Slouching toward transparency

By Razib Khan | November 28, 2010 5:28 pm

In regards to the WikiLeaks story, it seems that:

– The explosive stuff is really a shift from assumed understanding to explicit acknowledgment. For example, that Arab nations are just as terrified of Iran’s nuclear program as Israel.

– The surprising stuff is more funny or strange. More like gossip you wouldn’t have guessed, but isn’t really that significant in the broad canvas of diplomatic history.

Strangely, I sort of think this is of a piece with the recent “Teacher’s Union Gone Wild” videos. Basically, the expectation of privacy is disappearing, on the grandest and most mundane scales. In the latter case, a woman was chatted up at a bar, and recorded for hours on end. Unfortunately for her, she used to the N-word, though not even in a offensive context (follow the link). Who hasn’t run their mouth off at a bar? Make sure you don’t have enemies! Imagine how someone could utilize damaging conversations in office politics. On the grand scale you have problems of coordination across agencies where secrecy and confidentiality are of the essence.

gaysultantConsider the media. I recently was listening to a radio show where Robert D. Kaplan was talking about the enlightened liberal despot of Oman, Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said. Oman has Hindu temples, due to the existence of a long-standing Indian minority. But of course Kaplan, being a respectable journalist who would not trade in gossip did not mention that the Sultan partakes of liberality himself, as in Oman it is assumed he is a homosexual (he is divorced and has no children as heirs). In a pre-internet period I wouldn’t do so much background checking when it came to politicians and public figures, but now I regularly do so. The personal lives and histories of powerful individuals are often very relevant in assessing how they came to the positions they hold, and the sincerity of their positions.

Your life in 30 seconds

This is all almost banal because it has been happening imperceptibly. The WikiLeaks events are notable only in that they’re punctuated gushers. But the TSA wants to see you naked, Intelius can verify your age in 10 seconds, and Zillow can tell me how much your home is assessed and how much you purchased it for. Did you donate to a political party recently? Who are you related to? What’s your social network presence and how much public information do you have dangling out there? Life in 2010.

Image Credit: tomsun


Comments (8)

  1. The blog Coming Anarchy (made by Robert Kaplan fans) had an interesting post on Oman. They periodically highlight certain countries, periods, regions as well as provide travelogues. They also postulated that (for the powerful) it may be seen as just a personal preference rather than a “lifestyle” in some Muslim countries.

  2. twl

    It is completely transparent how green taxes transfer billions of dollars from poor people to rich industrialists, bankers and corrupt researchers who originated the scam. But who talks about that? What’s the point of transparency if people set up mental filters preventing acceptance of reality? Transparency is a darkened window that can only be viewed out of one way – the government can see us, but, for whatever reason, the masses never see their government.

  3. omar

    I predict that nothing much will change due to wikileaks. After the shift from assumed understanding to explicit acknowledgment comes disinformation and information overload and life goes on..In the long run, something will change, but that change is gradual and its not always in the direction initially assumed.
    btw, these leaks do confirm that the elders of Zion or the trilateral commission do not run the world. In fact, it seems that nobody runs the world.

  4. pconroy

    I note you didn’t mention the Bilderberg Group 😉

  5. One implication of the demise of privacy is that society is going to have to have to abandon the polite presumption that people about whom you know nothing have no real issues in their life; and likewise, will have to abandon the corollary that people who have real issues that are known are “bad people.”

    Instead, we’ll have to get used to the idea that normal, productive people have bad marriages, minor mental health issues, use drugs, youthful transgressions, imperfect credit, are pressured to leave jobs, etc.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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