Assange and truth: The deeper (harder) issue


PHOTO/Thierry Ehrmann/CC BY 2.0

When Harold Pinter got the Nobel Prize (2005), he described “a vast tapestry of lies upon which we feed”. He asked why “systematic brutality, widespread atrocities, ruthless suppression of independent thought” were well-known when they occurred in the Soviet Union. But the same events in the US, despite copious evidence, “never happened”.

It shouldn’t be a rhetorical question. The answer to Pinter’s question is known in countless cultures. It is not obscure. But it is not discussed much in the North.

John Pilger notes an “eerie silence” about Julian Assange. More than any investigative journalist of our time, Assange has exposed “the imperialism of liberal democracies: the commitment to endless warfare and the division and degradation of ‘unworthy’ lives: from Grenfell Tower to Gaza.”

And yet he’s been imprisoned for six years with no charges against him. There is no outcry.

The silence is eerie, but not surprising. Assange allows us to see with our own eyes the actions of US military in Iraq. We hear them laugh about the “dead bastards” on the ground, who were carrying cameras, not guns.

There are truths, which Wikileaks reveals, but there is also truth abouttruths. One truth is that empirical evidence, seen and believed, does not shake deep-seated expectations. When beliefs are well-established, presupposed in daily life, indeed, part of identity, evidence is explained away.

It’s how we reason. If I release an object that doesn’t fall, you don’t give up belief in gravity. If I show you a thousand times, you don’t waiver. You expectgravity. It is a presupposition of life and thought. If you questioned that belief, you’d have to rethink your relationship to the world. It’s a reason not to question it.

You see with your own eyes. You dismiss what you see. Or, you explain it away, rationally.

Marx studied how we reason. He knew it depends on expectations, which are ways of life, patterns of behaviour. His dialectical materialism is, among other things, a view about knowledge. Lenin emphasized it. José Martí thought the question so central that the manifesto of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, at the 1895 war of independence, says a goal of the revolution is the nature of ideas.[i]

The “nature of ideas” has consequences. One is that if you want to know the truth about imperialism, in a “vast tapestry of lies”, which we feed upon, as Pinter says, you give up expectations: about your country, your lifestyle, yourself.

They knew this in the US anti-war movement. There was a slogan: “There are no innocents”. It meant that if you were not actively opposing US power, you were supporting it: with your expectations, arising from behaviours, intellectual and social, day by day.

The documentaries are powerful. [ii]Students understood that when a society is built on lies, and those lies are expectations, from which you benefit, and in terms of which you understand yourself, you question your own thinking, necessarily and beneficially.

Mark Rudd says about the radical wing of the movement, “We understood the wrongness of our country’s direction. We understood correctly. But we had no way to act upon that understanding”.

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