Is the glass half cloudy?

Happy New Year! My goal this year is to build an audience for the blog. I’ve been posting regularly for about six months, and have found a good rhythm, tone, and frequency. Now to get the word out there….

Last time, I made a passing reference to being ambivalent about transparency. The truth is, I’m ambivalent about a lot of good things, like democracy and free markets. That’s just how I’m built. But given how much in vogue transparency is, I guess I should elaborate.

  • WikiLeaks is a good example. I think I’m not off in saying that reasonable people can disagree in whether they’re a good thing. Take the latest release, of diplomatic cables. These embarrassed the U.S., particularly some of our allies. To the extent they made things more difficult for our diplomats abroad, that’s not necessarily a good thing. It might not be the end of the world, but it’s not unreservedly good.
  • Think of politicians as the canaries in the coal mine. Who would want to run for office given how expensive, invasive, and demeaning the process can be and usually is? Who wants to have their live put up for scrutiny like that? In a world where all your business is available online, eventually only the Tracy Flicks will be willing to put up with the hassle. Then where will we be, governed by control freaks and goody-goodies. And that’s just the beginning, what happens as that level of availability and potential for scrutiny becomes more generalized. Will it make us paradoxically less likely to be our full selves with others? I heard an interesting line the other day: “Facebook is where we go to lie to friends and Twitter is where we go to tell the truth to strangers.” The refracted self: many surfaces, all polished to a sheen, but how much light gets through?
  • Aren’t there some decisions that are better made in private? I wonder about the nature of decision-making. Sure, some decisions are better made with more than one person, but are there kinds of decisions that deteriorate in quality the more people are involved. A classic of American politics is Schattschneider’s The Semi-Sovereigh People; one of its central concepts is the idea that by increasing the number of people involved in an argument, you change the nature of the argument. Extrapolating from that idea, I’d say with more people watching, the arguers start to get self-conscious and perform more. Something is lost. I’m not sure what and I’m not sure how important it is – or under what kind of circumstances. But I can’t shake the feeling that not all group decisions should always be opened up as much as possible.

I imagine this is a theme to which I’ll return, given how important transparency is to one of my two questions, about the role of philanthropy in a democratic society.

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One Response to “Is the glass half cloudy?”

  1. The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" » Blog Archive » The Harsh Truth of the Camera Eye Says:

    […] The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" BETA version, new title in the works. New post each Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday (for now). « Is the glass half cloudy? […]

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