We know what Julian did. We know the great public service he provided. We know that he and WikiLeaks, aided by courageous figures such as Chelsea Manning, gave us the most important journalist coup of our generation, ripping back the veil erected by the ruling political, military, and financial elites to expose their mendacity, their corruption, and their crimes. We know that populations around the world, from Haiti to Tunisia, were empowered by this information to hold these elites accountable.
But today I want us to reflect on Julian himself. For Julian, endowed with precocious skills, could easily have been someone else. He could have sold his talents to Silicon Valley, to Wall Street or to intelligence and surveillance agencies, who would have paid handsomely. He could have built a lucrative career, one where he was financially secure, perhaps wealthy. He could have obtained the possessions we are told in our consumer society we should aspire to, an opulent house, luxury cars, financial security, fine clothes, and the status that comes with material acquisition and advancement within the structures of power. No worries. No controversy. No persecution.
But to follow this route, a route many have followed, would have required Julian to surrender his integrity and dignity. It would have required him to forsake justice and freedom to suppress and control the aspirations of the vast majority locked outside the golden gates of privilege and power. It would have placed him within the interlocking systems designed by the ruling elites to concentrate privilege, wealth, and power among themselves. It would have required Julian to become a cog in the megamachine, to play a part in constructing our corporate totalitarianism.
Julian chose not to do this. He turned away from the siren call of success, at least as it is defined by the powerful. He set out on the difficult road taken by all who fight the oppressor on behalf of the oppressed.
A life of meaning is a life of confrontation. When you resist radical evil you jeopardize your career, your reputation, your financial solvency and at times your life. It is to be a lifelong heretic. When you stand with the oppressed, the crucified of the earth, then you are treated like the oppressed. You too are crucified. And that is what is happening to Julian.
Those that care the most, are targeted and killed by those who care the least.
Prometheus, in defiance of the divine prohibition, gave fire to humankind, making possible knowledge, art, science, technology, and civilization. For his empowerment of mortals, the gods sentenced Prometheus to eternal torment. He was bound to a rock and an eagle, the emblem of Zeus, the emblem of power, ate out his liver by day. At night his liver grew back. The next morning it would be painfully torn out again in a never-ending cycle. Julian’s story is the modern version of this ancient myth.
Julian gave us knowledge and with that knowledge he gave us power. For this act of defiance, he will never be forgiven by those he exposed.
Albert Camus writes that “one of the only coherent philosophical positions is revolt. It is a constant confrontation between man and his obscurity. It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope. That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it.”
“A living man can be enslaved and reduced to the historic condition of an object,” Camus warned. “But if he dies in refusing to be enslaved, he reaffirms the existence of another kind of human nature which refuses to be classified as an object.”
Julian affirms the existence of another kind of human nature. He refuses to be classified as an object. His example calls upon us to confront radical evil, no matter the cost. To stand with Julian is to stand with yourself. To abandon Julian is to abandon yourself. And if you abandon yourself then your life becomes “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing.”