WikiLeaks as Gossip

Assange: the ultimate gossip.

Over at the Globe and Mail I use WikiLeaks as a jumping off point for a larger discussion of the role of gossip. You can read my piece here.


An excerpt:

Unlike most philosophers, the gossip cares about the humour and heartbreak of courtship, the transgression of social mores and the quirky perversity of people around us – the very things that the great fiction writers, from Jane Austen to Alice Munro, immortalize in their stories.

As Ms. Spacks notes, the word gossip originally meant “godparent.” We can trace the shifting shades of the word in Samuel Johnson’s great 18th-century dictionary: A gossip was both “one who answers for the child in baptism” and “one who runs about tattling like women at a lying-in.”

Godparents like to talk about their godchildren whether at a lying-in or later in life, so the two senses of the word are intimately connected. A gossip, like a godparent, is someone who is interested in our lives even if he or she has no biological ties to us.

5 thoughts on “WikiLeaks as Gossip

  1. “Since I’ve been outed as a member of Journolist, this prompts a few reflections, mainly that I could have made $100,000 if only… I would have to be the sort of sleazeball who would be willing to sell private, off-the-record information for money (I think the term “Judas” comes to mind).”

    “Judas”? “Sleazeball”? Sounds almost like Ezra Levant!

    This is actually an interesting point: the contrast between the liberal-conservative reaction to Journolist leaks versus Wikileaks is indeed a prime illustration of the blinders partisanship places on people.

  2. Um, Ezra Levant was calling for the murder of Julian Assange. I was simply insulting the person who leaked emails from a private list-serv. So I don’t see the parallels between the two cases. If you go back and read what I wrote about Assange, by the way, I didn’t defend him, I merely said that calls for his extra-judicial execution are repugnant, something I think all reasonable people can agree on. If Assange has broken any laws (either with regards to rape or in publishing information he shouldn’t have) he should be tried and convicted. But until he’s tried, he’s entitled to a presumption of innocence.

    This is a murky area, but I’d also add that the material that’s been released by wikileaks is much more in the public interest than anything that’s come out of journolist.

  3. The point I think applies to the broad spectrum of liberal versus conservative reactions to the two cases. But I don’t really agree on the public interest question. Wikileaks told us little of value about Western governments, and has demonstrated little concern for the general good (revealing information about non-Western dissidents, using the material as a blackmail tactic for Assange, threatening to use it to cause death and destruction, etc). The Journolist leaks also told us little of interest, I think, but in principle it is in the public interest to know what goes on behind the closed doors of influential journalists: they are gatekeepers, part of the establishment, filters of information, etc. Basically, I don’t see any reason apart from sheer partisanship which could justify being for journolist leaks and against wikileaks or vice versa, and yet that seems to be the position a ton of people have taken on both sides.

  4. The idea that “Wikileaks told us little of value about Western governments” is by now a widely expressed cliche but I have to say it doesn’t bear scrutiny. Glenn Greenwald has done a useful survey in rounding up the major revelations from Wikileaks:

    Many of these revelations — to take one example of many, the existence of 15,000 more civilian deaths in Iraq than previously acknowledged — are important for citizens in western democracies to know about, since these are dark deeds done in their name.

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