Julian Assange: Antihero for anti-millennials

Maya Angelou once found my son when he was lost in the grocery store. It was one of those panicky moments when fear grips the parent's soul. Child is no longer in tow, has slipped away, and has suddenly disappeared. Then there he was in the middle of a distant aisle, deep in conversation with Maya Angelou.

"What were you talking about?" we asked. His eyes, he said; she asked where did he get those beautiful blue eyes?

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I doubt it will appear today in the tributes and obituaries, but it is good to know that someone who was brave when it was time to be brave would be interested enough in the random daily events in the grocery story decades and decades later, enough to become engrossed in conversation with a five-year-old child who had no idea who she was.

And her passing suggests a turning; a final turning of the times. A door was closing on a generation — actually two or three. But I'm waiting for the other door to open.

Then I remembered Julian Assange's piece "The Banality of 'Don’t be Evil'" in The New York Times. Say what you like about him, but like Angelou, he was brave when it was time to be brave.

Angelou had told her students at Wake Forest University that courage must be the first quality. Without it, nothing comes next. Courage is the beginning of all action.

Which is maybe why Assange's writing is rich and inspired. This, the first line of his review of a book by Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, and Jared Cohen, a former adviser to former Secretary of States Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton, who is now director of Google Ideas: "'THE New Digital Age' is a startlingly clear and provocative blueprint for technocratic imperialism, from two of its leading witch doctors, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, who construct a new idiom for United States global power in the 21st century."

The title of his essay suggests Hannah Arendt's classic study Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Have they read it at Fox? The Washington Post?

I criticized Mark Zuckerberg here for writing a "nerd manifesto" when Facebook went public. He then sent his shareholders a three-page letter stating his presumed principles but it brought to my mind those ancient statues of Lenin pressing against the wind, document in hand, almost one hundred years ago in the century's first great wave of "new man" generational politics.

But he couldn't write. I compared his manifesto to Trotsky's definitive revolutionary text, "In Defense of the October Revolution," because, like Trotsky, Zuckerberg's purpose was "to help transform society for the future."

Trotsky on the other hand would shake the rafters and shake the world: "Our conscious thought is only a small part of the work of the dark psychic forces. Human thought, descending to the bottom of its own psychic sources, must shed light on the most mysterious driving forces of the soul and subject them to reason and to will."

Good writing is important, even in a world of Twitter and Facebook where compound sentences are considered seditious and disorienting. If your writing is dense and clear, it will become contagious like Angelou's, like Walt Whitman's and like even Trotsky's in his day. It will bring in people who are intelligent, complex and potentially brave. It will become a life force of its own as Angelou's was. But if you don't have that and courage too, you will be trailed only by a horde.

Quigley is a prize-winning writer who has worked more than 35 years as a book and magazine editor, political commentator and reviewer. For 20 years he has been an amateur farmer, raising Tunis sheep and organic vegetables. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and four children. Contact him at quigley1985@gmail.com.