The key­words for today are “Secrecy” and “Transparency.”

There are good secrets and bad secrets. Things to be con­cealed and things to be revealed. Some peo­ple want to know, oth­ers want to hide.

Secrecy is an valu­able com­mod­ity. From uni­ver­si­ties that want to pro­tect pro­fes­sors’ aca­d­e­mic free­dom by keep­ing their con­tro­ver­sial view­points from pub­lic crit­i­cism to the Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency’s pro­tec­tion of inter­na­tional sources, secrecy and con­fi­den­tial­ity allows orga­ni­za­tions and gov­ern­ments to effec­tively achieve their goals with a degree of free­dom and flexibility.

On the other hand, trans­parency is also valu­able. For instance, with­out whis­tle blow­ers, the Amer­i­can peo­ple would never have learned about the tor­ture of Iraqi pris­on­ers of war at Abu Ghraib and the United States would not have recently apol­o­gized for pur­posely infect­ing 696 Guatemalan pris­on­ers, sol­diers, and men­tal patients with syphilis in the 1940s. (For that story, see http://​www​.guardian​.co​.uk/​w​o​r​l​d​/​2​0​1​0​/​o​c​t​/​0​1​/​u​s​-​a​p​o​l​o​g​y​-​g​u​a​t​e​m​a​l​a​-​s​y​p​h​i​l​i​s​-​t​e​sts)

After 9/11 when the United States went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush admin­is­tra­tion was roundly crit­i­cized for keep­ing things too pri­vate, and when Pres­i­dent Obama took office, he promised a dif­fer­ent approach the Admin­is­tra­tion issued a mem­o­ran­dum called “Trans­parency and Open Gov­ern­ment” which is still vis­i­ble online at http://​www​.white​house​.gov/​t​h​e​_​p​r​e​s​s​_​o​f​f​i​c​e​/​T​r​a​n​s​p​a​r​e​n​c​y​a​n​d​O​p​e​n​G​o​v​e​r​n​m​e​nt/

In the memo, Obama said, “My Admin­is­tra­tion is com­mit­ted to cre­at­ing an unprece­dented level of open­ness in Gov­ern­ment. We will work together to ensure the pub­lic trust and estab­lish a sys­tem of trans­parency, pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion, and col­lab­o­ra­tion. Open­ness will strengthen our democ­racy and pro­mote effi­ciency and effec­tive­ness in Government.

In the age of the Inter­net, infor­ma­tion can be shared on a world­wide basis at the speed of light. The recent Wik­ileaks rev­e­la­tions of State Depart­ment com­mu­ni­ca­tions, which were dis­persed through the estab­lished media, have caused a great deal of embar­rass­ment for the United States diplo­matic corps, and may in fact harm inter­na­tional rela­tions. In response, we can expect that it will be more dif­fi­cult for rep­re­sen­ta­tives to oper­ate, and we can also expect attempts to cur­tail free­dom of speech.

They have also showed the Amer­i­can peo­ple the pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion in which we find our­selves by try­ing to bal­ance between com­pet­ing national inter­ests. For instance, we are eco­nom­i­cally tied to China which has been shar­ing tech­nol­ogy with Iran. But we are tied by oil to Saudi Ara­bia whose lead­er­ship wants the U.S. to attack Iran.

Other leaks from other sources have showed us that the Fed­eral Reserve secretly bailed out Gen­eral Elec­tric and other U.S. com­pa­nies to the com­bined tune of tril­lions of dol­lars. The Fed had long said that it needed com­plete secrecy to run the U.S. econ­omy and we can only hope that rev­e­la­tions along these lines will not hurt our inter­na­tional credit rating.

If you remem­ber the old Road Run­ner car­toons, Wiley Coy­ote can run over the side of the cliff and will hang in mid-air until he looks down and sees what the sit­u­a­tion is. It is then that he falls. Hope­fully the same will not hap­pen if China and other major cred­i­tor nations look and see that the Fed has printed money beyond its value in order to prop up a per­cep­tion of credit wor­thi­ness. Right now, the Fed’s veil of secrecy is pro­vid­ing the buffer between Wiley and the bot­tom of the canyon.

So what’s the moral to this story? We can learn that we can­not always trust what is on the sur­face because other things may be lurk­ing below although you can go crazy try­ing to fig­ure it out. We can see that secrets can pro­tect good and bad activ­i­ties, and that when there is harm being com­mit­ted it is not a bad thing for peo­ple to stand up and say so. We can also learn that the path of a whis­tle blower is fraught with peril as peo­ple with mul­ti­ple inter­ests or fear of asso­ci­a­tion will agree to “shoot the mes­sen­ger” and for this rea­son that some secrets, like the Guatemalan exper­i­ments, may not be revealed for decades.

On a spir­i­tual angle, the Bible has some­thing to say about both secrecy and trans­parency. In Luke 8:17 Jesus says that there’s no point in try­ing to look good in pub­lic while doing evil in pri­vate. “For there is noth­ing hid­den that will not be dis­closed, and noth­ing con­cealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”

If we want to avoid liv­ing life in fear of society’s spot­light, there is a sim­ple stan­dard — live life as if you’re in a fish­bowl in the mid­dle of Times Square. When the spot­light hits, peo­ple will see good things and crit­i­cism of you will be because they can’t han­dle the bright­ness of your good­ness, not because they find actual fault with you.

But even if you should suf­fer for the sake of right­eous­ness, you are blessed. and do not fear their intim­i­da­tion and do not be trou­bled, but sanc­tify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to every­one who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gen­tle­ness and rev­er­ence; and keep a good con­science so that in the thing in which you are slan­dered, those who revile your good behav­ior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is bet­ter, if God should will it so, that you suf­fer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.”
1 Peter 3:14–17 (NIV).

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