Classified documents, top secret files, spy balloons, clandestine surveillance. What kind of world are we living in where we hide information about and from each other, spying to get the upper hand? Why do leaders and legislators feel compelled to keep government secrets from the public?
In the current political system of independent, sovereign states, national governments seek to exact a competitive edge over perceived rivals by hiding information, spying, and governing secretively. Day-to-day governance becomes a zero-sum game. Governmental success comes at the expense of human interdependence, turning our fellow humans into foes rather than friends.
What are the costs of keeping secrets?
Nation-state secrets and spying come with economic, environmental, political, and social costs.
Nearly all countries have their own spies, covert agencies, and departments of “defense,” costing billions of dollars to conduct “intelligence” operations and keep secrets. Furthermore, national governments feel compelled to spend countless billions on embassies, consulates, border walls, and border guards for “national security.” Consider the two trillion dollars total that national governments spend on preparing for and waging wars every year.
Weapons manufacturers, military contractors, government officials, and wealthy shareholders reap the profit from producing and selling tools of deceit and destruction. Meanwhile, a billion people are starving, and millions must flee their homes to survive. Moreover, war preparation and clandestine operations are some of the most devastating despoilers of the environment.
To outmaneuver each other, national governments steadfastly control resources and data, refusing to share information with anyone they consider an outsider. Keeping secrets hampers leaders from governing effectively, causing them to focus on their nation instead of humanity’s survival.
State secrets for “national security” and “public order” allow governments to act extra-judicially and to violate human rights with impunity. Hiding information leads to public mistrust in government. When secrets take precedence over transparency, governing decisions are made without analysis, oversight, or consent. The public is precluded from participating in decision making and mistrust of government grows.
Secrets and the rhetoric of divisiveness – the “us versus them” approach – also take a psychological toll. Overzealous national pride turns our neighbors into enemies and ignites a mindset of fear, distrust, jealousy, and anger. We are constantly looking behind our backs, rather than looking forward.
What are the benefits of humans sharing information instead of privileging secrets?
Human and natural resources would be better spent on environmental, scientific, and technological advancements than on secrets, spying, and information suppression.
Governments, as representatives of the world’s people, could focus on information sharing and unifying humanity. Humans could work together to overcome the divisions that hold us back, rather than maintain nearly 200 separate national departments of defense, and science research, environmental, and intelligence agencies all seeking similar data and advancements. Access to more data would enhance governmental decision-making and lead to quicker scientific, health, and technological progress.
By encouraging the open exchange of information, we would be better equipped to improve understanding among diverse cultures and governing styles, to interact more peaceably and to share resources more equitably. With transparency and accountability as top priorities, we could build a framework of world security.
Resources and funds, historically tied to the military-industrial complex, could be used to feed, house, and educate people. Human and planetary health could take precedence over conflict among people and contamination of the Earth. Global collaboration is far preferable to war or cloak-and-dagger diplomacy.
How can we govern with compassion rather than deception?
Sharing ideas, solutions, technologies, and data would help humanity deal with global problems that can only be handled at the global level – problems that national governments cannot resolve on their own with hushed voices behind closed doors. Eight billion minds are better than one.
People united under one citizenship would see each other as friends with common goals that they implement together. Democratic world federation and world citizenship would provide a holistic framework for uniting our political governing structures and for uniting us as humans. World citizenship and government could liberate us from the shackles of a divided world.
Above all, governments could act like friends do.
Friends are free because they do not compel, restrain, or confine each other. Friends do not keep secrets to feel special or better. Friends share their concerns. Friends are willing to consider others’ perspectives. Friends have empathy and love for one another.
The words “friend” and “free” come from the same Proto-Indo-European root which can mean both to love and to be free.
Friendship, in place of secrecy, would free us to achieve a peaceful, just, sustainable, and united world.