As the world continues to debate and grapple with the appropriateness of the releases of national secrets by Julian Assange’s Wikileaks organization, so too, do I. Is Julian Assange a saint and a hero for disclosing the U.S.’s manipulative, esoteric, hegemonic, unsavory, secretive, and sausage-factory-like governance methods (no disrespect to sausage factories with the analogy)? Or is he a sinner and treasonous detractor for having published ever-present—and ever-necessary—subtly nuanced and untidy aspects of managing a nation. After all, diplomacy is accomplished via human interactions and relationships, which is perhaps not all that different than other interpersonal communication. Gee your hair looks nice today! It’s a lie, but a necessary part of life, isn’t it? Or is it? That got me thinking; what would the world look like if the governance of the most powerful countries were actually transparent at every level?
What if there were no secrets? What if every single email to or from a government entity were public? Perhaps like Jim Carrey in “Liar Liar,” what if we were legally restricted from misleading anyone or mischaracterizing anything? What if cables to foreign nations conferred our actual intent and positions to other nations—politely but openly?
Granted, this is a naïve concept, but bear with me; this is a thought experiment. Clearly there would be times we couldn’t get things done, right? We couldn’t finesse our way through a difficult disagreement using diplomatic niceties, even though we could still, in theory, be kind and polite while being direct and honest. But by failing to temper and use mitigating language, people would eventually get pissed. We couldn’t spy, we couldn’t bluff, and perhaps wars would result and the world would end. Or perhaps not?
However unrealistic, the utopian concept has an appeal at some level, doesn’t it? Could there be value in having a much more transparent, authentic government? We couldn’t finesse things as efficiently, but we also couldn’t manipulate, lie, enslave, or mislead. With fewer secrets would come less corruption, less manipulation, less self-delusional chest pounding in an attempt to be the world’s police force or enlightened philosophical leader—at the great cost of lives and treasure—would it not? And in turn less misdirection of the taxpayers by their governments along the way seems likely, does it not? But keep pondering that as we extend the thought experiment.
No Personal Secrets?
What if there were no privacy at all, even for individuals? We tend to talk about and value our freedoms greatly, but is it possible we could be even more free, at least psychologically, by being a little less private? What if we lived in a world where no person could have any secrets at all? What if your every thought, your every action, your every fantasy, predilection, emotion, construct, creation, and idea were unable to be hidden? Certainly I am not promoting any such elimination of privacy—after all I am a constant and strong advocate for constitutional freedoms, but there is a point to pressing on with the experiment.
Let me be blunt. How “screwed up” are you? I mean really. In my experience most people are a bit screwed up. Your mom and dad, your biology, or your experiences gave you certain neuroses or predilections. Perhaps you don’t trust people. Perhaps you trust people too much. Maybe you are on the extremes of some bell curve—weight, libido, narcissism, obsessive-compulsive, perfectionism, judgmentalism, religion, affinity for pseudoscientific nonsense, or whatever. You and I are far from “real” perfection, and so is everyone else. So how would seeing and sharing all of that, right out in the open, change how we viewed the human condition and its range of deviation from “normal”?
Wouldn’t the ultimate in authenticity and living in total peace—truly “being who one is”—be embodied in this complete nakedness and transparency? And what message would that send to others about their situations? What if people no longer had to wear the often fake mask of a culture or club?
If everyone lived without secrets, would there not be less fear? Would we not trust everyone who is trustworthy, and be better able to “meet the others where they are,” given the fact that nothing would be hidden? Yes, the sociopathic tendencies in some people would be evident— but totally transparent; that would allow us to properly identify, fear, and avoid them to a large degree, it would seem. Overall, what you saw would be what you would get. Wouldn’t that be nice to not have to “figure out” where the hidden narcissists lingered?
The truth is that some people do sit near the sociopathic, narcissistic end of the human continuum. There are “evil” people at those extremes—defined as deaf and blind to the welfare of others via their narcissism. There is also a large and broad continuum in ability, skills, education, mental healthy, and upbringing—which we tend not to see, but would see better in a world without secrets and dissonance-causing social inauthenticities? We would see it all, and perhaps even begin to accept that in a way that we currently do not.
How might that change how we view free will, morals, societal imperatives, and government policy? I might argue that being “real” would show us that people are quite different than what is shown to us by the faces that society, religion, government, and culture force people to wear.
Have you ever known someone in one context, perhaps work, church, or a golf league—who in another aspect of his/her life is a completely different person than in the others? Someone who pretends to be one person one moment, and is someone scarily different the next?
Many people adhere to religions; but at the same time many of those do not adhere to a great number of significant, mainstream teachings of the religion to which they adhere. A simple example would be a Catholic who uses birth control. Another might be a Christian who thinks human sexuality, when consensual and caring, is a God-given gift to be enjoyed—even if outside marriage or as a recreational sport. (Some surveys show a large number of Christian pastors watch pornography, for example.) These people are not willing or able to be “authentic,” and there are real costs and damage done, I would argue. An example might be the forcing of commonly and falsely hidden behaviors into black-market operations. Think about the real damage done to street walkers by forcing prostitution underground, to a world of gangs, pimps, and drug dealers. This is exactly the type of “externality” I suggest such hypocritical, dissonance-laden cultures create. Real people get hurt!
But what if everyone, including clergy with very different views—was able to be real? This would be the norm in the authentic world of this thought-experiment, where all thoughts and correspondence were public. It would fundamentally change how we view the reality—the true state—of human experience.
Of course a world without secrets should be a bit of a frightening thought for you. Forget the worst thing you’ve ever done, let me ask you the worst thing you have ever thought! What sadistic, mean, or corrupt thought occurred to you for just the tiniest fraction of a second at some point in your life? What sexual fantasy? What private fetish? What vengeful thought? What wish of harm against another? Ever? For just a second?
As you can imagine, the idea of everyone knowing your every thought, your worst-ever mistake, your deepest secrets, your fears, your irreversible actions and behaviors—is for most mortals far from heart-warming.
With small steps toward authenticity, there might be a chance we can better accept one another for who we are (while accepting and condoning only things that don’t harm another human in any way—physically mentally or otherwise). We could stop wasting time on the charades that cost time and money, and detract from real progress and personal and economic growth. You could stop pretending to be one thing while being another—and maybe, just maybe, better embrace your mistakes, learn from them, grow, and thrive in world that is far more affirming—especially to those whose nature is not at the center of the bell curve.
Perhaps in general this is one of the reasons I so passionately support the rights of gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual humans (despite identifying as straight). Those whom I know to fall into one of these categories tend to appear among the most real, honorable, compassionate, and authentic names I might list.
Maybe all of these are the reasons I personally see as a worthy goal being “real,” transparent, and authentic. (It may also be why I tend to put myself out there and “over-share” in my books and podcasts.) Maybe these are also the reasons why I have been completely unable to get myself riled up with anger at Julian Assange. While I acknowledge some practical reasons my utopia couldn’t really exist, much of the time I can see no point to the many of the charades we play with one another, and even between governments. Today’s strange political bedfellows always seem to try to kill us in a few years anyway; so why play the game?
Both personally and internationally, I tend to see the game as inefficient, dehumanizing, morally sketchy, and even as the cause of great suffering among those who are persecuted for not wearing the fake mask of society, nation, or of a religion they don’t follow.
This whole thought experiment, and this post, is admittedly overly simple and completely impractical. It is true that in the real world there are things we must not share, perhaps in order to protect the interests, privacy, and wellbeing of other individuals—or nations; but I do often wonder why we can’t all be a great deal more “real,” say politely what we mean, take ourselves a little less seriously, do what we say, and be honest about our differences—as we together seek ever-elusive truth about how the world works, and how we humans fit into the picture. Won’t you join me in this goal?
(Stephen L. Gibson is the author of A Secret of the Universe, a critically acclaimed, citation-rich novel about the intersections of science, reason, and faith. Still an emotion-driven thinker in recovery, Steve shares his journey in search of ever-elusive truth with thousands via his Truth-Driven Thinking podcast, and his Perspectives blog. © 2011, Truth-Driven Strategies LLC.)