Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live By Jeff Jarvis (Simon & Schuster, 263 pp., $26.99) In 1975, Malcolm Bradbury published The History Man, a piercing satire of the narcissistic pseudo-intellectualism of modern academia. The novel recounts a year in the life of the young radical sociologist Howard Kirk—“a theoretician of sociability”—who is working on a book called The Defeat of Privacy.
There is a scene in Contagion, Steven Soderbergh’s global mega-pandemic thriller, in which the scalp of a dead patient—played by one of the film’s biggest stars—is sliced open during an autopsy. A flap of marbled flesh flops limply over her forehead; in the screening I attended, this was definitely the moment that elicited the most grossed-out gasps. It wasn’t the most jarring part of the movie, however. What I found way more shocking was the notion of a film in which the good guy is played by … the government. Our times are awash in the swill of anti-government paranoia.
[Guest post by Alex Klein.] Today’s Wall Street Journal editorial has the title “News and its Critics”—obviously, it’s missing a word. The piece’s real title should be “News Corp and its Critics,” or even better, “News Corp vs. its Critics.” It’s a piece by News Corp, for News Corp. The problem is, the ugly 1044-word attack on the company’s “competitor-critics” alternates between catty defensiveness, a drunk beat poet, and utter incomprehensibility.
The hacking group Lulz Security has made a mockery of internet security this past month, hacking into and stealing data from a number of company and government networks, including Fox, the United States Senate, and an FBI affiliate. Just today, the group has hit the servers of a gaming magazine and three hugely popular online games.
President Obama is in a tight spot. The 2010 elections have sharply contracted his ability to achieve legislative victories, while his room to maneuver on other issues will be limited by the intrusive investigations which are almost certainly coming his way. Progress will be harder to attain than ever.
Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, likes to say that “no organization anywhere in the world is a more devoted advocate of free speech.” His response to the tragic shooting in Tucson came, therefore, as something of a surprise. In early January, Assange issued a press release arguing, despite the lack of any evidence, that right-wing vitriol had provoked the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, to go on a murderous rampage.
American diplomacy seems to have survived Wikileaks’s “attack on the international community,” as Hillary Clinton so dramatically characterized it, unscathed. Save for a few diplomatic reshuffles, Foggy Bottom doesn’t seem to be deeply affected by what happened. Certainly, the U.S. government at large has not been paralyzed by the leaks—contrary to what Julian Assange had envisioned in one of his cryptic-cum-visionary essays, penned in 2006.
I confess that I’m torn. I had the same cranky reaction to Time’s Person of the Year choice as pretty much the entire Internet: It’s hard to see the calculation that makes Mark Zuckerberg more influential than Julian Assange in 2010. Still, there’s something about this conventional wisdom that’s annoying in its own right. When people riff about the impact of Wikileaks, you typically hear how it’s forever changed diplomacy or intelligence-gathering. The more ambitious accounts will mention the implications for journalism, too. All of that’s true and vaguely relevant.
Within a week after its official launch, the No Labels movement—which I helped found—has accomplished a hitherto unimaginable feat: It has united a bitterly divided commentariat. Tribunes of left and right have issued issue denunciations and pronounced anathemas. Polarization, they say, is a wonderful thing, and those who would weaken it are at best deluded and naïve. Civility is a euphemism for the prissy repression of uninhibited democratic discourse, and the self-appointed speech police should butt out.
The childish panic that has swept the policy establishment over the past few weeks over the Wikileaks revelations themselves will soon subside.