The Secrets of Transparency

“So we’ve explored the damage of secrets within the family and between friends, and the role of secrecy in persecuting large classes of people. Let’s keep on our quest to find a use for a policy of secrecy. Should we look into politics? Do you think a president should keep secrets from the people he or she governs?” (288-9)

This interesting passage is a turning point for Mae. It is, I feel, the moment when all of the social pressures culminate in Bailey championing all of the Circle’s core beliefs, or at least his interpretation of them. Bailey, not just a global hero as one of the three heads of the largest corporation in the world, is also Mae’s personal hero and in a lot of ways exemplifies the things that attracted her to the Circle in the first place. That certainly played a major part in fully converting Mae to their beliefs, but I think the main power of Bailey’s argument isn’t in exactly what he says, but how he says it.

Bailey adeptly uses the Socratic method during this chapter and this particular passage comes roughly in the middle of the discussion. In fact, Bailey adheres so strictly to the method that he almost sounds like Socrates from Plato’s Republic and Mae plays the role of his various companions, and is in truth barely more critical than those yes-men.

The specific ways that Bailey uses the method are very telling, and perhaps less honest than Plato though maybe, in some ways, simply naive. These passages give us no hint if what Bailey is doing is intentional, though certainly he wants to convince Mae of his cause. What he’s doing is limiting information, something he is actually proclaiming as anathema at the same time he performs the act.

He claims that they’ve explored the power of secrecy in the family, which they had but not as exhaustively as he suggests. But, like the rest of his discussion with Mae, he entirely frames this from their perspective. That is, he frames it as the right of these two, and people in general, to know. He never addresses the right to privacy and when confronted with it, merely waves away the idea and turns back to the damages it causes. He in effect refuses to face the criticism, and uses the Socratic method to return the debate to Mae’s own thoughts. After all, everything Bailey says is believable and quite possibly true, and he delivers it with the urgency of Kermode’s age of crises.

He also says they’ve discussed this philosophy’s efficacy in acts of massive persecution, once again ignoring the obvious and easy parallel that their technology could just as easily instigate or propagate persecution. Though he speaks of gay oppression, it is easier to think of this when dealing with the Ku Klux Klan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Though ostensibly masked to hide their identities, the KKK used extensive networks of local, unaffiliated individuals and operated with the public’s tacit understanding of their identities. They were, in a primitive sense, operating in the open in much the same way they would be under the eyes of SeeChange. Certainly the KKK wouldn’t be able to operate with that transparency and violence today, but it is easy to see the Taliban doing this in Kandahar, where, even aware, the locals would be willing to support them. Then SeeChange becomes a tool for persecution, not freedom.

But then Bailey turns to his final, and perhaps most important line of questioning. Should the government keep secrets? Whether you think they should or not, we can see the pinnacle of Bailey’s argument. He doesn’t just want this to be personal or social, but global and complete. This is perhaps the first overt clue we get to what the completion of the Circle means, and it is interesting that it does so in a way rife with hypocrisy.

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One Response to The Secrets of Transparency

  1. Steph Roman says:

    Thanks for pointing towards Mae as the yes-man to Bailey’s Plato. In hindsight it seems like an obvious comparison, but I didn’t realize it at the time. Also, nice use of history and examples. That’s really effective in showing me what your argument is.


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