Darkness at Noon: The Trap of 'Transparency'

Arthur Silber asks a very pertinent question: what is the worth of 'transparency'?

So many of our vaunted dissidents have made 'transparency' one of great goals of their unending agon with the imperial state. If only, they cry, we can let more daylight in on the crimes and atrocities of security apparat and the war machine, then …. well, it's not entirely clear what they believe will follow from this. Probably that 'the people,' now armed with the facts about the filth their rulers wallow in, will rise up and force our elites to sin no more.

But as Silber points out, the historical record belies this comforting little fantasy. Greater 'transparency' about government crime does not translate into mass opposition to these evils. Indeed, it almost always results in widespread indifference to state atrocities -- when it doesn't inspire enthusiastic embrace of them. Gitmo, aggressive war, Abu Ghraib, waterboarding, drone wars, Orwellian surveillance, White House death squads -- in none of these examples, drawn from just the past 10 years, has greater 'transparency' produced any kind of effective, widespread public opposition.

Quite the contrary. Torture, aggression, the rape of privacy and assassination are now widely accepted as ordinary tools of statecraft. The 'scandals' that sometimes surround the initial revelation of this or that course of imperial crime never do anything to alter the system itself. In fact, as Silber notes, once the our rulers sees that people don't really care about torture, surveillance or state-sanctioned murder, they are happy to be even more 'transparent' about their activities in these fields.

Silber cuts right to the heart of the matter. As he says, the point is not to be 'transparen't about these unspeakable evils, but to stop them:

The endless harrumphing about the critical importance of "transparency" is one of the more ridiculous fetishes on the part of many of the State's critics, and especially as voiced by many "dissidents." A monstrous criminal, who rapes, tortures and murders an endless number of people -- women, men and children -- tells us all about his crimes and how and why he commits them. He continually manages to elude the authorities, and he goes right on committing his heinous crimes. But we know every single detail about what he's doing and why. Explain to me why that represents some kind of moral improvement. …

Evil does not become less evil because people are "open" about it. It is not miraculously transformed into good through some mysterious process of alchemy. Evil becomes only worse, infinitely worse. ...

With regard to the State's Murder Program, its surveillance activities, and every other means by which the State seeks to subjugate and control all of us, I am not the least interested in oversight, accountability or transparency. I want all such programs and activities to stop. That's it. I want them to stop.

But you mark my words: the State will make additional, continuing efforts to be more "transparent." Many of the State's alleged "critics" will herald this important change in how the State functions. The "critics" will trumpet their victory, and talk endlessly about how this proves the importance of "constructive engagement" with the State.

And while the State is being so blessedly transparent, it will not only continue all its present programs: it will expand them -- but now with a touch of transparency added. The programs will expand and get progressively worse, and any criticisms that are still to be heard will steadily grow softer and more infrequent.

The State is far better at this game than its critics. The State knows all about providing a sufficient illusion of oversight and transparency to satisfy those critics -- while the State proceeds to do precisely what it wanted to do all along.

There is much more in Silber's piece, of course. So do yourself a favour, and get on over there to read the whole thing.