

Through heavy linguistic curation, repetition, and highly paid company men (and women), the population remains in the dark about what its government does despite the recent two decades of clandestine military operations. News networks were proud to show us Shock and Awe during the catharsis after 9/11. (The comments of Iraqis below the video now may have a sobering effect on you.) I can personally remember waking up to the footage before a school day in 2003. Nearly 20 years later, the wars have found themselves in the crosshairs of populist advocates as partly to blame for the deterioration of conditions at home. The chorus for exiting the “forever wars” has only grown louder over the last few elections, Americans having repeatedly tried to vote their way out of the wars based on (up to now) would-be failed campaign promises.

Wikileaks is easily the most accomplished of the anti-establishment news factions, having won multiple awards for accuracy in reporting about governments around the world, not just the United States. Many independent journalists looking to fill the information vacuum have popped up on platforms like YouTube, Patreon, Rockfin and Substack. YouTube has been embroiled in suppression scandals for years as the CEO, Susan Wojcicki, recently admitted to the suppression under the guise of thwarting fake news while pledging to promote legacy outlets like CNN and Fox News. Other outlets like TruthDig, The Black Agenda Report and CounterPunch have also been targeted for suppression by Google algorithms ostensibly at the behest of corporations and government proxies. The aim of journalists outside of the legacy outlets is to create splashes so large they can’t be ignored. This tactic has proven successful many times, but the substance of such news often creates headaches for political officials that fear being held accountable for failures or transgressions. In the interest of access journalism, networks and personalities are incentivized to steer clear of anything that may agitate officials and threaten their next scoop - which in turn perpetuates the network news echo chamber. The pace and demand of American life doesn’t often allow for the average adult with a myriad of responsibilities to examine the integrity of their “news.” In the Gilded Age, muckrakers were intrepid journalists that helped raise the collective consciousness to recognize an oligarchy run amok. In the same spirit today, if not for the selflessness of whistleblowers and those willing to publish them, there may be even less dissent against the imperial march that has precipitated over the last few decades.

If a nation’s resources, assembled through a labour force and tax dollars, is not spent with a primary function of tangibly benefitting the population, then that government has ceased to function in its consented purpose. Instead, it will have become the instrument of an ulterior agenda. If the means of disseminating misdeeds is captured by the interests helping to create them, then any objective information of what happens is adversarial to their cause. Instead, the media apparatus operates as a public relations tool in the interest of their ownership.

When a moral imperative presents an individual with a choice to carry out a deed at their personal expense or to turn a blind eye to it at a cost to the collective, everything about our own humanity and our responsibility to the greater community comes into focus. We would all hope, despite damning our position in the matter, that we or anyone else would be compelled to act if it nets a positive outcome for us all. I don’t mean to come off as cavalier about what this portends for the actor. Suffering is a trait in every story about wading into the affairs of the powerful. That withstanding, revolutions in ethics have been catalyzed by many people who thumb their noses at the ‘authority’ that exalts its own preservation over the well-being of the majority.

Rebels and Soldiers

“The Exit Door Leads In” is a short story by Phillip K. Dick. Bob Bibleman is our protagonist in a world where attending college is a remote privilege for most (apparently on a scale even incomprehensible to today). Bob wins a contest to attend a college on Mars by way of a fast-food console. (Understandably, he initially takes it as a joke.) In Bibleman’s studies, he mistakenly obtains schematics for an engine that he concludes would change energy consumption and revolutionize humanity forever — he only needs to transmit the schematics to someone on the outside. Ultimately, he makes the choice he thought would please the institution and the Colonel he began to regard as a paternal figure even more so.

His loyalty ironically causes him to fail what turned out to be an admissions test. The Colonel reveals the schematics were planted purposefully, and the real test was of his character. Bibleman is expelled, but not before a sobering debrief of his performance:

…”The purpose of the test was to teach you to stand on your own feet, even if it meant challenging authority. The covert message of this institution is: ‘Submit to that which you psychologically construe as an authority.’ A good school trains the whole person; it isn’t a matter of data and information; I was trying to make you morally and psychologically complete. But a person can’t be commanded to disobey. You can’t order someone to rebel…”

(“The Exit Door Leads In,” Philip K. Dick, Rolling Stone College Papers, 1979)

Good soldiers have their purpose, but society has taken leaps forward away from authorities that subscribe to ideologies simply because they preceded them. Philosophical discussions of the existential variety are largely left out of such discussions because they don’t typically drive an agenda outside of common sense welfare. In adherence to principle over idolatry, Assange’s personal vendettas matter less than Wikileaks’ impeccable record of publishing authentic materials. Predictably, news media steers the conversation away from what the materials reveal and toward a suggestively nefarious bend of the informer. A failure to genuinely engage in what Assange has presented has only led to darker outcomes as guilty parties continue to elude accountability and often allow for their promotion deeper into American power centers.

Legacy media’s ability to exclude the single-most integral figure at the pinnacle of their profession is among the most unsettling characteristics of today’s news culture. It illustrates how discourse is systematically concentrated through a matrix of ‘acceptability’ while rendering anything outside those confines as “fringe” or “radical” and successfully limiting conversations, and ultimately thoughts, to a comfortable station for the powerful. The implications of Assange’s political imprisonment and progressing, tortuous execution is a screeching devolution in journalism as a fourth estate. For years, Assange’s treatment has ballooned to one of the most naked and cynical acts of raw power on part of the US government to save face in decades. The constitution, which the country holds to a Biblical significance, will be again proven moot when standing between powerful state actors and desired objectives. Aided and abetted by the unwitting and nefarious alike, the consortium of information peddlers known as the US news media have successfully rendered Julian Assange’s persecution a proverbial tree falling in the forest.

Addendum

Recently, the key witness that the US government built a case for hacking against Julian Assange has recanted his testimony and admitted to fabricating key evidence the US is relying on for Assange’s prosecution. The Biden DOJ as of now continues to pursue his extradition regardless of the development. Read the original report here.

Illustrator and writer.