A Time To Be Vigilant: Will Excessive Secrecy Extinguish Democracy?
By Ted Gup
One may argue whether an informed citizenry will make the right choices, but a public kept in the dark by excessive secrecy has an infinitesimally smaller chance of choosing wisely. Such choices, made in the dark, are the product of propaganda, blind self-interest, and mob mentality- not reason. Democracy ceases to function when it is deprived of information, the oxygen of self-governance.
Increasingly, technology is both expanding and constricting access, even as it circumvents traditional avenues of information and enhances governments’ ability to influence the public directly via social media. Modern nations are now engaged in an epic battle between access and control. As secrecy expands accountability shrinks and citizens are disenfranchised from decision-making. Secrecy is a barometer of a democracy’s vibrancy.
Will citizens be of independent mind or subservient to those in power? Whether we shall look back on the period as the vaunted Information Age or the Disinformation Age has yet to be determined. It is an existential crisis. When asked what sort of government the Constitutional Convention had created, Benjamin Franklin responded, “A Republic - if you can keep it.”
Ted Gup was a Fulbright Scholar to China in 1985-1986, and a Fulbright Specialist at the University of Haifa in 2015. A former staff writer for The Washington Post, he is the author of three books, and in the fall of 2020 will be the George R. Goethals Distinguished Visiting Professor of Leadership Studies at Williams College. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fellow of Harvard University and a Fellow of Durham University in the UK where he is Writer-in-Residence on a recurring basis.
Photo and image courtesy of Ted Gup.
Photo credit: Diana Greene
Image in the public domain, accessed HERE.