Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Truthdig: Excerpts from exclusive report of conversation between Google and Wikileaks

Truthdig Exclusive from 2011 meeting: When Google met Wikileaks

JA= Julian Assange

ES = Eric Schmidt (Google chairman)
SM = Schmidt associate Scott Malcomson

A: I think that the instincts human beings have are actually much better than the societies that we have.
ES: Than the governments, basically.
JA: I am not going to say governments. The whole structure of society. The economic structure. People learn that simple altruistic acts don’t pay off, and they see that some people who act in nonaltruistic ways end up getting Porsches, and it tends to pull them in that direction

The period of peak earnings for the average wage in the United States was, what, 1977?223 Then certain things happened. Those people who were altruistic and not too concerned about finances and fiscalization simply lost power relative to those people who were more concerned about finances and fiscalization, who worked their way up in the system. Certain behaviors were disincentivized and others were potentiated. That is primarily, I believe, as a result of the technology that enables fiscalization. So, fast bank transfers, the IRS being able to account for lots of people—it sucks people into a very rigid fiscalized structure.224

You can have a lot of political “change” in the United States, but will it really change that much? Will it change the amount of money in someone’s bank account? Will it change contracts? Will it void contracts that already exist? And contracts on contracts? And contracts on contracts on contracts? Not really. So I say that free speech in many Western places is free not as a result of liberal circumstances but rather as a result of such intense fiscalization that it doesn’t matter what you say. The dominant elite doesn’t have to be scared of what people think, because a change in political view is not going to change whether they own their company or not; it is not going to change whether they own a piece of land or not. 


SM: You mentioned investigative journalism. You’ve had a lot of experience with journalism by now, in many different respects. How do you see the kind of freeing of information that you were describing earlier, as fitting into journalistic processes, if at all? Or is it replacing it?
JA: No, it is more how these journalistic processes fit into something that is much bigger. The much bigger thing is that we as human beings shepherd and create our intellectual history as a civilization. And it is that intellectual history on the shelf that we can pull off the shelf to do stuff, and to avoid doing the dumb things again, because somebody already did the dumb thing and wrote about their experience and we don’t need to do it again. There are several different processes that are creating that record, and other processes where people are trying to destroy bits of that record, and others that are trying to prevent people from putting things into that record in the first place. We all live off that intellectual record. 

So what we want to do is get as much into the record, prevent as much as possible being deleted from the record, and then make the record as searchable as possible.

ES: But one consequence of this view is that actors will find the generation of very large amounts of misinformation strategic for them.

JA: Yes. This is another type of censorship that I have thought about but don’t speak so much about, which is censorship through complexity.
ES: Right. Too complicated.

JA: Yes, and I have been pushing this idea of scientific journalism—that things must be precisely cited with the original source, and as much of the information as possible should be put in the public domain so that people can look at it, just like in science so that you can test to see whether the conclusion follows from the experimental data.230Otherwise the journalist probably just made it up. In fact, that is what happens all the time: people just make it up. They make it up to such a degree that we are led to war. Most wars in the twentieth century started as a result of lies amplified and spread by the mainstream press. And you may say, “Well that is a horrible circumstance; it is terrible that all these wars start with lies.” And I say no, this is a tremendous opportunity, because it means that populations basically don’t like wars and they have to be lied into it. That means we can be “truthed” into peace. That is cause for great hope.

But this question of how you distinguish truthful publishers from untruthful publishers is a reputational business. What I would like to see is the introduction to journalism of that part of the reputational business, as in science, that asks, “Where is your data?” If you’re not providing your data why the hell should I take this seriously? Now that we can publish on the internet, now that there is physically room for the data, it should be there. Newspapers don’t have physical room for the primary source; now that there is physical room for the primary source we should create a standard that it should be there. People can deviate from this standard, but if they deviate from the standard and can’t be bothered to provide us with the primary source data then why should we pay any attention to what they are writing? They are not treating the reader with respect.