The Real Trouble with Secrecy

Let’s get right to the point, it’s what secrecy does to those who hold them, who believe in the efficacy of secrets, and fall for the easy rush of spectacle secrecy generates.

Secrecy is an approach to power. It holds that there are short-cuts to achieving one’s will and that they are hidden. It’s followers believe that a self-generated aura of mystery, the tingle of insider knowledge, will put them in touch with the roots of power. It’s a cargo-cult as ridiculous and sad as any other. Too bad it has our entire culture under its sway.

We talk a lot about “change.” There are rules, even “laws” promulgated to explain its behavior. We all seek it out, and murmur knowingly when someone appears to have cornered the market on how to achieve it. We also would rather not look too closely at how change might be wrested from the cycles of novelty and wish-fulfillment we are so thoroughly conditioned to find “normal.” In so doing, we strip any change we might achieve from any possibility of it actually making any sort of difference.

These two currents are intertwined. Every “Frat-boy” from rabid sports fan to CEO, to CIA official is grinning at the great power unleashed by secret actions taken “under-cover.” They revel at the thought of achieving any “secret” advantage against their “adversaries.” The emotional terrain this holds them in is always seeking ways to maintain a fevered pitch, anything is seen as good that will ratchet up the adrenaline rush. Secrecy is one such spice, and the one that links their “magic” powers to the actual harm they do in the world.

It also provides the cover for the rest of us, its reluctant secret warriors who turn-away sheepishly from the greatest excesses, but would rather not look too closely to see how “statecraft,” or sausage is made. All the while this internal “secret” secret we keep from ourselves does not let us face the realization that we are little different from Auschwitz’s “neighbors,” and no less deserving of being sent to tour the devastation done in-our-name.

Hitler said in Mein Kampf, “The best way to have a lie believed is to learn to believe it yourself.” This maxim, taken to heart by Madison Avenue and in the “halls-of-power” everywhere today, is tied in with the trouble with secrecy. When public pronouncements are met with a range of reactions from naive acceptance to paranoid arch-skepticism we are in a world in which the distance between the lies and the liars beliefs has dissolved away into a meaningless, secret morass. Behind it all, we smirk the smirk of the worshiper of secrets, feeling the magic and the power hidden knowledge has for us.

The trouble is that this attitude, these habits of mind, this world view immersed in a twisted relationship to power, and oblivious to the power of truth; sends us further and further into a greater and greater disconnect from what we may know, but hide from, or what we truly do not know, but pretend does not matter. This is what makes secrets dangerous, not their power, but their power to lead us astray. Astray, not from some “straight and narrow,” rectitude for the sake of following rules, but astray from any meaningful connection to the predicaments we face in life and how to deal with them in a manner that does not destroy the very foundations upon which life depends. In the world of secrets, everything is a game. This juvenile attitude is the source of its power and of its dangers rooted as it is in narcissistic self-regard and locked into cycles of wishing and hating that which keeps us from the objects of our desires.

There really shouldn’t be a need to continually “un-pack” the dynamics of this or to point out the connections to the consequences of following such a path. That was the purpose of shame, before it was hijacked as a way to bolster whatever power-striving tactics-du-jour. Presenting yet another Jeremiad scolding us for not connecting the dots is at some point no longer an exercise in consciousness raising, but a piece of S&M ritual theater that soothes and brings a false “climax” and pseudo-catharsis. We act out the “process” of “change” without the need for achieving any of the efforts involved in making changes that actually take us out of the cycle we claim to abhor.

This brings us to the point of rules for “change.” It’s convenient to have “laws” telling us how “change” behaves. The theorists have spoken! Who are we to resist the law?

Such an attitude towards change attempts to dress-up its world view as “revolutionary” while continuing to support all of the basic assumptions of the world view its holders claim to abhor. In classic narcissistic fashion, it turns the focus back onto what we proclaim and away from what we might need to face, that which is outside our experience, that which is unknown, and may remain unknowable despite even our best efforts. This attitude denies any need to face our vulnerability by maintaining our gaze fully on that mirror holding our precious self-image.

Krishnamurti talked about change and its relationship to striving. He pointed out that time is the factor that holds us in fruitless change and constant striving. “If you want to change, just do it!” He said again and again. There is no value in the striving for change. No value in setting rules for its dynamics. The trouble with change isn’t the “problem” of  making it “palatable” or “easy.” It’s just getting on with it and opening ourselves to our radical vulnerability it exposes us to as it strips us of our illusions.

When a real change occurs in our circumstances and confronts us with the consequences of our condition we have no way of knowing how we will act. This is borne out in the chasm between all of our plans and studies of how people “should” or “will” behave and the way in which any individual actually does behave when confronted with an existential situation. Even the memory of how we behaved in some previous, perhaps analogous situation, does not give us any certainty. The variables are too great. We are in the realm of complexity, what those who give up on its demands shrug away as chaos or complication.

True change is unknowable before the fact. Unknowable is not the same as secret. Here is the crux. No amount of effort expended either to make the unknowable visible or conversely to masquerade what is known as a secret, hidden willfully from others, and ultimately from one’s self, will square this circle.

Whenever someone calls out to you with reasons to cheer, know that they are asking for your complicity. Not just in the actions undertaken, so often in secret, to achieve a great victory, but because they are asking you to agree to the violence being done to truth. They are asking for your complicity in denying the realm of vulnerability and the power of the unknowable. No amount of magical conflation by falsely generating a simulacra of mystery to hide from the limits of knowledge and our ultimate vulnerability will ever create any change worth having. No amount of striving, no adumbration of rules for behavior will ever take the place of the hard and slippery task of being.

Not “being the change…” That is another attitude completely tied into the mania for striving. There are no slogans for this, no recipes, and no “laws.”


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