Breaking the Rules
Harry Stopes · Žižek and Assange
‘At first I treated you as not an idiot, out of politeness,’ Slavoj Žižek said to Julian Assange last weekend, ‘but more and more I have to admit that you are not an idiot.’ Žižek and Assange were on stage at the Troxy in East London, watched by a crowd of nearly 2000 people who had paid £25 each for a ticket. If Assange changes his mind about not publishing his memoirs, he won’t be short of readers. Amy Goodman, chairing the discussion, asked Assange to respond to Joe Biden’s accusation that he is a ‘high-tech terrorist’. As Assange floundered, Žižek stepped in. ‘You are a terrorist,’ he said, ‘but in the sense that Gandhi is a terrorist.’ He quoted Brecht: ‘What is robbing a bank, compared to founding a new bank? If you are a terrorist, what are then they who accuse you of terrorism?’ Assange looked grateful.
‘You don’t just break the rules,’ Žižek said to Assange, ‘you break the rules about how we are allowed to break the rules.’ But Assange doesn’t seem entirely comfortable with this. And perhaps, in his determination to define himself as a journalist, he has in some ways made himself more vulnerable, not less. If WikiLeaks is simply part of the history of the liberal free press, or of investigative journalism, it is normalised, reduced. It makes it too easy to say, as Žižek put it, ‘Why yes of course we agree with the idea, we just think it has been executed irresponsibly.’
This seems to be more or less the view of Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a former WikiLeaker and the founder of OpenLeaks, which gathers information from anonymous whistleblowers but rather than publishing it raw, as WikiLeaks does, passes it on to an organisation of the source’s choosing (Assange outlined a similar idea in 2009). ‘We want to be a neutral conduit,’ Domscheit-Berg told Forbes last year. ‘That’s what’s most politically sustainable as well.’ But political sustainability was never the aim of WikiLeaks. ‘We’re going to fuck them all,’ Assange wrote in an email in January 2007, just after the site had been set up. ‘We’re going to crack the world open and let it flower into something new.’