I think most of us grow up with the notion that good always triumphs over evil. Even if evil seems to win in the near term, good wins out in the long run. After all, that’s what our parables, fables, religions and even our fictions tell us, right, that good always wins? Enter WikiLeaks.
Can a villain be good?
One of the hallmarks of making a truly memorable and great villain in storytelling is to make them real. The best villains aren’t just evil for the sake of being evil. Yes, many crave power, but the best ones are doing it for the right reasons, because they believe they are saving and helping.
One of the greatest examples, in my mind anyway, is Darth Vader. In the prequel movies, Anakin Skywalker is seduced to the Dark Side in order to save his love, Padme. He thinks he’s doing the right thing, that the ends justify the means. And later, he stays in the service of the Emperor in no small part to maintain order and peace, to keep things from descending into chaos. Throughout all of this, even though he has doubts, Vader is fighting for what he believes is right. He commits atrocities in order to protect what he views as the greater good.
His perception is that he is the good guy.
In real life, there are plenty of Vaders, people trying to do what they think is right but are ultimately creating a disproportionate amount of collateral damage because they either didn’t think it through or didn’t care.
Kind of like WikiLeaks.
The Real World
Like Anakin Skywalker, WikiLeaks (presumably at the behest of Julian Assange) started out with the best of intentions, to shed light on corruption by the most powerful. But like Anakin, I think there was a misguided belief of who the real enemy was. We’re all human and are subject to being misled and confused. Look at the Flat Earth “movement.” These are people who unquestioningly believe that the planet is actually flat. We have definitive proof that our world is (more or less) a sphere, and yet…
WikiLeaks’ release of documents from the Saudi Arabian government in 2016 is one of those examples where it probably did more harm than good. I’m certainly no fan of the Saudi government, nor of any regime that advocates dismembering political opponents and members of the press. Far from it. But it is my belief that if you are going to become a political vigilante by releasing secret information to the public, you have to be careful. You have to know that there is collateral damage for every word you let out. You have to know that SOMEONE will pay for those secrets. Very often, it won’t be the leaker, it will be the poorest and weakest among us. And that’s a problem.
Unless, of course, you don’t care.
WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange appear to have this belief that secrets are the problem, that anything in the shadows should come out. Assuming the leaking of these documents is done for the “right” reason, this is a dangerously naive point of view. They seem to act as if the ends always justifies the means. They act like collateral damage is completely irrelevant.
The leaking of the Saudi documents was done en masse, without regard to the actual contents. The result was to put out the names and personal information of people who are the most vulnerable, victims of domestic abuse and those already being persecuted by unjust and inhumane laws. We’re talking about people who are charged with ‘sexual deviance’ (what that country calls being gay), women who’ve been beaten and raped, and other people’s information who just went to the doctor.
It’s easy to think that if the government already knew, then the information doesn’t really put them in any NEW danger, but that’s not true. Just like in this country, every government has its ardent supporters that are willing to commit acts of violence as part of their show of dedication, nationalism and fervor. Vigilante attacks from a government’s ardent supports is not that common, especially when that government turns a blind eye or tacitly condones it?
No, I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t think that WikiLeaks is malicious in that way. Of course, I don’t know them, so I can only go off of what I’ve seen online and in the press. But as an optimist, I’d like to think they WANT to do the right thing. They just, kind of… didn’t.
This is similar to what happened when (allegedly) the Russians gave WikiLeaks a shit-ton of documents from the 2016 Democratic campaigns. WikiLeaks dropped it all out there, regardless of the mundanity or irrelevance of individual pieces.
Look, I’m not naive enough to think that our government is free of corruption and money-influence. Or that we can expect them to ALWAYS have our best interest at heart. Many of them are only focused on getting reelected. But I also am not naive enough to think we don’t need to keep secrets.
From the little bit I have seen, it looks like WikiLeaks either didn’t pay attention to or didn’t care about the repercussions. And I’m not sure which one is worse. Someone who is clumsy at doing the right thing is just as dangerous as someone who has dark intent. What’s that phrase? The road to Hell is paved with good intentions?
On the other hand, someone who has a goal and is willing to do anything to achieve it, no matter the cost or who it hurts… well, that sounds an awful lot like a villain to me.