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August 22, 2013


Though we seemed dead, we did but sleep:
advantage is a better soldier than rashness.

...now we speak upon our cue, and our voice
is imperial...

Manishevitz. The Blog Princess really needs to stop daydreaming. Sorry for the dearth of potent postables. Having been sucked into the proverbial Vortex of Crap, she fervently hopes to return to the fray anon (whatever the heck that meaneth). Meanwhile, some random linkage:

Sobering thoughts on the tension between openness and effectiveness:

Transparency is very nearly the opposite of privacy. In the current controversy, it is a demand that the government make public matters it conducts in private and wants to keep private.

The argument for disclosure goes like this: If the government is acting in the name of the people, the people need to know what their government is doing. How else can they judge these activities? Democratic government means accountability to the public, and accountability requires disclosure. History testifies to the link between secrecy and the abuse of public power. Without disclosure, the people will find it difficult to restrain government's excesses—most importantly, secret activities that could endanger our liberties.

Government transparency has a distinguished history. In 1795, Immanuel Kant propounded what is often called the principle of publicity: Roughly, if you cannot reveal the principle that guides your policy without undermining that policy, then the policy itself is fatally flawed from a moral point of view.

Little more than a century later, in his famous "Fourteen Points" speech about U.S. war aims and the principles that would guide the peace, President Woodrow Wilson called for "Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view."

The problem here is obvious: Policy makers often face a choice between private diplomacy and no diplomacy. Secretary of State John Kerry clearly thought that the precise content of his shuttle diplomacy between Israel and the Palestinian Authority had to be kept from public view if there was to be any chance of restarting peace talks. A measure of secrecy is a necessary (if not sufficient) condition of success.

This maxim applies broadly. No one thinks that nations at war have a responsibility to make their military strategy public. If the Allies had not succeeded in confusing the Germans, the Normandy landing might have failed.

The same consideration of secrecy applies to the acquisition of intelligence. Government officials believe that revealing the details, or even the existence, of secret surveillance programs would help our adversaries elude their reach. They also believe that briefing more than a handful of elected representatives would lead inevitably to public disclosure. Those who do receive briefings are sworn not to reveal their substance, even in congressional debate.

Effectiveness and accountability collide—a tension that can be managed more or less well but never entirely abolished.

Openness is not an unalloyed good. Wikileaks is open. Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are likewise all about the openness. Because they care so much. They give, and they give, and they give. Our media is fond of openness when disclosure serves the narrative. And thankfully, sometimes even when it does not:

One of the Oklahoma teenagers accused of killing 23-year-old Australian baseball player Christopher Lane had previously posted images online showing himself posing with guns and wads of cash.

And three days before what police call the indiscriminate shooting, the suspect, 15-year-old James Edwards Jr., tweeted, "With my n****s when it's time to start taken life's."

Back in April, he tweeted, "90% of white ppl (people) are nasty. #HATE THEM."

...Now, some Americans are asking why this killing, in which the victim was white and the alleged killers black, has not brought reaction from the president.

How much information can the public be trusted with? It's a thorny question if you're a lonely, self appointed gatekeeper on the information superhighway.

Posted by Cassandra at August 22, 2013 01:54 PM

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Bienvenue a la Villainous Company Vortex de la Crap!
Have some wine!

Posted by: spd rdr at August 22, 2013 06:16 PM

Kant's principle doesn't necessarily condemn short-term secrecy for instrumental ends like warfare.

What he actually said was this: "All actions relating to the right of other human beings are wrong if their maxim is incompatible with publicity."

Now, when Kant talks about "right" he's talking about government, and the kinds of things you have authority to be enforced with violence if necessary. So warfare is not out of the question at all for him, nor investigations of criminals who might be arrested and even executed.

Operation Overlord, when it did come out, only increased the respect in which the United States and the Allies were held. Is that going to be true here? That is the question Kant poses. It's not one we are in a position to answer, but it is one that the authors of these programs should consider carefully.

Posted by: Grim at August 22, 2013 08:27 PM

It has long been my impression that people bring up Immanual Kant when they're desperately trying to sound intelligent (and mostly failing) :p

That said, I'm wondering if the press could survive an honest articulation of the principles underlying their policy?

Vortex of Crap, indeed.

Posted by: Cass at August 22, 2013 08:38 PM

Since I've been a bit short on sleep lately, that Kant thing was aimed at the authors of the linked piece, not at you Grim.

I'm guessing you've actually read Kant. I haven't, and don't pretend to have more than a high level understanding of his work.

Posted by: Cass at August 22, 2013 08:39 PM

Well, he wrote a lot, and I won't claim to have read every single word of it. :) But I've read a fair amount of him, including both core works and some of his less-well-read portions.

Someday when you have some time, and you're planning to go visit the grandpunks, you should read his short (and, for Kant, surprisingly pleasant and easy) "Moral Education." Several times in that book he makes claims about what 'any boy' will realize about morality if you talk him through it in a particular way. My disbelief was such that I had to try it, but at least in my limited sample it always worked just like he said it would.

But Kant was a career educator, and it's not surprising that he could write clearly and correctly about that. I have greater doubts about his other work, though it remains very influential.

Posted by: Grim at August 22, 2013 10:56 PM

I think I might qualify one claim. I'd say that Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are about openness for some other people.

I was amused by Megan McArdle' condemnation of him for the way he treated his girlfriend. I didn't like it either, but I wasn't willing to give him a pass on all the rest, as she came close to doing.

But I think it nearly certain that he was not open with her.

Posted by: Jim Miller at August 23, 2013 05:48 PM

I think I might qualify one claim. I'd say that Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are about openness for some other people.

Agreed :) My "they are all about the openness" was mostly sarcastic - the girlfriend example is a perfect one.

Neither of these morons openly opposed the practices they supposedly leaked classified info to stop. In my mind, that's not open at all. It's sneaky.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 23, 2013 06:08 PM

Cassandra - Thanks for clarifying that. (I should have guessed what you meant, but my sense of humor took a temporary leave of absence.)

Posted by: Jim Miller at August 25, 2013 04:22 PM

but my sense of humor took a temporary leave of absence

I've had that experience quite often lately :)

Posted by: Occupy Don Brouhaha NOW!!! at August 25, 2013 06:33 PM