What We Should Learn from WikiLeaks: Let's Build This Ship Right

Back in ye ol' 1998, I took a class as an undergraduate entitled "Cognition and Socio-Technical Emergence." Categorized under the philosophy department, the course was a flagship course in the new Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology (PNP) Program. The central question to be answered over the course of the semester went something like this: Do we--particularly in the West--structure our societal organizations (economic systems, corporations, multi-node social groups) in the same way that our brain works? That is, do we unknowingly structure our physical world because we're hardwired to see it that way, because our neurons and gray matter are assembled in such a way as to precede and imply the way we put our world together when we socialize?

The short answer is yes. From the way a good captain runs his ship to the way a seasoned consultant advises a post-USSR nation-state on its economic regulations, we create systems in our interrelational activities that mimic the way different parts of our brain talk to one another and distribute information.

Enter WikiLeaks. (Before I go much further, I must commend Jonathan Weiler's blog post on the Huffington Post for reading my mind, in terms of much of his commendable commentary, published nary ten minutes before I'd sat down to write this.) As governments and media reel from and attempt to properly react to the WikiLeaks scandal dubbed "Cablegate" (ugh), we must wonder: Why the fuss?

In an interview with Guy Raz, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, mentions at the end of the conversation that the leaks that were truly damaging were those that gave people more information than they needed to do their job.

Re-enter my philosophy course. If a captain on a sea-tossed ship is killed in the line of duty, someone else is going to have to take the wheel. More than likely, if she is an intelligent officer, she will have taken the trouble to disseminate the information needed to properly pilot the vessel to safe harbor to a variety of subordinates who, being able to piece together the same information had by the now-corpse-of-a-captain, turn out to be heroes. If the captain was not so inclined as to ensure the information and experience is concentrated in her alone, the ship will surely be doomed, the other seamen and -women only knowing what they need to in order to do their job.

If we, as a culture, decide to deposit all of our "important" information into the hands of a few, in the name of national security, we are setting a dangerous precedent, not only for real-world scenarios of terrorists targeting those who run our government, but for the attitudes of our representatives who believe themselves some sort of flesh-and-blood Ark of the Covenant. Mr. Weiler reminds us of the bounds overstepped by Bush II's administration in terms of hiding information on torture, extradition, fudged information on WMD's, and the like. If we still trust our wealthy brain center to do all the work, when it becomes cancerous, we all die along with it, we all watch the ship sink around us.


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