Julian Assange and The Yes Men on the Corporate ‘Trade’ Treaties and on the Dangers of Mass Surveillance
This video featuring Julian Assange of WikiLeaks with
Combined, these three ‘treaties’ represent the largest proposed change in the basis of world governance since the UN or the EU, and quite possibly ever. It is equivalent to the creation of the United Nations, but this time only for the rights and powers of corporate entities, not of people as citizens. They effectively change the locus of governing power from the citizen-represented nation state, to that of the investor-shareholder represented corporation.
These new ‘trade’ laws would encompass almost every aspect of human life; from health to commerce to manufacturing to the internet to the arts and beyond. They are highly symptomatic (and causal) of the continuing corporate colonization of every aspect of the public space.
You can read more on them Here.
They also broach the subject of mass surveillance, and all of its highly dangerous and corrosive implications. When asked what is the single greatest threat posed by it, Assange responds quickly and succinctly - CONFORMITY.
Citing East Germany, one of history’s most disturbing test laboratories of the effects of it, Assange points out how it led to an extremely conformist atmosphere throughout society. “People learned to lie about their interests and intentions from a young age - even to themselves. If you deal with some East Germans today, they still have that quality” of hesitancy and suspicion to them. Mass surveillance produces a society that is extremely constrained, and one in which there is little tolerance for individual difference. These effects, when taken to their likely end point, will result “in extreme injustice and suffering for people not towing the line, whatever that line is.”
And it is important to note that in the DDR approximately 10% of the citizenry provided information to the Stasi. This is small fraction of the limitless amounts of personal information and communication that state and corporate power can acquire from people today, thanks to the hyper-connected networks of digital activity through which so much of life is filtered through.
Another example that is insightfully referenced is that of China. And not the modern, one-party corporate surveillance state that it is, but to what it was before being opened to the West. There was that time when it was the most advanced country in the world for at least 500 years. But as Assange points out here, it “ended up forming a stasis, because it didn’t have proper contact with the outside world. It ended up essentially having one culture - Confucianism,” one that provided for rigid conformity, stopping its long-history of progress.
And when we talk of progress, we need to make a distinction that we talk not of progress in new technologies or advanced weaponry - but in our ability to increase learning, and about how to stop suffering through the implementation of new political systems that more fairly represent people.
“So when we connect the entire world to itself, which is what we have done with the internet; and where we connect the largest power centers with the smallest power centers; and then when we have the largest power centers surveil all the communications that is occurring across our new global society, there is an inevitable result - and that inevitable result is extreme conformity.”
All of this connectivity, this new world of the internet, its advent Gutenbergian in its effects and ramifications, is proving to be an ever-more disconcertingly mixed blessing. With its being utilized as the greatest vehicle for mass surveillance ever devised, it admittedly also provides the means for responding through the development of new counter measures, and “new ways to challenge and combat this kind of power.”
But its existence also tells everyone that they are constantly being watched - and this results in an inevitable diminishment of communication and expression. This is the very converse of what we want and need right now for effectively developing and implementing the kinds of solutions needed to deal with the tremendous, even existential problems of our time.
With these new technological and political capacities for mass surveillance, “we have created a new god, one that even atheists believe in - the National Security Agency”; because it sees everything and knows everything.
“And when people carry around inside them that view, that there exists and omnipotent, omnipresent organization, able to see everything and record everything you’ve ever done in your life, then people start to turn their minds to how not to piss it off. And they adjust their behavior, including even the behavior they have when they talk to their friends. And that means certain conversations get shut down and don’t occur. Certain thoughts don’t even occur.”
Amen to that.
They do wind it up on a bit of a more uplifting note, talking about what is really important about The Yes Men, and the power for real change, comes in humor. “For humor is about creating fear for a moment, and then taking that fear away. Relieving it. Every joke is based on that premise.”
It’s also darkly hilarious to hear at the front end of this video Assange’s description of how WikiLeaks, if it was truly evil, could be used as front to get all sorts of inside information, not to provide more transparency to power, but to exploit that information for insider investment tips to enrich itself.
Learn more about The Yes Men’s film The Yes Men Are Revolting