Tuesday, 14 December 2010
The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity. Cue the rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem.
I don't know about the best and the worst. I have a corner of my heart reserved for Tom Stoppard who once wrote an article titled Tom Stoppard Doesn't Know. I am with you there, Tom, albeit without any keen sense of being better for it.
What is surprising, as my historian friend Richard remarked to me, is just how many secret files a kid in the army could access. Let's say approximately quarter of a million. Nor was he alone. Apparently some three million people had access to the information currently streaming through Mr Assange's highly sensitive orifices. That, Richard wryly added, is an odd definition of Top Secret.
Do I feel the world is a cleaner or better place for the revelation that when diplomat X said Y he meant Z? Or that dirty tricks departments have actually pulled off some dirty tricks? Do I - more to the point - enjoy the fact that the US of A has been embarrassed to the point of apoplexy?
No, the Great Satan has never seemed quite satanic enough to me, if only because other Satans seemed rather more satanic, and, frankly, still do seem more satanic, that is if Satan comes into this at all. But then The Great Satan is what we know, and we, being the Little Satans, must take our satisfactions where we can.
On the one hand an occasional display of dirty washing is behovely. It tells us what we already know, precisely because we understand, and have always understood, that the protestations of the the wearer of the washing are ridiculous. And if we do discover a few war criminals in with the vests and socks, that is a positive bonus for the world at large.
On the other hand we are certainly hypocrites if we pretend that we ourselves are determined to be honest and transparent at all times. There is a vast range of human obfuscation we refer to as tact, sensitivity, kindness and manners. Tell me truly, am I ugly? No, of course not. You have, er, character and, er, fine, memorable features. In fact you are positively handsome. In some lights.
We play games that require subtlety and illusion. We have our poker face and our sympathetic looks. We admire the trickster. We also like a bit of schadenfreude now and then. (Like now, for instance.)
I rather suspect that 249,950 of the 250,000 leaks will be forgotten within a few months. There may be greater circumspection and suspicion on behalf of the secret keepers as a result which would be the converse of what we claim we want, but there may equally be a greater sense of realism in negotiations and a greater degree of honesty about the necessity or otherwise of dirty deals. In the meantime a few covers will have been blown, a few lives shortened. They may be less virtuous lives than the ones that might be being saved but we won't know either way.
Perfect transparency is not possible, not even when you're trying. Is it desirable when possible? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. In the meantime if states want to keep something top secret they might try to restrict the numbers of those with access to it. Or you have a gradation from Truly Truly Secret down to Not Really Secret But Keep It To Yourself.. Is that a secret worth knowing? Ask Tom Stoppard.