The news media is capable of inspiring many feelings in us: hatred, anger, loathing, fury, disgust, detestation, rage, horror, degradation, sort-of-dirtiness; they run the gamut. But it is only today, in the modern inter-connected fast-paced post-fax machine world, that the media has become able to generate that most unique of emotions: the feeling that you get when picture your parents having sex.
And that feeling — that nasty, nauseating sensation that comes with pondering the details of something you knew was going on, but preferred to pretend wasn’t is exactly what we’ve got from this latest little palaver involving Wikileaks.
Because Wikileaks, and their mysterious mastermind Julian "The Silver Platypus" Assange, have embarked on a pitiless crusade to put us off our food by exposing the inner workings of government. Well here’s a cable, for you, Wikileaks, leaked directly from the Department of Shut Up: we don’t want to know.
I’m serious: does anyone really want to hear stories about Nicolas Sarkozy chasing a dog chasing a rabbit? Does it do us any good to have in our possession knowledge of major world leaders acting out these wacky, Silly Symphonies-esque shenanigans? Is our understanding of the world and its workings enhanced by our awareness of how much time the French President devotes to cavorting with lower mammals?
I don’t know about you, but I was happier when I saw Sarkozy as a noble, dignified figure bestriding the world stage, a calm hand on the tiller to negotiate the tricky waters of European geopolitics, keeping the mighty French nation safe and secure through his canny mixture of religious intolerance and having a hot wife. I was happier when didn’t see him as President Jerry Lewis.
And what of the revelations about our own foreign minister, Kevin Rudd? Did we need to know that the Americans saw him as an anally retentive psychopath? Obviously, we already knew he is an anally retentive psychopath, because we read The Australian, but did we have to have rammed down our throats the unpleasant fact that the Americans read The Australian too? Couldn’t we have continued in our blissful delusion that the Americans have better taste?
Think about your own family. Pretty awful, aren’t they? But don’t you prefer to live your life thinking it’s only you who thinks that? When you find out that everyone knows how horrible your family is, it is a shameful thing. And that’s how it is with Rudd. We’d thought the fact he was not only the worst prime minister in the history of this or any other nation, but probably the worst person of any kind, was our little secret. Logically, deep down, we probably knew that other people had noticed, what with the way he was constantly flying around the world every week, getting drunk and visiting strip clubs and swearing at the Chinese and generally being a pest; but we could repress these thoughts. We could choose to believe otherwise, and that’s what Wikileaks has done to us: it has taken away our capacity to believe the blatantly untrue for the sake of our own mental wellbeing.
And this is an important capacity. Our very sanity depends on our being able to dismiss and disbelieve those facts which would make us unhappy and/or insane. This is the bedrock of any number of social institutions. Religion, for example, or the thriving climate change denial industry — imagine if all our opinions on climate change were based on "the facts": our economy would collapse and we would all become extremely depressed at the utter hopelessness of it all. Our only chance of a happy life lies in our ability to totally ignore the inevitability of our species’ destruction. The same goes for our ability to ignore, say, the fact that Julie Bishop is just an election and a tragic triathlon mishap away from becoming Prime Minister, or the fact that Trevor Marmalade continues to find gainful employment. There are some things that not only do we not need to know, we spend a good portion of our psychic energy avoiding the knowing of.
But here comes Assange, with his commitments to transparency and his devotion to the truth and his flagrant disregard for all time-honoured conventions of hairdressing, and he declares to the world, "I am here to bum you out beyond belief". And so we get cable after cable about how our governments are deceiving us, about how we can trust nobody, and about how apparently Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi are practically spooning each other, and apparently we are supposed to be grateful.
Well, we’re not, do you hear me? We’re not grateful. We don’t want information to be free. We want some things to stay behind closed doors. We don’t want to hear all the icky details of how our freedoms are being infringed. It’s enough for us to know that they are being infringed, in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible. Otto von Bismarck, a wise man in spite of being, technically, German, once said that it was unwise to seek to discover how laws and sausages are made. Well, Wikileaks has revealed to us the most revolting details of the process of political sausage-making.
Thanks to this scurrilous little web-rodent, we now know in excruciating detail all about just what kind of offal our governments are using, and just what sort of intestinal casing they’re squeezing it into before serving it up to us.
We didn’t need to know about the sausages, Wikileaks. We were perfectly content to drift along not thinking about the processes of government, the revolting facts about how the world was run disguised by the tomato sauce of secrecy.
But it seems that secrecy is dead. It seems now that we must be forced against our will into knowing what’s going everywhere. It seems that Julian Assange, the creepy sanctimonious wizard-haired condom-abusing little truth-goblin, has decided we must live our lives in a state of constant awareness that promises to be absolutely exhausting. From now on, we will know the secret motivations for every illegal war, the gross abuses of every basic freedom, the opinions of every low-level public servant on the Prime Minister’s body odour or the Spanish ambassador’s suspicious birthmark.
We didn’t want to know any of this, but Wikileaks has thrust it upon us. Thanks a lot, Wikileaks. We used to be happy. We used to be content. We used to have confidence in our governments’ commitment to serving the public interest by never revealing just how horrifically they were abusing the public interest. Now we are not happy. We are, instead, knowledgeable. And we hate it.
Because what is revealed cannot be un-revealed. What is learned cannot be un-learned. And as, from the bedroom of state, come the sickening heavings, pantings and gruntings of geopolitics, the mental scars will be ours to bear forever.
Thanks a lot, Assange. You’ve put the whole planet in urgent need of therapy.
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