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A Wikileaks Society

I wonder if life will ever be the same on this side of Wikileaks. If you ask me, Wikileaks may just prove to be a game-changer, not just in politics but in all of society. Let me explain.

Just about a year ago I told you that God Watches You Google, showing how search engines never forget what we search for. They know things about us that we have long since forgotten–those embarrassing searches, those immoral questions–they are all there, recorded forever. Would you be prepared to have your search history revealed to the world? Not many of us would. And most of us have assumed that there is little reason to fear; what happens between me and Google stays between me and Google, right?

This is where Wikileaks comes in.

Julian Assange is the man behind the leaks. He is the one who has gathered all of the information that is now coming to light and he is the one who has made it publicly available on the Web. And, of course, he is the one who insists that this is just the tip of the iceberg and there is far more he can reveal. These further revelations could be the most devastating yet. These leaks will impact governments and big businesses. And along the way they will doubtlessly also impact many individuals (since what is government and what is business but a collection of individuals?).

Here is what Assange says about business in a Wikileaks world:

WikiLeaks means it’s easier to run a good business and harder to run a bad business, and all CEOs should be encouraged by this. I think about the case in China where milk powder companies started cutting the protein in milk powder with plastics. That happened at a number of separate manufacturers.

It just means that it’s easier for honest CEOs to run an honest business, if the dishonest businesses are more effected negatively by leaks than honest businesses. That’s the whole idea. In the struggle between open and honest companies and dishonest and closed companies, we’re creating a tremendous reputational tax on the unethical companies.

What Assange believes is that the inevitability of exposure will compel businesses to be more ethical. How will this happen? Because leaks will not just show end results, but also the means a company used to get there. We will not just know that a milk powder company began to cut the protein in milk powder with plastics, but we will also see how the executives came to that decision, what their rationale was, who they told and who they didn’t tell, how they justified themselves. Suddenly everything will be exposed. Everything will be brought to light.

The whole purpose of Wikileaks is to reveal correspondence that was meant to be private. It destroys privacy, laughs at it, regards it as a quaint vestige of the past.

Assange goes so far as to suggest that companies should begin to work to encourage leaks from their competitors. He hopes for a perfect market and believes that we can achieve perfection if we just have perfect information. He says, “To put it simply, in order for there to be a market, there has to be information. A perfect market requires perfect information.” In other words, if we can just make all information free and freely available, we can finally enjoy market perfection.

Naturally the Christian must disagree here. There can be no perfect market when markets are run by humans who are, at heart, entirely imperfect. There can be no market utopia this side of eternity. There can only be varying degrees of corruption. And what this means is that Assange’s entire philosophy is broken and impossible to achieve.

It’s inevitable that Wikileaks will claim some great victories. Companies that were doing secret but lawless deeds will be exposed and destroyed. Government officials that were corrupt will be exposed and humiliated. It may be difficult to argue with the results. But that doesn’t mean that Wikileaks is a good thing.

My fear is that the Wikileaks mentality may just seep out into all of society so we become a society that delights in exposing one another, in which we are all seeking to bring to light not just what we’ve done, but the motives behind what we’ve done. This may be only the beginning of a rash of similar revelations which exposes not just governments, but businesses, ministries, even individuals. So we won’t just have companies that decide to abandon one kind of customer, but we will have a breakdown of how they made that decision printed in the local newspaper. We will not just be churches who decide we must remove a person from membership, but we will have every bit of the discussion leading to such a decision revealed before the congregation and the world.

We tend to imitate. It may not be long before we all expose one another, or we at least all live with the fear of exposure. It may not be long before there is more virtue in stealing information and making it public than there is in seeking to make good and wise decisions and asking others to trust that we’ve done what is best. Wikileaks calls us all to be experts, to decide that we could have done better by making better decisions. It calls us to be suspicious, to expose, to assume the worst, to be paranoid.

We need to consider if this is really what we want. Do we really want to have a society where no secret is safe, where we all demand access not only to decisions, but also to the basis for those decisions and the information that led to them? Do we really want to live with the constant fear, the constant expectation, that everything will be revealed? On a pragmatic level there is a lot to gain, but I fear that on a societal level there is too much to lose.

I’ll give the last word to Harvard Business Review:

Thanks to Wikileaks, you can now expect that day to come when your most private and candid communications will appear for all to peruse. In preparation for that moment, you better make sure that your private dealings match your public declarations, if not perfectly then at least pretty close.

For companies and individuals as much as for governments, deeds will henceforward have to match words. If they don’t, you can assume you will suffer a Wikileaks crisis of your own, for it is from that discrepancy (or hypocrisy, read another way) that Wikileaks finds its energy — and other leakers will in the future. Like it or not, what has happened this week is of profound importance, and its lessons are profoundly important too.

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