Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Clay Shirky has written the most sensible thing I've read yet about Wikileaks.

Even so, I think his writing fails to get all the way to the matter at hand.  His thoughts on the matter operate under the assumption that the United States should operate in a legalistic, democratic manner.

Which brings us back to our old model vs reality situation.

The model of the United States as a democratic, soveriegn Westphalian nation state, bound by a Constitution and the laws of the land doesn't tell the whole truth.

Human organizations obey social truths, not legal truths.  Social truths deal in trust, enmity, loyalty and hierarchy; legal truths deal in egalitarian rights and prohibitions.  Social truths are situational; legal truths are universal.

Consider any human organization of which you are a member.  Perhaps there is a person who on paper ought to be your manager, but whom you actually manage.  Is the nominal leader of your department, company, homeowner's association, Warcraft guild or softball team actually the leader?

Constitutions and laws are legal truths.  They guide but don't restrict.  A speed limit doesn't keep you from speeding.  It's merely one element in a long list of things that influence your driving decisions.

The United States is at or around the height of its imperial power.  There might be laws or treaties that say, on paper, that we shouldn't invade other nations, kidnap folks from Pakistan, torture prisoners of war, knowingly kill civilians or extra-judiciously harass the founder of Wikileaks.  Those are more guidelines than actual rules.

The gentleman and scholar Ron White once recounted a story of walking his dogs in front of a building.  There was a sign in the grass in front of the building that read: "no dogs."  The sign, Ron claimed, was wrong.  It should have said "two dogs."

If the rules on extradition or jurisdiction contradict what the US of A is up to, then the rules are obviously wrong.  The rules that matter are the social rules of hierarchy, power relationships and loyalty.

Will the international community allow us to go after this man?  Most likely.  Will domestic corporations respect the government's wishes and freeze assets, domains and donations?  Almost certainly.  Do whiners in the blogosphere like you me or Clay Shirky have the votes, dollars or guns to have a voice in the matter?  No they don't.

It's not that might makes right.  It's that "might" and "right" are independent matters.

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