In her eyes, those opposing others combats across modern society must recognise that their common enemy is fragmentation
For anyone living in the digital age who isn’t a luddite, modern news intake has basically changed. We have all to differing degrees become addicts- whether in pill sort( online journalism) or in the more easily digested liquid sort of late-night irony. Either way, our biorhythms seem increasingly shaped by the rise and fall of brief, often maddening news items that sweep across the digital commons.
” Now this will get Trump impeached !”” With this latest move, Theresa May’s Tories has actually been dissolved Parliament !”” How to prepare for a Nuclear Attack” Our clickbait-driven digital universe makes a race to the bottom among information providers, a constant bombardment of the subconsciou by headlines and coverage that spiraling toward extremism and momentary shock effect, desensitizing us and puzzling our collective will. Which is not to suggest that there aren’t things- grave things- to be concerned about. This presents a complicating feature for anyone was striving to plot a track through a world spiralling into uncertainty. For how can one maybe find the aplomb to build an effective fire station when constantly on the run putting out brush flames? The effect of such endless and fragmentary stimulations is to pique and then paralyse the conscience, never providing the big picture necessary for real change.” Enterprises of great pith and moment ,” Hamlet famously noted,” with this regard/ their currents turn awry/ And lose the name of action .”
It was with this in mind that I accepted an invitation to speak with former US army soldier Chelsea Manning at the Nantucket Project, a” festival of ideas” held on a holiday playground off the Massachusetts coast. In this same defining a few years ago, I interviewed Julian Assange as a hologram, to talk about the hidden dangers of the digital age. But today, Manning will appear in the flesh, her first appearance before a live audience since declaring her trans status to the world and having her 35 -year sentence commuted by President Obama.
Despite the retro glamour of her Vogue encompas last month, Manning is, above all, a quintessential contemporary both women and a dangerous one at that. Revered and vilified depending on who you talk to, she traverses several live wires in contemporary society, an inherent attack on today’s fragmentation. She’s like an obscure LP that straddles jazz, gospel, contemporary and heavy metal and doesn’t quite fit in any of the existing sections of the record store.
” I’m just me ,” she chuckles, tossing her fashionable bob. But she knows better. There are few people walking the planet who traverses as flammably and improbably the live wire of privacy, national security and, most recently, trans rights. Manning sees connections in the duty of the soldier who uncovers high crimes, to the death of secrecy in the digital age, to the role of the individual in a society where privacy is as besieged as sex orientation.
Just this week, Harvard University embarrassed itself when it announced and then clumsily recanted an invitation it had made to Ms. Manning to be a visiting fellow and speak at a forum. The Dean of the Kennedy School of Government, which induced the invite, fell on his sword over the affair, meekly offering that Ms. Manning’s controversial public persona was incompatible with the “honorofic” nature of such an invite.
The truth was that the University caved to pressure from the Trump Administration when CIA Director Mike Pompeo wrote a letter canceling his own speaking participation at the University, stating that his” conscience and duty” prohibited him from speaking at an institution that would honor an” American traitor .” After making the sweeping declaration that” Ms. Manning stands against everything the brave men and women I serve alongside stand for ,” Mr. Pompeo scrambled to politically correct himself.” Let me be clear ,” he protested( a bit too much ),” this has nothing to do with Ms. Manning’s identity as a transgender person .” No one had asked for this uncovering stammer, but it’s no amaze. So do the mighty- and any affectation of academic rigor or freedom of believed — quiver when the 29 -year old Ms. Manning enters the halls of power. No stranger to such dispute, she took it in stride, tweeting knowingly that she was ” honored to be 1st disinvited trans female visiting Harvard fellow. They chill marginalized voices under CIA pressure .” What Manning wants to express above all is that she wasn’t one person who became another. She didn’t blindly follow her soldier father into uniform and then suddenly turn against the system. She wasn’t a man who one day decided to be a woman. It’s a continuum, she says. When she leaked evidence of US military and government criminality to Wikileaks, she was seeking to advance human dignity against those who would undermine it. Likewise, when, behind the bars of a military brig, she declared her own gender status, she was doing the same.
Whatever the events of recent weeks tell us about the pace and severity of global warming, they seem a haunting commentary on the turbulence of today’s world. As unprecedented fires, earthquakes and winds took lives, destroyed communities and sent millions fleeing, the events at least for a moment interrupted the steady creek of manmade madness that typically predominates news. Even the anniversary of 9/11, usually a field day for the major news outlets, passed with less notice than ever.
To a guy with a hammer, everything looks like a fingernail. So in a week in which nature’s furies combined with my realisations about the fragmentation of online news, Manning seemed to provide a kind of antidote: intersectionality.” My cause is not the same as Daca[ Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the programme that gives temporary protection to undocumented migrants who arrived in the US as children] or Black Lives Matter or women’s rights, or anything else, but I support those causes because it’s all connected .”
In her eyes, those fighting these and others combats across modern society must recognise that their common enemy is fragmentation , not only of information and news but of groups and causes which, divided one from another, cannot advance.
Eugene Jarecki’s latest cinema is Promised Land
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