DrSternlove insists that I’ve not quite got it right on the Assange-WikiLeaks brouhaha. She argues, with customary vigour, that the real backdown on the part of the old school hacker elite (that would be the wunderkinds of the late eighties and early nineties) is that they are no longer at play in the fields of ones and zeros. Code, in this argument, was like Everest: the hacker elite did code and coding stuff because it was there, to see if they could, and the results were incidental to the fun of doing it.
Nowadays Assange and his fellow wunderkinders are pretending to be journalists, and this is a core pretence because if Assange and WikiLeaks aren’t engaged in journalistic activity then they are just doing electronic breaking and entering and, while that might be all sorts of fun, that is some distance from Woodward and Bernstein. Doing journalism is also not anarchist revolutionary activity, not even a little bit. Woodward and Bernstein may have brought down Nixon they didn’t stop the Presidency, and Julian Assange can’t either.
Journalism accompanies; comments; needles; and whines. It is not about rewriting the basis of government or social organization. Journalism is a side bar to politics, a crucial adjunct to the operations of power, and as such Assange relies on first amendment protections offered by the existing power structure. As long as those protections are central to WikiLeaks and Assange the chances of substantial structural change (change beyond politics, change beyond the brands and celebrities of the existing political economy) are next to none.
It could be that really WikiLeaks is no different from Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy in War Games, playful messing about with systems that do big serious things, and like all playful acts there remain risks and if those risks were mitigated all the fun would bleed away. I suspect that this is not the case. I believe that WikiLeaks and Assange are deploying both the journalism defence and the doing-it-for-a-lark spin, and that neither are what this kerfuffle is all about.
All of my thoughts lead in one direction, not unrelated to the yet to be resolved Swedish matters, that what Assange is trying to pull off is a classic 1991 bit of e-vandalism. Except this is not tagging the bus shelter in the middle of the night and having only other graffiti artists knowing who it was, this is about pissing on the steps of Parliament, claiming Parliamentary privilege for having done it, and making sure everyone know whose piss it is. The big public, untouchable, hack.
What this suggests to me is that all of this is a prestige event, an attempt to answer the question: who has the biggest hack?