Suppose you are the owner of a business that you have built from the ground up. Due to the nature and size of your enterprise, it has been necessary for you to hire many employees and entrust them with different responsibilities in order to be competitive in the market and to offer useful, safe, innovative, sustainable and high quality products. Your business has grown considerably for the years, not without a few setbacks, but overall, profits are high.
From time to time it has been brought to your attention by journalists with a penchant for publishing exposés that the success of your business has merely been the result of illicit behavior and, in some cases even criminal activities, on the part of some of your most senior-ranking employees. Aside from this being brought to your attention, it was also brought to the attention of the public. About half of the public believed it was true; about half, that it was false. But, since there was no concrete proof, there was never a final conclusion that could be drawn.
Each time that such accusations have been made, you, being the wise business owner and moral person that you are, have wasted no time in confronting those employees face-to-face in order to lay those accusations to rest or nip the problem in the bud. And each time, your employees have assured you that those journalists making such false accusations are being funded by your competitors who simply intend to tarnish the good name of your company with hopes of taking a greater share in the market that you have worked so hard to command.
Then, one day you receive a suspicious package, delivered by Special Courier. The contents of the package are as follows: There is a slew of correspondence between your employees who were previously accused and employees from other companies—correspondence that irrefutably proves that they did in fact participate in illicit and, if not illegal, then at least morally questionable activities. In the package, there is likewise a message that reads: “This same package has been sent to all the shareholders of your company and to all the shareholders of all the other companies in the industry.”
The scenario that I’ve just described is not all that different from the current situation in which America finds itself today, disconcerted, distraught, more divided than ever, in the wake of the most recent leak from whistle-blower group Wikileaks. Here, I wish to explain why I support whistle-blower groups and why I think they are essential in our current political climate. But before I do this, I should preface my comments by saying that I believe the government works for the people and, as its employers, the people have the right to know how the government is conducting business, since part of its job description is to act in the best interest of the people.
At the crux of this entire issue is the question of privacy. When we hear about privacy in the arena of politics, the concept takes on the curiously elevated term of “secrecy”—a term that seems to enjoy a higher standing in public discourse than privacy does. For example, in 2001, when the Patriot Act was passed and a great loss of privacy became a reality for the American people, the government and advocates of the act adopted a tag-line that goes something like this: “If you have nothing to hide, then what do you have to worry about?” This position seems to say that government secrecy comes before the privacy of its citizens, or, to follow the metaphor, how employees conduct business does not concern their employer, as long as it does not effect the bottom line of the business.
Now that the tables have turned, it’s clear that this attitude is not one of sincerity, but of sanctimony—just as it is clear that the government has a great deal more to hide than it would like us to believe. Some have argued that the leaked information does not tell us anything that was not previously suspected, but rather only results in the embarrassment of public officials and the breakdown of essential diplomatic relations. Yet, perhaps it does more than this, for this irrefutable proof of corruption seems to substantiate those very suspicions.
In the episode “It’s all Bismarck” from the podcast Common Sense, Dan Carlin points out that, even though one government or another is likely to put an end to Wikileaks once and for all, this will not stop whistle-blowers from doing what they are designed to do, namely, to provide the kind of concrete proof that substantiates the otherwise unfounded claims of the media. Since real investigative reporting is a thing of the past, the whistle-blower has become the entity that prevents claims of corruption from being discarded as crackpot conspiracy theories. Now that Assange has been arrested and as his organization continues to fend off threats from every direction, we are left asking ourselves this question: How important is it that we know the truth? Again, returning to the metaphor, if you found out that corruption had penetrated your company, and that the perpetrators of this had colluded with employees from other companies, would you prefer to know? And if you knew, would you eradicate it or turn a blind eye as long as it was not impacting your bottom line?
Even in the absence of Wikileaks, there will certainly not be a lack of foreign media outlets who will be more than glad to leak protected government information, and once it has been leaked through one outlet, the others will have not choice but to run with the story. It is intriguing to see that even conservative outlets who oppose the actions of Wikileaks and who are now surely pleased that Julian Assange has been arrested, cannot refrain from covering the story, from providing constant updates, from discussing the leaked information and the consequences of his organization’s actions. This leads me to believe that, whether we like this organization or not, it has been hugely successful, since it has brought concrete proof of political corruption to the light of day. This is why I support whistle-blowers: because they pull back the curtain and show what what is really happening in politics. If there is corruption, I want to see it for myself and not through the perspective of a media outlet that has a political agenda, that is funded by someone with a political agenda, or that is competing for television ratings. Those stories of corruption can no longer be discarded as conspiracy theories. This is the truth that we now must bear, like it or not.
While discussing his preference to know the truth, even if it is a difficult truth and one that complicates matters more than most of us would like, Carlin reminds us of that great line uttered by Jefferson—“I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.” We often forget that freedom has not always been conceived as leisure, as we are the ones who are able to peacefully contemplate stories like this from the plush sofas of our quiet residential neighborhoods. While I reflect on these ideas I come across another line—“the boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave” (also spoken by Jefferson)—and it occurs to me that there was once a time, not too long ago, when the commitment to freedom inevitably lead to uncertainty. And that the chance of such commitment, as was thought by many, was one worth taking.