Slavoj Žižek on Wikileaks

Via Bruce Sterling I read Slavoj Žižek in London Review of Books on Wikileaks. He writes:

Of course one cannot trust the façade, the official documents, but neither do we find truth in the gossip shared behind that façade. Appearance, the public face, is never a simple hypocrisy. E.L. Doctorow once remarked that appearances are all we have, so we should treat them with great care. We are often told that privacy is disappearing, that the most intimate secrets are open to public probing. But the reality is the opposite: what is effectively disappearing is public space, with its attendant dignity. Cases abound in our daily lives in which not telling all is the proper thing to do.

Yet there may be an upside, “Through actions like the WikiLeaks disclosures, the shame – our shame for tolerating such power over us – is made more shameful by being publicised.

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Bruce Sterling on Julian Assange and our contemporary world…

On our modern world…

In setting up their SIPRnet, they were trying to grab the advantages of rapid, silo-free, networked communication while preserving the hierarchical proprieties of official confidentiality. That’s the real issue, that’s the big modern problem; national governments and global computer networks don’t mix any more. It’s like trying to eat a very private birthday cake while also distributing it. That scheme is just not working. And that failure has a face now, and that’s Julian Assange.

Assange didn’t liberate the dreadful secrets of North Korea, not because the North Koreans lack computers, but because that isn’t a cheap and easy thing that half-a-dozen zealots can do. But the principle of it, the logic of doing it, is the same. Everybody wants everybody else’s national government to leak. Every state wants to see the diplomatic cables of every other state. It will bend heaven and earth to get them. It’s just, that sacred activity is not supposed to be privatized, or, worse yet, made into the no-profit, shareable, have-at-it fodder for a network society, as if global diplomacy were so many mp3s. Now the US State Department has walked down the thorny road to hell that was first paved by the music industry. Rock and roll, baby.

On the man himself…..

Julian Assange’s extremely weird version of dissident “living in truth” doesn’t bear much relationship to the way that public life has ever been arranged. It does, however, align very closely to what we’ve done to ourselves by inventing and spreading the Internet. If the Internet was walking around in public, it would look and act a lot like Julian Assange. The Internet is about his age, and it doesn’t have any more care for the delicacies of profit, propriety and hierarchy than he does.”

He concludes with

Here it is; a planetary hack.

Get it (here)

On “strategic infrastructures” …

Via BBC News here and here, I read that a long list of key facilities around the world that the US describes as vital to its national security has been released by Wikileaks. Interestingly the list is a) not limited to sites within the continental USA or b) sites of explicitly military nature. Rather it is a global directory of facilities that are seen as being of vital importance to Washington.

On perusing the cables more closely over at Wikileaks it is clear the concern is more for what could be considered soft targets or even soft infrastructures. The goal as stated is to identify “Critical Foreign Dependencies” that are connected and vital to systems. The word system is key here, because it doesn’t refer simply to traditional infrastructure such as ports (although those are included) but also larger networked systems of the globalized economy and telecommunications. Specifically referencing the USA Patriot Act of 2001 (42 U.S.C. 5195(e)) critical infrastructures are defined as “systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States the incapacitation or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters.

Additionally, note that although they (at the time) did not seek information on the less tangible effects of any crisis disrupting such infrastructures the State Department acknowledges the soft (or second order effects) that could result from such disruption. Whether it be loss public confidence or economic chaos.

Consider then the recent call for submissions for Bracket [goes soft], which notes “In an era of declared crises—economic, ecological and climatic amongst others– the notion of soft systems has gained increasing traction as a counterpoint to permanent, static and hard systems.” Are the above two ideas complementary? Could the sorts of projective and critical approaches to soft systems that Bracket seeks to provide a platform for, serve as a counterpoint to the list of CFDs? I think it is important to note here that designers aren’t the only one’s interested in systems. What could soft mean in such a context? Is a soft system a soft target? Could one harden a soft target by introducing soft systems? Thus injecting resiliency, by grafting soft onto soft?

Finally, I will note this BBC News article which further expands on the idea of soft infrastructures. Although the notion of ecosystem service(s) isn’t new, it has traditionally focused on quantifying the more literal and ecological ways in which ecosystems provide services (cleansing watersheds, producing oxygen, impacting local climates). However, the author of the BBC piece discusses some examples of other less tangible benefits: such as a US study that is regularly cited which suggests, patients that have a view of nature through hospital windows recover better after surgery. Or quotes a Ms Lipscombe whom argues the calming influence of trees has even been known to slow down driving speeds as drivers tend to go more slowly when something is in their peripheral vision.

Are these sorts of factors a soft infrastructure? Or perhaps the soft product of an infrastructure? If so then maybe one key, is to explicitly discuss or list all these sorts of infrastructural affects and typologies. Thus helping to expand our understanding of critical connections and systems, or strategic infrastructures.