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Wikileaks: Good or Bad?

Julian Assange and the Wikileaks web site have got a lot of publicity recently. Many people admire the idea behind Wikileaks because it provides openness and access to information which everyone should have, but others think Wikileaks is a dangerous, anarchist organisation capable of causing harm to innocent people and to the so-called forces of good and freedom.

So which is right? Of course both are right because, if you follow my previous thoughts on similar subjects, you will know I rarely see things as black and white and believe there is both good and bad in every person, organisation, and situation.

I know it’s harder than just branding something good or bad but anyone who really wants to arrive at a reasonably accurate conclusion on these sorts of topics needs to look at the good and bad in balance. If the good outweighs the bad then it’s reasonable to support the idea under consideration.

I so often see people not using this approach. They look at something, see a single good or bad thing about it, and conclude that the thing is good or bad overall based on that one factor. And worse than that, the single factor they choose to form their conclusion is often selected based on an existing political, religious, or social prejudice.

Most conservatives will reject Wikileaks because they only see the bad aspects. That is an invalid approach because nothing can be seriously considered unless the big picture is seen. In the past I have just automatically rejected the Catholic Church for example, because to me it was an obviously corrupt institution, only interested in it’s own survival and power and responsible for many atrocities from single cases of child abuse to mass genocide.

I still reject Catholicism but I now admit it has several positive points as well: a social structure for it’s members, some charity work, and a rich cultural history, for example. But I don’t think these come close to balancing out the bad (those atrocities I have mentioned before and are well documented in many places).

But it’s hard to make someone see that they need to use balance in their opinion forming process. I know people who find one small item which seems to be contrary to global warming but completely ignore 100 pieces of information which support it. How can that person possible think they have reached a reasonable conclusion?

The same applies to religion. Sure there are passages in the Bible which seem to genuinely point to Jesus existing but there are many reasons to not think he existed as well. The correct conclusion here is a lot less obvious. I’m still stuck between thinking Jesus never existed at all and thinking that he did exist but only in a very different form to that described in the Bible. I admit I don’t know and that is the correct thing to do. Pretending Jesus must have existed because he’s described by people who seemed genuine while ignoring all the obvious flaws in the Bible accounts is just dishonest.

I didn’t really want this to turn into yet another rant against religions so I should get back to Wikileaks. I agree that leaked information could potentially lead to danger for both the military and civilians involved and that needs to be considered, but the bigger picture also needs to be considered: having real information leaked from war zones and other areas where secrecy might normally rule provides many benefits and these easily outweigh the negatives in my opinion.

Unfortunately the process of weighing risks versus benefits does require quantification and that can be difficult in many cases where history (like the Jesus case) or politics (like the case in Afghanistan) is involved and that’s where my system sort of falls down a bit. But at least if people are prepared to look at both sides they can be challenged to say why they favor one over the other. If they ignore the balance of factors then that discussion can’t even start.

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