Harry Stopes reflects on working with Andrew O’Hagan in the attempt to write Julian Assange’s personal memoir. After Assange withdrew from the project, Stopes and O’Hagan were left to reverse engineer his life.
Instead of psychoanalyzing Assange and extrapolating WikiLeaks from it, I wanted to identify the principles that underlie it.
At first it was felt that Assange belonged on the left. However, rather than leading to discussions of class consciousness, everything for Assange was about the flow of inroamtion.
His belief in the importance of information went deeper: the way that systems work, the way that governments work, could only be understood with reference to the exchange, the flow, and the concealment of information as a whole.
Politically, Assange and Wikileaks can therefore be understood as a conspiracy theory where there is no agency to change.
We might also call Assange a conspiracy theorist. That’s not to say that there is anything untrue in the material he has published (though he has been shamefully willing to feed false narratives about the death of Seth Rich). Rather, to connect Assange to conspiracy is to comment on how he sees politics. Conspiracy thinking emerges in a mind that feels it has no agency to change anything or do anything, other than simply to reveal. It is a product of political stasis, and of the conviction—drummed into one’s head, again and again, by an incessant media—that there is no alternative. It is, as Matt Christman of the podcast Chapo Trap House puts it, “a spontaneous attempt to make sense of the world in the absence of class consciousness.”
In the end, such an approach focuses on joining the dots, with little attention of what happens next.
If the structure of society is not up for debate, there is no place for structural critiques. All that matters is assembling chunks of information that might change the surface appearance, debunk a health plan here, reveal an air strike there. Far too little attention has been paid to what happens next when the discussion is done.
As a side note, this all had me wondering about who I would want as a ghost writer for my own personal memoir?