When you reveal what one person said in confidence to another, you screw up their relationships with other people…
Yet the controversies around radical openness are usually framed around questioning the legitimacy of keeping regulated institutional secrets. Military, commercial, and diplomatic spheres sanction more secret keeping than we are used to in civilian life.
If the distinctions between these spheres fail, then what we will lose is civilian life, since the others are ultimately indispensible. Then we’d turn into a closed society. In closed societies… everyday life is militarized.
You might not agree that this is what would happen, because it might seem as though fewer secrets ought to always, always mean a more open society. If you think that, you are making the same mistake those programmers who resisted structure made long ago.
Anarchy and dictatorship are entwined in eternal resonance. One never exists for long without turning to the other, and then back again. The only way out is structure, also known as democracy.
We sanction secretive spheres in order to have our civilian sphere. We furthermore structure democracy so that the secretive spheres are contained and accountable to the civilian sphere, though that’s not easy.
There is certainly an ever-present danger of betrayal. Too much power can accrue to those we have sanctioned to hold confidences, and thus we find that keeping a democracy alive is hard, imperfect, and infuriating work.
The flip side of responsibly held secrets, however, is trust. A perfectly open world, without secrets, would be a world without the need for trust, and therefore a world without trust. What a sad sterile place that would be: A perfect world for machines.