The Fifth Estate – Movie Discussion
The Fifth Estate is a movie about the enigmatic Julian Assange and the controversial company he founded, WikiLeaks. While it’s fascinating from a historical perspective, (that is if you can call it history when it only happened in this generation—it was definitely history in the making anyway!), it actually provides significant value on a variety of levels. Most significantly, it provides a great access point for discussions that bring the Bible into our culture. It provides several very clear ways to connect the Bible to our every day life.
In many ways, Julian Assange reminded me of Steve Jobs (at least as Steve Jobs was presented in the recent movie, Jobs). Both men were visionaries who thought and lived outside the box. They were leaders. They were brilliant. They were both driven and blinded by ego, and haunted by troubled childhoods. They were equally (perhaps ironically) incredibly insightful and short-sighted when it came to people.
The striking thing is that people knew that Julian was, well, kind of a jerk, and yet they still followed him. Why? It wasn’t because he was so good to his friends and co-workers. He wasn’t. At all. It was because people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, people want their lives to have purpose. They knew that Julian Assange was doing something big, something meaningful. They knew that working with Julian would be an opportunity to impact the world. It was the same with Steve Jobs.
I wrote more about this concept here, at the Jobs movie discussion, so I won’t elaborate much here, except to point out that the Bible says that people are like “sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Now, to be clear, a good shepherd cares for his sheep. He takes care of their needs. He sacrifices for their well-being. In most respects, Julian Assange was a lousy shepherd. BUT, a good shepherd also leads. He leads his sheep to green pastures, to safety, to rest…he leads. The world is full of sheep looking for leadership, looking for purpose, looking to have some meaning…and in this respect, Julian at least looked like a good shepherd, for a time, to the sheep that were following him.
People will forgive a lot of mistakes if someone just provides leadership. You can see this so clearly in the lives of Assange and Jobs. The thing is, their purposes ultimately fell flat. Theirs were hollow pursuits. Jobs brought ease and entertainment with computers, but Jesus brought life, and life abundantly. Assange brought ALL the news. Jesus brought the GOOD news.
- What made Julian so captivating to people like Daniel (his right hand guy)? Why was Daniel willing to follow Julian?
- Would you have followed Julian? Why or why not?
- What made Julian a good leader? A bad leader?
- Have you ever believed in someone (or their cause) so much that you were willing to overlook some obvious personality issues and lacks in people skills?
- How could Julian be a better shepherd? How could he lead in a more Christ-like fashion? What changes would he need to make?
The issue of rights is a HUGE one in our American culture. Our culture is founded on the idea that we have rights, beginning with the right to defend our rights. We have a right to pursue happiness, to bear arms, to worship as we choose… and we have a right to free speech—one of the core ideas behind WikiLeaks.
Julian Assange was bothered by the idea that there are people all around the world who have witnessed and/or suffered gross injustices and are unable to report them for fear of retribution. Anonymity was the answer. How much more courageous would people be? How much more inclined to speak the truth, if only they could do so anonymously?
Assange gave a sense of safety and a platform (a voice) to those who wished to exercise their right to free speech. Through the promise of anonymity, he made it possible for people to speak freely who never would have had the courage to do so otherwise.
Rights are a tricky business, however. It’s almost inevitable that if one person chooses to exercise their right, they do so at the expense of someone else’s right to something else.
In this case, the whistle blowers were given their right to blow the whistle in safety, to a substantial audience. But, they did so at the expense of other people’s rights to safety and privacy and security. It was nothing more than an exchange of safety, an exchange of rights. Now, in many cases the people who were exposed gave up their rights to privacy and protection when they acted corruptly. There were other cases, however, where it wasn’t just the corrupt who were outed, but the innocent as well.
It seems like a good thing to make all the data available. Assange argued that he couldn’t have done anything wrong to anyone because all he did was make the truth available. That’s misleading though, because truth involves the heart and intent of the matter, not just the data. In presenting “unbiased,” unredacted, unfiltered reporting, there actually was a bias. It was biased because it lacked the proper understanding. They presented the raw data, but sometimes raw data needs a frame to be correctly understood. Other times it’s just not beneficial to people to know all the data. Sometimes, for example, it’s nearer the truth to know the average test scores, than to know each specific data point, because that one outlier can become a sticking point and color the rest of the data.
To that point, when American military and political communication documents were released, uncensored, unredacted, with every name and detail in place, lives were put at great risk, probably even lost because of it. Spies were named. Informants were outed. Missions were exposed. And good, honest people of integrity who were working hard to do the right thing and help bring justice and peace into the world were suddenly exposed and put in grave danger.
Being right doesn’t always make you right. My mom used to say that. It’s true. Julian may have been right that there is bias in reporting. He may have been right that we have a right to know the truth. He may have been right that there are gross cover-ups and negligences in the news and reporting. That however did not mean that he was right in the way that he went about righting those wrongs. He may have been right about a lot of things, but it didn’t make him right in his response.
Jesus set an amazing example for us when he chose to lay down His rights so that we could have our rights. He gave up his right to stay in Heaven, so that we might have the right to know Him and to follow His example. He gave up His right to defend Himself, and allowed us the right to falsely accuse Him. He laid down His right to live, so that we might have the right to live, and He challenges us to do the same. He challenges us to lay down our rights, so that our fellow man might have their rights instead. Isn’t that what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself?” I dare say, He might have told Julian to put aside his right to free speech and full disclosure, so that others might have their right to safety, protection and privacy.
- In what ways did Julian Assange choose his rights over someone else’s?
- How do you know that Julian did not love his fellow man as he did himself?
- Can you think of examples in your life where someone else’s right to something came with a cost—the subsequent loss of one of your rights?
- Can you think of a time where someone gave up their rights so that someone else could have their rights instead?
- In what ways did Jesus give up His rights? In what ways did He challenge us to do the same?
- Are there any circumstances right now in your life where you think God may be challenging you to give up your right to something, for the sake of someone else’s right to something else?
- How would things be different, in your relationships, your family, your school, your country, etc… if people began to care less about defending and demanding their own rights, and more about looking out for the rights of others?
One of the big issues of our time is the way technology has changed communication. And one of the big changes that it’s brought is that of accountability. It’s a double-edged sword. As Julian pointed out, if people can wear a mask, if they can speak anonymously, without fear of retribution, they are much more likely to tell the truth. He’s right, of course. The other side of that sword though, which he chose to ignore, is the fact that accountability is lost when people can remain anonymous.
A perfect example is when Julian leaked all those U.S. documents. Those leaks put a lot of good people in imminent danger. It’s probable that many lives were lost as a result. Julian however never really had to come face to face with that reality. It wasn’t personal to him; it was just data, data that he could interpret any number of ways. He defended his actions by saying that no deaths were ever proven to have resulted from the leaked documents.
It happened on an international level with WikiLeaks, but it happens every day on a more personal level with texting and Facebook, etc. We feel freedom to share things we might not have courage to say otherwise because we have a little distance, maybe even some anonymity. The flip side of that coin though is that we also don’t see the consequences of our communications.
In my parent’s generation, if Johnny told Sally she was ugly, he had to say it to her face. Then, he was practically forced due to the nature of proximity to witness Sally’s reaction. If she cried, he would see it. No doubt that was a satisfying thing to see for some, but for many it was uncomfortable. For Johnny, it made him feel ashamed of what he had done, sorry that he had hurt Sally—and there was no denying it, he HAD hurt her…he had seen it on her face. That instant feedback from the Sally was a bit of positive reinforcement. It discouraged Johnny’s hurtful comments and encouraged his kind ones…it even prompted him to apologize to Sally.
It’s not like that anymore. Johnny can tell Sally she’s ugly without ever seeing her response. Not only that, but he can also broadcast his thoughts to all of her friends, and to all of the world… Even worse, the world can agree with his opinion and reinforce it, telling him that since it’s just a fact, there is no cause to worry about Sally’s feelings in the matter. Who can argue with the truth, after all? There’s no accountability, of any kind…because Johnny’s got a right to free speech. Never mind the fact that Sally has a right to be treated with some dignity and decency.
- What do you think about modern means of communication? What are the pros and cons?
- How do you think we can bring a sense of accountability to the anonymity?
- Which do you value more, accountability or anonymity?
- How have you been hurt by communication via technology? How might it have been different if it had been done face to face?
- How have you benefited from being able to communicate via technology vs. face to face?
Manner of Speaking
Underneath our rights to free speech, underneath the issues of anonymity and accountability, we have the real heart of the matter, and that is how we are to speak to one another. For we are speaking, whether we are doing so face to face or via world wide web, we are speaking in one manner or another.
Accountability is a meaningless concept unless we know what we are being held accountable to. Accountability needs a standard to hold to, something to be measured by. Where does this come from?
It’s pretty hard to find a better standard than the one Jesus set in this department. Whether or not you believe that Jesus is all that He said He is, you can hardly argue with the standard He set for how we should treat each other and talk to each other. The golden rule, “do unto others…” (Luke 6:31) was HIS, remember? What if we applied that to our communication? “Say unto others as you would be said unto.” “Facebook, text and twitter as you would have others FB, text and twitter about you.” In one, simple, little phrase He’s perfectly set the standard for all of human interaction for all of time.
In case you feel a need for more specifics however, He goes on. “Do not let any unwholesome talk [insert post, text, tweet, etc.] come out of your mouths [fingers, phone, computer…], but only what is helpful for building others up, according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). How would it change our world if the standard that we held each other accountable to in all our various means of communication was that one—that all communication must be helpful for building people up, according to their needs? There would be no bullying. No gossip. No meanness. Communication would encourage and support and edify all who heard it. How different would that be?!
Look at the difference between Julian and Jesus, and the fruits of their communications. Julian exposed, Jesus covered over. Julian endangered, Jesus protected. Julian brought the data forth and called it truth. Jesus brought the truth forth in a way that defied and superseded the data. Julian valued communication itself. Jesus valued people’s lives. Julian used people as a means to the end (free speech, uncensored, fully transparent). For Jesus, the people were the end, not the means. Julian used communication to convey the facts. Jesus used communication to convey His love—and He would ask us to do the same.
- What are your personal standards for communication?
- Do your standards vary based on the method of communication? Why or why not?
- What communication standards do you think Julian Assange held himself accountable to? Were those good standards, or bad standards? Why?
- How would you apply Jesus’ standards to WikiLeaks? (“Do unto others…” and “let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth but only what is helpful for building up others according to their needs”?)
- Can you think of any other of Jesus’ principles that might apply to how we communicate with each other?
- Can you think of any higher standards than those set by Jesus when it comes to communication?
- How would communication change in your personal life if you and those around you applied those same principles?
- What are some simple (do-able) steps you can take to start holding yourself accountable to the standards Jesus set for communication? Is there a way you can inspire others to do the same? Could you even possibly begin to change the culture of communication in your circles? How so?!
By Stacey Tuttle
 I am fully aware that this is a ridiculous understatement.