September 2011


According to its website, WikiLeaks is “a non-profit media organization dedicated to bringing
important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous
way for independent sources around the world to leak information to our journalists. We publish
material of ethical, political and historical significance while keeping the identity of our sources
anonymous, thus providing a universal way for the revealing of suppressed and censored
injustices” (http://wikileaks.ch/).
WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, are under investigation by the United States
government for espionage. Using the terms of the Patriot Act, a federal magistrate signed an
order on January 4, 2011, that required Dynadot, the domain registrars for WikiLeaks, to release
to the government all information it holds on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. Twitter has
likewise been ordered to provide all the information it has on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.
The issue is whether or not WikiLeaks has deliberately tried to undermine the security of the
United States by publishing documents that, while being declassified, are not sanitized and
whose contents could negatively affect efforts to keep the United States and its citizens safe.
So, here’s the question: is it morally permissible for me to use WikiLeaks?
On the one hand, one could argue that WikiLeaks is an online, free access source of information,
which is open and available to the public. It may be the case that some of that information is
sensitive, but that is not my responsibility. If there is an ethical concern here, either in regards
to how the information is obtained or whether or not it should be made public, it is not an ethical
issue for me as a user because I am using the material post factum. It is WikiLeaks which
must decide what its ethical practices are. Even if there is some truth to the charge that it has
veered away from its stated mission of exposing information that would reveal “suppressed
and censored injustices” and has posted information that has nothing to do with injustices
but is apparently concerned only to embarrass governments and/or government and non-
government officials by publishing documents that are highly sensitive and/or that complicate
the relations among nations and/or businesses, that is not an argument that my use of WikiLeaks
is morally forbidden. Like any other source for research, I should be able to use it as long as
I cite it accurately as a source. What if fellow students or professional colleagues are availing
themselves of that resource but I, thinking I am taking the moral high ground, opt not to? I am
only putting myself at a marked disadvantage, perhaps even an almost insurmountable one,
because I deliberately turn away from information that could make my arguments more cogent
and germane. Therefore it is at least morally permissible to use WikiLeaks.
On the other hand, one could argue that WikiLeaks is not simply releasing information from
unnamed sources that reveals corruption in government and/or business, despite its mission
statement. It has a subversive element that seems to delight in defying the need for secrecy in
government and in business. What, for example, was the purpose of revealing the secrets of
Scientology? Such revelation hardly qualifies as exposing corruption and unethical behavior.
There is some material on WikiLeaks, such as the Afghan War documents, that reveals
information about military operations that have the potential of putting our military personnel
in grave personal danger. In 2009 WikiLeaks posted 251,00 State Department documents that
do not black out the names of foreign activitists and dissenters who spoke to US diplomats, thus
putting their lives in danger because of the hostile environments in which they live. Although
it could be argued that some of what WikiLeaks has posted is ethically permissible, perhaps
even ultimately harmless, there are other postings whose intention is suspect. How is one to
distinguish between important information and gossip or prejudice? Further, how can one
rely on WikiLeaks to avoid the trap of sensationalism in order to market its product? The
organization itself is international and very fluid, with people coming and going. How then can
it manage proper safeguards to ensure that what it posts will do no harm? This is especially an
issue given that WikiLeaks has not yet published an ethical code to govern its editorial policy as
regards to fairness, accuracy, completeness, and fairness. Since, therefore, WikiLeaks’ postings
reveal intentions that are manifestly hostile rather that in the public interest and since using the
site gives the impression of its legitimacy, as can be claimed by WikiLeaks on the basis of the hit
count, then using WikiLeaks for any purpose is not morally permissible.
What do you think?


According to its website, WikiLeaks is “a non-profit media organization dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for independent sources around the world to leak information to our journalists. We publish material of ethical, political and historical significance while keeping the identity of our sources anonymous, thus providing a universal way for the revealing of suppressed and censored injustices” (http://wikileaks.ch/).

WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, are under investigation by the United States government for espionage.  Using the terms of the Patriot Act, a federal magistrate signed an order on January 4, 2011, that required Dynadot, the domain registrars for WikiLeaks, to release to the government all information it holds on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.  Twitter has likewise been ordered to provide all the information it has on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.  The issue is whether or not WikiLeaks has deliberately tried to undermine the security of the United States by publishing documents that, while being declassified, are not sanitized and whose contents could negatively affect efforts to keep the United States and its citizens safe.

So, here’s the question: is it morally permissible for me to use WikiLeaks?

On the one hand, one could argue that WikiLeaks is an online, free access source of information, which is open and available to the public.  It may be the case that some of that information is sensitive, but that is not my responsibility.  If there is an ethical concern here, either in regards to how the information is obtained or whether or not it should be made public, it is not an ethical issue for me as a user because I am using the material post factum.  It is WikiLeaks which must decide what its ethical practices are.  Even if there is some truth to the charge that it has veered away from its stated mission of exposing information that would reveal “suppressed and censored injustices” and has posted information that has nothing to do with injustices but is apparently concerned only to embarrass governments and/or government and non-government officials by publishing documents that are highly sensitive and/or that complicate the relations among nations and/or businesses, that is not an argument that my use of WikiLeaks is morally forbidden.   Like any other source for research, I should be able to use it as long as I cite it accurately as a source.  What if fellow students or professional colleagues are availing themselves of that resource but I, thinking I am taking the moral high ground, opt not to?  I am only putting myself at a marked disadvantage, perhaps even an almost insurmountable one, because I deliberately turn away from information that could make my arguments more cogent and germane.  Therefore it is at least morally permissible to use WikiLeaks.

On the other hand, one could argue that WikiLeaks is not simply releasing information from unnamed sources that reveals corruption in government and/or business, despite its mission statement.  It has a subversive element that seems to delight in defying the need for secrecy in government and in business.  What, for example, was the purpose of revealing the secrets of Scientology?  Such revelation hardly qualifies as exposing corruption and unethical behavior.  There is some material on WikiLeaks, such as the Afghan War documents, that reveals information about military operations that have the potential of putting our military personnel in grave personal danger.  In 2009 WikiLeaks posted 251,00 State Department documents that do not black out the names of foreign activitists and dissenters who spoke to US diplomats, thus putting their lives in danger because of the hostile environments in which they live.  Although it could be argued that some of what WikiLeaks has posted is ethically permissible, perhaps even ultimately harmless, there are other postings whose intention is suspect.  How is one to distinguish between important information and gossip or prejudice?  Further, how can one rely on WikiLeaks to avoid the trap of sensationalism in order to market its product?  The organization itself is international and very fluid, with people coming and going.  How then can it manage proper safeguards to ensure that what it posts will do no harm?  This is especially an issue given that WikiLeaks has not yet published an ethical code to govern its editorial policy as regards to fairness, accuracy, completeness, and fairness.  Since, therefore, WikiLeaks’ postings reveal intentions that are manifestly hostile rather that in the public interest and since using the site gives the impression of its legitimacy, as can be claimed by WikiLeaks on the basis of the hit count, then using WikiLeaks for any purpose is not morally permissible.

What do you think?

On Refusing
Somewhere in their first couple of years, human children develop the capacity to
say, “No,” hence the “Terrible Twos.” I think of it as being an early manifestation of rational
nature, because it is evidence that mutually exclusive options are understood. Although a
screaming two-year-old may be thought unreasonable, or even irrational, it would be incorrect to
label the child non-rational, or pre-rational, or sub-rational, since he or she is well aware of what
contradicts desire.
Refusing to do something is not only a human capacity, of course. Dogs and cats refuse
to do things all the time. When my dog doesn’t want to go outside, she refuses to walk to the
door, and at 90 lbs. she is pretty much an immovable object. My late cat—rest in peace—never
once came running when called, though he lived to be 18. I personally have no horse stories, but
I’m sure they exist, and so for many other species. What humans do that’s interesting, however,
is they specifically say, “No,” and this means they refuse not only to do something but also to
believe something. Refusal to believe may or may not affect action; thus it is not reducible to
action or inaction, rather it varies independently. Refusal to believe means, in other words,
rejecting a proposition. Here are several propositions that humans routinely reject: “This would
be good for you;” “You should do this because it would be good for you;” “You should do this
because it’s expected of you;” “This is too dangerous;” “You should not do this because it’s too
dangerous;” “You should always obey the law;” “The rules are there for a good reason;” and so
forth. Again, action or inaction may be consistent with the rejection of propositions like these,
but not necessarily. If I am right the mere rejection of a proposition, refusing to believe, is a
characteristically human trait and evidence of rational nature.
Consider the main character in Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” He simply
repeats, “I would prefer not to,” thereby firmly insisting on his own integrity as an agent.
What brought me to reflect on this was the death last July of British jazz singer Amy
Winehouse. Her song, “Rehab,” is about refusing. “They tried to make me go to rehab, I said
no, no, no. . . I won’t go, go, go.” It’s quite a lyrical number, beautifully performed by Ms.
Winehouse with her gorgeous alto voice, and the musicians in the YouTube music video version
are simply charming. The contrast with her sad life and early demise is a shock. Of course,
Winehouse should have gone to rehab. In fact, apparently she did go, more than once. Initially,
her family said that her death had been caused not by a drug overdose but by unsupervised,
cold-turkey sobriety; the toxicology report released recently, however, indicated the presence of
alcohol. She died at 27; as always, the death of the young is heartbreaking. And yet in watching
her sing that song, even knowing what became of her, I can’t help seeing something positive and
quintessentially human. We can point to weakness, illness, stubbornness, failure, even sin—but
that doesn’t capture it. There’s still the dignity of the human being who can say, “No.” There is
still the God-given capacity of refusing, evidence of rationality and indispensable condition of
free will. This is what makes us, in the words of Psalm 8, “a little lower than the angels.” And
the sorrow we feel when a person makes bad choices, and consequently dies much too young,
is intelligible precisely as the appreciation of a human being’s sublime value which, despite our
efforts sometimes, cannot be erased.

Somewhere in their first couple of years, human children develop the capacity to say, “No,” hence the “Terrible Twos.”  I think of it as being an early manifestation of rational nature, because it is evidence that mutually exclusive options are understood.  Although a screaming two-year-old may be thought unreasonable, or even irrational, it would be incorrect to label the child non-rational, or pre-rational, or sub-rational, since he or she is well aware of what contradicts desire.

Refusing to do something is not only a human capacity, of course.  Dogs and cats refuse to do things all the time.  When my dog doesn’t want to go outside, she refuses to walk to the door, and at 90 lbs. she is pretty much an immovable object.  My late cat—rest in peace—never once came running when called, though he lived to be 18.  I personally have no horse stories, but I’m sure they exist, and so for many other species.  What humans do that’s interesting, however, is they specifically say, “No,” and this means they refuse not only to do something but also to believe something.  Refusal to believe may or may not affect action; thus it is not reducible to action or inaction, rather it varies independently.  Refusal to believe means, in other words, rejecting a proposition.  Here are several propositions that humans routinely reject:  “This would be good for you;”  “You should do this because it would be good for you;”  “You should do this because it’s expected of you;”  “This is too dangerous;”  “You should not do this because it’s too dangerous;”  “You should always obey the law;”  “The rules are there for a good reason;” and so forth.  Again, action or inaction may be consistent with the rejection of propositions like these, but not necessarily.  If I am right the mere rejection of a proposition, refusing to believe, is a characteristically human trait and evidence of rational nature.

Consider the main character in Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener.”  He simply repeats, “I would prefer not to,” thereby firmly insisting on his own integrity as an agent.

What brought me to reflect on this was the death last July of British jazz singer Amy Winehouse.  Her song, “Rehab,” is about refusing.  “They tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no. . . I won’t go, go, go.”  It’s quite a lyrical number, beautifully performed by Ms. Winehouse with her gorgeous alto voice, and the musicians in the YouTube music video version are simply charming.  The contrast with her sad life and early demise is a shock.  Of course, Winehouse should have gone to rehab.  In fact, apparently she did go, more than once.  Initially, her family said that her death had been caused not by a drug overdose but by unsupervised, cold-turkey sobriety; the toxicology report released recently, however, indicated the presence of alcohol.  She died at 27; as always, the death of the young is heartbreaking.  And yet in watching her sing that song, even knowing what became of her, I can’t help seeing something positive and quintessentially human.  We can point to weakness, illness, stubbornness, failure, even sin—but that doesn’t capture it.  There’s still the dignity of the human being who can say, “No.”  There is still the God-given capacity of refusing, evidence of rationality and indispensable condition of free will.  This is what makes us, in the words of Psalm 8, “a little lower than the angels.”  And the sorrow we feel when a person makes bad choices, and consequently dies much too young, is intelligible precisely as the appreciation of a human being’s sublime value which, despite our efforts sometimes, cannot be erased.