The Harsh Truth of the Camera Eye

(With apologies to Morrissey for lifting the title of this post from one of his songs)

Continuing from yesterday, I’m wondering about transparency and decision-making. One of the ultimate decision-making bodies, the U.S. Congress, reconvened today with the first class of Tea Party “freshmen.” Right out of the gate, the theater starts. (Remember how I pointed out yesterday, via Schattschneider, that when you increase the number of people in the argument, the incentive to showboat also increases?)  A friend on Facebook pointed out an article about one bit of performance art – Eric Cantor pushing to get rid of the (frankly kinda silly) resolutions the House does periodically to commemorate National Asparagus Week, or whatever. This is the kind of thing that happens when decisions are made visible – the Congressfolk sponsoring want them to be seen, they make a theater of decision-making, turning the very ability to make a decision into a spectacle. This is the power of certification, an authority changing the significance of something just by pointing its finger. What an abstract and strange power, when you think about it. But it’s real, given how long traditions like these House resolutions persist.

Do we expect such forms of theater to increase or decrease as decision-making becomes more public? Hannah Arendt has some truly beautiful writing in The Human Condition about the importance of the public sphere, and the meaningfulness of political participation – a lot of it based on the example of the Greek polis and the origins of democracy. But as some critics have pointed out, the gap in her thinking is, why do people (well, men in the Greek case) jump into the public sphere? And it turns out simple vanity may be the answer. They want to look good, they want to be seen as virtuous. We tend to think of corruption as the acts of venal people, and “sunshine” or transparency as a way of mitigating corruption. But what if the most venal people of all don’t mind – or even prefer – to do their dirty deeds in the full glare of the spotlight?

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One Response to “The Harsh Truth of the Camera Eye”

  1. The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" » Blog Archive » Stuck in the Middle with You Says:

    […] The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" BETA version, new title in the works. New post each Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday (for now). « The Harsh Truth of the Camera Eye […]

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