Tuesday, February 22, 2011

WikiLeaks and Rambam

WikiLeaks and Rambam? Yes, there is a connection!

WikiLeaks' stated goal "is in exposing oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to people of all regions who wish to reveal unethical behaviour in their governments and corporations." That sounds reasonable, but one does receive the impression that the fundamental value guiding WikiLeaks, and certainly many of its supporters, is that all information should be available to everybody - in particular, sensitive information about national politics and security.

But many people - and I mean fine, democratic people - consider this to be a harmful enterprise. It is understood that even governmental bodies who have the best interests of the people in mind will sometimes have to conceal certain information. Sometimes this is for the sake of national security, sometimes for diplomatic objectives, and sometimes for the peace of mind and well-being of the citizens. Of course there are countless benefits of an open society with free speech, but, like everything else, you can have too much of a good thing. Not every truth is beneficial for everybody, and caution must always be exercised.

This is a fundamental dynamic of Rambam's thought. Rambam broadly divides everybody into two classes: the elite and the masses. There are certain philosophical truths which are important and beneficial for the sophisticated elite to know, but which would be harmful to the unsophisticated masses and which should therefore be concealed. This attitude often provokes a visceral reaction, and there is certainly legitimate concern about who is entitled to make such judgments for others. However, the underlying idea - that not all true information is beneficial to all people - is surely correct.


  1. Well, let's see what Julius Assange, the "head" of Wikileaks has to say about it:


    "It is not our role to play sides for states...We do not have national security concerns, we have concerns about human beings...Presently we often hear the statement that something may be a threat to national security...This must be shot down...Is anyone serious? The security of the entire nation?... If we are talking about individual soldiers or individual commands, or the citizens of a particular place...that is a potential concern..."

    So you see, Wikileaks does self-censor for the well-being of the people.

    Plus, the Pentagon has said that wikileaks "to date has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by the disclosure."


    You say:
    "It is understood that even governmental bodies who have the best interests of the people in mind will sometimes have to conceal certain information.

    That is only in a case where they are acting in the people's interest. I don't know if that's happening anymore.

  2. I don't know if this is just about the elite versus the masses. Now granted in the case of th leaked information regarding Abbas's cooperation with the Israeli authorities this was. Leaking this information was damaging from anybodies perspective that actually does care about peace.

    However much of the information was just disclosing private conversations of diplomats. The ramifications had nothing to do with the masses.

    If you ask me though I think that Julius Assuange is just a mean spirited mischievous school boy giving high-minded excuses for his behavior like transparency and truth. He could care less if he starts a war. Kind of like when Westerners put halos on their heads when discussing the Palestinian refugee problem without taking into concern real security problems that Israel has or the fact that it is mostly their own leadership both Palestinian and Arab League members that are most responsible for their plight.

    The high-mindedness continues ignoring the fact that the Palestinians themselves posses genocidal aspirations. I call it the "go screw yourself" approach to high minded sermonizing.

    Now everybody is just gushing and quoting John Lock when rooting for the Egyptian masses. You know, the ones sexually assaulting reporters that they mis-identify as Jews and wanting to nullify Camp David. But hey, power to the people. Thomas Friedman and Jimmy Carter come to mind. It sounds like I am rambling but I believe that Wiki leaks was hatched from the same insanity.

    Now for the sake of truth and transparency I would like to know more about the rape allegations against Assuange.

  3. but who decides on which category the information is in (and on what basis) and is everyone aware that this is happening?)
    Joel Rich

  4. The concealing of certain truths is undoubtedly done for the reasons stated by the Rambam, but sometimes another reason is political feasibility. It is not always politically feasible in the Torah world (or sometimes for reasons pertaining to the surrounding society)to say all that one believes. Rav Kook for example, if one understands his writings, basically advocated pushing in the direction of Rabbi David Bar-Hayim's halachic methodology. However, no one could expect Rav Kook to do so in his era during which he was roundly condemned by many for the truths which he did explicitly state.

    In our time as well many rabbis conceal parts of what they believe.

  5. Bartly, the Palestinian Papers has nothing to do with Wikileaks. That was Al-Jezeera journalism.

  6. But wikileaks doesn't propose to release info that endangers lives and shouldn't be known for natl security purposes. It is only portrayed that way by its opponents - the very politicians whose corruption and evil deeds they expose.

  7. Rabbi Slifkin I am surprised at you. Don't you realize that the Rambam's words only applied in the times of the rishonim when the masses were uneducated. Nowadays when basically everyone is connected and up to speed, of course information can be shared with everyone! Science of the times... duh.

  8. Arye, the fact that Operation Cast Lead was done in coordination with the Palestinian Authority was from Wiki leaks.

  9. eLamdan, I am not defending this point of view, but the Rambam is not talking about superficial education as a prerequisite for elite knowledge. In what sense is everyone "basically up to speed?" Is the woman reading In Touch magazine on the train up to speed? At least according to the Rambam, not a chance. She may not be an illiterate medieval peasant, but nor is she a philosopher. For the Rambam this requires extensive intellectual preparation.

  10. "Nowadays when basically everyone is connected and up to speed of course information can be shared with everyone!"
    How can you compare the Rambam's intellectual elite to the average person that reads CNN and a few news blogs? Perhaps the masses of our time are literate and a slightly more educated then the Rambam's masses, but both masses lack any sense of sophisticated thinking. Since they will not be able to grasp the true purpose behind certain political maneuvers, of course such things should be withheld.

  11. Ben, what you said makes no sense and is not what R Slifkin argued. If 'not grasping the true purpose behind political maneuvres' was grounds for withholding information, they should shut down every news station and newspaper and while we are at it shut off the internet since the masses don't understand and don't truly grasp 'lots of stuff.'

    R slifkin was speaking about compromised national security as being a problem, not the very fact that masses can't think in sophisticated manner and therefore cannot or should not be given access to information. But wasn't that the argument about women learning Torah, however?

  12. My comment was a bit tongue-in-cheek, however I will defend it, as I think there is some merit.

    The fact is that those times were completely different. Philosophy then was a different subject than it is now. In the Rambam's world, you basically had philosophers who more or less were the only knowledgeable people, and then you had the illiterate. There wasn't a whole lot of other choices.

    Nowadays, philosophy is barely on the map. We don't even really discover anything through philosophy... it's mostly scientific method. As for science, everyone nowadays is literate enough to be comfortable with it. It's not like in those days where philosophy would have overturned all the preconceived notions of the common folk. Therefore, the Rambam's point was made for his time, when knowledge interacted with common people in a different way.

  13. Also, I wasn't even commenting on the Wikileaks part of the post... the comparison is silly to me. One is talking about whether sophisticated knowledge should be released to common people, the other is about whether releasing documents is good because it creates transparency, or bad because the information needs to be kept private from those who might use it to do harm.

    Obviously, with Wikileaks it depends on the information. If it is of public nature, it needs to be released. If it is private, it doesn't. Defining public and private gets sticky.It's the same debate with freedom in general. The more something affects the public, the more they should be involved. However, what affects the public is a source of contention sometimes.

  14. Student V- I believe you are correct, thank you for helping me better understand the matter.

  15. don't chilukim like this lead to a dangerous slippery slope?

  16. >In the Rambam's world, you basically had philosophers who more or less were the only knowledgeable people, and then you had the illiterate.

    Not true. Were the non-philosophical rabbis illiterate?

    >As for science, everyone nowadays is literate enough to be comfortable with it.

    Everyone? Then why the war on science from Evangelicals? Why do many intelligent adult Orthodox rabbis honestly think that the world is less than 6000 years old? Science makes many people incredibly uncomfortable.

    How about this: anyone CAN read "esoteric" literature today. They can feel free to subscribe to the most intellectual periodicals, or read them for free in a library. But the vast majority of what you call literate people have no interest in it, don't seek it, and wouldn't understand it if they did.


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