I watched the WikiLeaks documentary Mediastan recently. Overall, it’s a good documentary, worth watching. However, I don’t understand why so many people are saying it’s “mind-blowing”. It has its thought-provoking moments, but I wouldn’t say there’s anything earth-shattering in it. On the other hand, perhaps I am just not surprised by anything in it because I know the world too well. I often see people for what they are and see through the face they want me to see. It’s a curse as much as a blessing.
One of the best scenes in the film is when one of the news editors explains to the young filmmakers that the world hasn’t changed much since the time of Aristotle, and that it will never change. He tells them that merely showing people how bad human beings are (by releasing the leaks) isn’t going to inspire anyone to change, it will only make them feel worse. Obviously, this is over-simplified. The world has changed since Aristotle’s time, and in some respects, WikiLeaks has made an impact, though it’s hard to know just how much of an impact yet. But there’s a kernel of truth in what he’s saying. Human beings tend to be corruptible and corrupted. Not all, and not always. But a look at history shows you how the mass of people have behaved. A look at current events shows the same. (Here‘s an audio clip of John Wayne summing all of this up in his own laconic way. Worth listening to for sure.)
In the next scene this same editor comes off like a tool by wanting to have exclusive access to the WikiLeaks cables so as to boost circulation and make money off of them. If anything, he’s proving his own point to perfection. But, it is hard to judge anyone trying to eek out a living, especially in places like, whatever-stan they were in at the time, I can’t remember.
The truth is, simply having access to such information (diplomatic cables, and the like) won’t amount to much on its own. If the mass of people (especially in the West) are lazy, subservient, undisciplined, and lacking ethics, it won’t change anything. More than ever the world needs the guidance of philosophy and strong leadership. Stoicism, Confucianism, these are lines of thinking and ways of life that once guided society and some of its most important decision makers (e.g., Marcus Aurelius) through the darkness of human greed, want, and misery. Until we begin in our own families, our own communities, our own cities, to teach those who we can to seek more in life than base comforts and wealth, we will be circling the drain of our own misery.