On Julian Assange’s allegation

As part of my continuing philosophical education I like to read articles from the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, and one recent article that I was reading was on the subject of Rape.

In recent news developments and reactions have come around Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange, who, while being infamous/famous for being the head of an organisation which has leaked many documents and other files about the US Government (inter alia), some of which provoke many serious discussions about US foreign policy; Assange is also infamous for a rape allegation.

Among us in the Noumenal Realm Blog, we’ve decided not to talk much about the controversy about Wikileaks, on the one hand about whether government should keep documents and their decisions public against the need for secrecy about any given current military or operational project (such as say, social research or police operations, which when revealed, would undermine the efficacy of those projects). Then the infamy of the rape allegation took place.

I don’t feel that it’s right to keep silent about this issue anymore, and here’s why:

  1. Rape is a serious and devastating act against the victim. One writer in the F-Word pointed out how even if people convicted of rape endure out a criminal sentence, the victim lives a sentence of a different kind, in terms of long term psychological damage, as well as the relationships around them.
  2. The counter-claim of people like Assange and his supporters that this is a government conspiracy, or George Galloway’s claim that this case was a set-up, is deeply harmful and undermines all victims of Rape and sexual assault and the seriousness of these allegations

It’s a bizarre straw man position to be in defence of the act of Rape, but what I will say is that I was not aware until recently about the degrees of harm against women that sexual assault has. Greenfield (1997) points out that 91% of rape victims are female while almost 99% are male. Some feminist perspectives highlight the deeply ideological nature of rape through history, and the difficulties that women have in reporting, conviction and recovering from the incident reflect these challenges. It is also true to say that many women and men have different kinds of responses to having been raped. The long term and cultural impacts are perhaps the most harmful.One thing I didn’t realise is how broad the notion of sexual assault can be. There are many acts that can make a woman deeply uncomfortable and that violate her sense of autonomy.The distinction between ‘rape’ and ‘not rape’ can be less important when we broaden our conception of sexual violence beyond the act of forced penetration. There are behaviours such as verbal harassment or indecent exposure which are harmful to women and their sense of security in public spaces. I have a distinct feeling that whatever will happen with Assange’s case, it will harm women unless he goes through a criminal court for his allegation. There’s a certain political tribalism that is getting in the way of this issue and it has caused a divide of sorts.

Reading about this issue and following many twitter discussions have forced one to think harder about sexual assault. I cannot emphasise how damaging it can be to diminish the seriousness of sexual violence. The diversity of the phenomena is also something that may not be obvious to everyone. Rapists may know the victim, perhaps as a co-worker, relative or friend. There are ways of violating someone’s autonomy through sex, this can include: not using a condom when someone explicitly says to do so, having sex with someone while they are unconscious or asleep with no indication that this is acceptable and using sexual acts as a form of coercion or bargaining with a person in need (such as the transactional behaviour of many women in East Germany during the end of the Second World War).

Bringing countercultural insights to this issue makes the issue of Assange’s allegation all the more difficult. With countercultural movements such as Occupy and leftist type movements rushing to Assange’s defence. I think that the seriousness of Rape is undermined, as well as the cultural and political space that women hold today. On the other side of the Atlantic, there are lots of stories about Conservatives who are outspoken about their views on birth control and on a related subject, pregnancies through rape. The one thing that really upsets me about all of this, is that women seem to be least visible on this issue in US politics and in the media at large. This shows to me that women are not being taken seriously as political beings and conscientious individuals with their own views, while male pundits talk on their behalf.

I really shouldn’t have to say this. Rape is not okay. It’s not okay to have relations with someone that is not in any way out of the agreed terms.


Wikileaks as the hostile ‘other’

I have resisted writing a post on the Wikileaks phenomenon for quite some time. Partly because I’ve not made up my mind as to whether they are liberators and a stronger social critic by the evidences they release alone than any ‘theorist’ or countercultural stirrer, or, if as the official dominant discourses say: they are a threat to international security on a variety of fronts. I’ll leave that topic for another day, and more evaluation.

One thing that can be said of late is that the latest leaks of the diplomatic cables, and a proposal that there is even more data which will come from banks and energy companies which promises to change our perspective on world affairs permanently, is that it is certainly an interesting and unique situation. It is interesting how virtually all nations (except noble Ecuador) have called for Wikileaks’ head Julian Assange’s proverbial and literal head. If one is to buy the mainstream media story, Wikileaks is some universal threat which would in some ironic way (ironic in that the documents reveal many diplomatic tensions) unite everyone against a common enemy. I am reminded of two insights, one philosophical, and one literary.

1. The case of aliens. In the last chapter of Paul Churchland’s ‘Matter and Consciousness’, the subjects concern somewhat eccentric or ‘new’ philosophical issues concerning consciousness and the mind. If we are introduced to a consciousness which by virtue of other reasons is somehow entirely unlike us (e.g. it is an artificial life, or nonhuman or ‘post-human’ life form), all differences between human beings are diminished as the ‘other’ which is largely unlike us, highlights the similarities human beings have. That can be a good thing, but it can also undermine the subtleties of difference that make individuals unique in a positive way. I am interested in how this ‘other’ of wikileaks will fare as it emerges as a political actor in the global world. In a sense, it is like terrorism, or multi-nation coalistions in that it a non geographical actor.

2. I am also reminded of the character ‘Adrian Veidt’ from the Watchmen comic. Whose strategy is (spoiler alert) to dissolve the impending doom of the cold war by posing threat of an ‘other’ for world nations to unify against and in so doing pursue a course for peace. Veidt’s notion of heroism was of a dark, almost Pax Romana manner. In order to save the world, he must make something so big that everyone feels threatened enough to forget their disputes.

This looks like an interesting turn in historical events. I just hope Assange doesn’t consider himself to be an Ozymandias figure.