As they say in the classics, will we take the red pill, or the blue pill? Which will kill us first, state secrets, or our own? Even those who are outraged by them can’t look away from the Wikileaks disclosures. Zoe Krupka, NM’s resident News Therapist on why secrets — and their revelation — can be so explosive.
Secrets are stressful, as anyone who has kept a difficult one will know. They require constant vigilance, lest the more private self peek out from beneath the skirts of our deception. Secrets can be corrosive to the keeper, because they create an inevitable separation between the authentic self and the presented persona. The further these two pictures are from each other, the more separation there is between our authentic and presented selves, the more stress we feel.
Secrets are in this way intimately related to the need for perfection and the desire to present a flawless exterior. This is a powered structure, where the holder of the secret keeps others unaware of the nature of their world, and in a sense controls the visible landscape other people too. The greater the shame of the secret, the greater the resulting relational distance will be.
Part of what is being exposed by the leaking of previously secret communication through Wikileaks, is the enormous distance between most people and the process of participatory citizenship. This distance is one of the most potent pieces of information revealed in the communications so far.
Secrets also forge a schism in our perception of time, particularly as they keep the mind focused on the past and the potential future. This is why those of us with difficult secrets to keep often find it hard to live in the present. This is one of the potential pitfalls in the struggle Julian Assange believes he and others are waging on behalf of international informational freedom; in our current focus on what the leaks reveal about the past and what secrets may be revealed in the future, we risk losing our interest in the current threats to human and environmental life. Like the characters in the Matrix, we need to ask ourselves if we are really prepared to absorb this new information, or whether we are determined to see the world as it has been presented to us. The most difficult aspect of Wikileaks may not be the public dishing up of information, but our potential inability or unwillingness to digest it.
Many of the Wikileaks cables have been received with a terrible kind of coolness — as if we are still teenagers, and the worst thing is to look like we don’t know something. We can only be seen to be clever if we already know everything. This dilutes the very real significance of some of this information, by denying that it was actually very effectively kept from the public. This keeps us ignorant of the structures of power, and vulnerable to further deception. Instead of taking this new information in, and allowing it to change us, we spit it out, and say we knew it already. This allows the structures of informational power to remain intact, and allows us to remain in the role of either children or blind accomplices.
Of the many justifications for the condemnation of Assange’s actions, perhaps the most persistent is that these things have been kept secret for our own good, and for the good of polite and workable international relationships. But as is the case in any relationship we hope to maintain through the use of secrecy, it is more accurately described as the process of lying in order to maintain not relationship, but control. We are keeping someone in the dark in order to keep them close to us. If she knew this about me, maybe she wouldn’t trust me. Maybe she wouldn’t.
The revelation of powerful secrets is transformative and levelling. Changing the flow of information in any system has the power to totally reframe relationships. Any relationship where the flow of information goes in a single direction is not so much a symbiotic one as it is a parasitic one where the information held from one person essentially feeds the power and livelihood of another.
In a family, the revelation of secrets can re-route emotional resources and give those who have been kept in the dark the emotional energy to make changes in their lives. When family secrets about illness, violence, addiction, abuse and other threats to safety are revealed, there is a chance for people to integrate that knowledge into their understanding of themselves and the world. This knowledge is of course also protective, in that it allows decisions to be made based on reliable rather than falsified information. There is a chance for new information to be integrated into the very fabric of our beings. There is a significant possibility on offer courtesy of Wikileaks: that information on the web can truly be integrated into our everyday understanding of the world rather than merely appended to it.
So-called free information is not currently on any governmental agenda, however. As government representatives are busy sandbagging, we may want to ask ourselves about the nature of the leaks. A leak reveals a structural weakness. If we focus just on what is coming out, we may miss the important issue that like all toxic secrets, the issue is not simply the content of the information, but also the process of the deception. With just over 1 per cent of the cables in circulation, we have no real idea of the content, but we do have a much clearer idea of the process of information quarantine.
The current focus on the simple content of the leaks functions like gossip within a family or friendship circle. It puts real information into the framework of entertainment, and the question becomes "She did what?" instead of "I can’t believe you lied to me!" This again functions to push us further away from a relationship to the information being revealed.
One of the difficulties of a focus on the revelation of secrets is that in the sensationalism of reading the diaries of those in power, some ‘truths’ can obscure others. We can get caught up, as we have here, in the real outrage of "How dare you read my diary!" or in the search for salacious material about ourselves, and miss the important evidence we have already. In other words, the vast amount of evidence we already have of lies, abuses of power and the fact that power is held in the hands of few at the expense of many.
This then leads us to the important question of what we are going to do with all this information now that we have it. Information may be power, but it is raw and dormant material. We need to connect somehow to our relationship to these secrets in order for them to lead to some kind of action. Otherwise we will simply watch them go by, as if they have nothing to do with us.
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