by Erik Koht

All nations have secrets, that is to say, it’s people in governments who have secrets. Left to their own devices, all they did would be secret. Expenditures would be secret, conversations and meetings would be secret, decisions would be secret, even laws and verdicts would be secret.

By making everything secret one would seek to protect oneself from real and imagined enemies, to monopolise information, to cover up mistakes, to protect a fiend or one’s position of power, to gain an unfair advantage, to break a law, and to create illusions of perfection. That way secrecy becomes a habit, a way of bestowing privilege on some while excluding others.

There are forces that work in the opposite direction, for openness. These are often called democratic forces, but are really just people who see and fear the consequences of secrecy. They have the advantage of laws working in their favour. But you know, laws don’t really do anything by themselves, they are seldom truly automatic. Someone needs to call on that law to put it in motion.

The state is not a human being, it doesn’t say anything and it has no feelings. It’s just people who say and do things for the state because it’s their job. Some times what they do is specified in a law, other time there is no law as such, they are only asked to use their judgement or rely on habit.

Secrets are established that way, they are judgement calls or established by the force of habit. But, once a secret has been established, there are laws protecting it.

Ideally, only the one putting the stamp of secrecy on a document, should know about that secret. But it doesn’t quite work that way. People have “clearance”, so they get to know the secret even if they don’t need to know. In the US the secret is published to as many as three million people, more people than the populations of some countries. yet it is still called a secret. After a few years, anyone who cares to gets to know the secret, the secret is “declassified”. The rest of get to know what those three million knew, and we get to wonder why it was a secret at all.

In a democracy people vote. In order to vote correctly, they need information. Those three million know more than the two hundred million who don’t know the secret. The three million are “privileged”. They are privileged so they can cast their vote the right way. All the rest, the two hundred million, can’t vote the right way except by chance because they don’t know the truth. Either they know nothing, or they believe some lie they have been told.

I said “lie” because the lie is the brother of secrecy. When you keep a thing secret, you are free to replace the real story with anything else that suits you.

There are two paths. One is the path everybody knows. The other is the secret one. Ideally the two paths should be parallel, leading in the same direction, be based on the same truths. Secrets are sometimes good, like the secrets a country needs to protect itself.

Some times the two paths diverge. The difference between the one everybody knows and the secret path becomes grater and greater. We are told our nation does something for one purpose but the reason is something else entirely. People are being asked doesn’t to pay taxes or give their lives for illusions.

But something odd happens. When the secrets and the lies become too many, some smart people start thinking: “What we have been told doesn’t make sense.” They talk and write about it. And a few of those three million see the gap between the two paths and can’t bear to see how the two hundred million are being deceived. It happens every time.

In a democracy people don’t just vote every two or four years, they have been educated to think, read and sometimes to act. Those who rule need to incorporate this in their plans and in how they protect their secrets. It is a fact that when eight hundred thousand or three million have access to a secret it has thereby been made public.

When secrets get out, noting can put them back in the bottle. The people who used to own the secrets try to lessen the effect. They will try to threaten the media so that they don’t focus on the content of the secret. In stead the government will launch other themes, depending on the situation. Some of those themes will be based on lies, because old habits die hard.

Finally, it’s an open question, how much each and every one of us, having been lied to, are responsible for accepting the lie, or thinking and acting on our own.

Other Essays by Erik Koht

Ye twenty-seventh letter of ye alphabet
How to speak Norwegian? Nobody really knows
They said it couldn't be done: Making a profit while caring for human rights
A Soldier Died Today
The Fable of Anti-Americanism
Propaganda and Censorship: My Head Belongs to Daddy...
Freedom: a Resource, a Condition, a State of Mind, a Slogan, a Dream
How to Keep Your Honour:
Try Killing Your Daughter and Stealing without Getting Caught

Multilateral Treaties and the Bully State

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