Hangout with Julian Assange
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, speaking from the Ecuadorean embassy in London, invites readers to join him online to discuss the big issues.PT0M47S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2r4g9 620 349 August 2, 2013
It's very, very warm in the room that connects Julian Assange to the real world.
London's summer has baked the Ecuadorian embassy, the modestly sized apartment next to Harrods where Assange has spent the past 400 days.
In the back room, a computer pushes hot exhaust air onto the floorboards and glowing studio lights burn through the day as he does video interview after interview, reacting to Bradley Manning's conviction in the US.
Julian Assange: 'To build properly, sometimes it is necessary to sweep aside the old, corrupt foundations.'
A fan limply pushes warm air across the space as Assange discusses his virtual campaign for an improbable seat in the Australian Senate.
We were here to talk about his life in the embassy. It's a particularly odd situation he has put himself in: a self-imposed prison sentence in the heart of London, for fear of a longer one in the US. How does he stay sane? How does he keep from getting stunningly bored?
But one of the things he is most bored of, I'm warned by an assistant, is being quizzed about his lifestyle.
And when the smart-casual Assange appears, he's not in a good mood. His voice is a quiet, gravelly vocal fry, and he gives off the tired air of someone who would rather be anywhere else.
In some ways, his physical location is unimportant. Assange has long been a digital native, and now more than ever the digital realm is his world, his lifeline, his freedom.
So, I ask, has his confinement made this more acute? Is he extra focused on the possibilities of the online universe, now that his physical one is this small, sweaty (though quite nicely appointed) box?
''That's a very interesting question,'' he replies.
''I have been aware for many years of the power of the internet to move across borders, for us to learn about other places in the world and communicate our thoughts and feelings to people at home and away. So it's not new to me.''
But what is new, he says, are easy, powerful video tools for one-to-one, or one-to-many communication across the internet. He can appear on American TV one minute, and take part in a festival for hackers in a camping ground outside Amsterdam the next.
He can fly across the globe at the speed of light.
''We've had to build a studio here to try to do that efficiently,'' he says. And it's going to come in useful campaigning in Australia. ''As far as I'm aware it's the first remote election campaign … yes, it makes it more difficult on the one hand but more fun on the other.''
Of course, politicians have long used satellite hook-ups to the electronic media. But Assange wants to cut out the middlemen who, he says, ''inject their own interests and the interests of their proprietors'', and instead forge a new, direct communication between candidates and the people who might vote for them.
''The penetration of society by the internet and the penetration of the internet by society is the best thing that has ever happened to global human civilisation,'' he says.
It's also the worst thing, he adds. His eyes get a kind of unfocused look, as if he's gazing into the Matrix.
He describes the online world as a battle between two great forces: the social web where citizens share knowledge and break down inequality and privilege, and the ''five-nation alliance'' that spies on them, stores their secrets and feeds them to ''a huge industry''.
''That really could lead to a dystopia and a complete breakdown of democracy,'' Assange warns.
By now his mood is improving. It's clear he doesn't want to talk about what he eats for breakfast, to rehash the interview he recently did for Who magazine, covering such matters as what he has for lunch (sushi) or where he sleeps (in a former bathroom with the toilet ripped out, because it's the most insulated from the noise of the Harrods loading bay) or how he keeps fit (treadmill).
As he told AFP recently, he does miss the outside world but ''my mind is not confined''. It exists in a world of politics, ideas and international intrigue.
I ask what kind of politician he will be. Disruptive?
He demurs at first, saying disruption for its own sake is boring. But ''to build properly sometimes it is necessary to sweep aside the old, corrupt foundations''.
Do you have any in mind?
He laughs. ''Ah, yeah, a lot.'' The Labor Party. The conservative parties. Also, Canberra.
''The decision to create Canberra … is perhaps one of the worst political decisions that has ever been taken in Australian history,'' he says. ''It's like a horror story from Sartre where you put all the politicians together in the one room, together with all the embassy officials, together with the most obnoxious bureaucrats and you expect good government to come out.
''It doesn't lead to a good outcome to suck resources in from the country to an out-of-touch group.''
Assange seems unaware of the irony. Thousands of kilometres away, behind police guard and caught in a legal trap, he sees himself as more connected to ''real'' Australia, over wire and fibre and an encrypted flow of ones and zeroes, than the inhabitants of the nation's capital.
''Those were good questions, by the way,'' he says as he leaves for yet another interview. ''I'm happy now.''
But maybe not entirely happy. I tell him I'm off on my honeymoon, having delayed it a day to speak with him.
''I heard,'' he says, more animated by far than at any point during the interview proper. ''I was saying I'm not feeling sorry for this guy that he's on a f---ing honeymoon. I mean, why would I feel sorry that he's on a honeymoon. I mean, my God, look where I am!''