the shame, theirs and ours for tolerating such power over us, is made more shameful by publicizing it

Back in 1843, the young Karl Marx claimed that the German ancien regime “only imagines that it believes in itself and demands that the world should imagine the same thing.” In such a situation, to put shame on those in power becomes a weapon—or, as Marx goes on: “The actual pressure must be made more pressing by adding to it consciousness of pressure, the shame must be made more shameful by publicizing it.” And this, exactly, is our situation today: we are facing the shameless cynicism of the representatives of the existing global order who only imagine that they believe in their ideas of democracy, human rights, etc. What happens in Wikileaks disclosures is that the shame, theirs and ours for tolerating such power over us, is made more shameful by publicizing it.

What we should be ashamed of is the worldwide process of the gradual narrowing of the space for what Immanuel Kant called the “public use of reason.” In his classic text What is Enlightenment?, Kant opposes “public” and “private” use of reason: “private” is for Kant the communal-institutional order in which we dwell (our state, our nation…), while “public” is the trans-national universality of the exercise of one’s Reason:

The public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men. The private use of one’s reason, on the other hand, may often be very narrowly restricted without particularly hindering the progress of enlightenment. By public use of one’s reason I understand the use which a person makes of it as a scholar before the reading public. Private use I call that which one may make of it in a particular civil post or office which is entrusted to him.

We see where Kant parts with our liberal common sense: The domain of State is “private,” constrained by particular interests, while individuals reflecting on general issues use reason in a “public” way. This Kantian distinction is especially pertinent with the Internet and other new media torn between their free “public use” and their growing “private” control…

via Slavoj Zizek: Freedom in the Cloud – In These Times.