The Ideology of Transparency: Creating the New Sodom and Gomorrah
“Let us be straightforward and say that our age is not that of secrets, but of their opposite, transparency.  There is even, more or less confusedly, an ideology of transparency that implicitly assimilates transparency to truth, to rectitude and even to innocence, while conversely secrets would entail, with respect to what they hide or do… The post The Ideology of Transparency: Creating the New Sodom and Gomorrah appeared first on VoegelinView.

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“Let us be straightforward and say that our age is not that of secrets, but of their opposite, transparency.  There is even, more or less confusedly, an ideology of transparency that implicitly assimilates transparency to truth, to rectitude and even to innocence, while conversely secrets would entail, with respect to what they hide or do not confess, something shameful and sinful.  The ideology of transparency supposes that all can be exposed, become public so as to be submitted to the scrutiny of others, to even be the object of procedures of surveillance and of control.  What is most disturbing is that the ideology of transparency is today often tied to the idea of democracy.  As if the progress of democracy were correlative to the extension of transparency and to the retreating of secrets.  But who does not see that this democracy would resemble a dungeon without walls or locks, a dungeon extended to the whole of society, as the life of democratic man would be to a hell?”  (Yves Charles Zarka, “Ce secret qui nous tient,” Cités 26, 2006; reprinted in La destitution des intellectuels)[1]

 

Yves Charles Zarka’s warning against the rise of transparency as a good in itself falls short of noting that the glorification of transparency is the logical consequence of modern secularism, or the “geometrical” reduction of metaphysics to cosmology—of the category of eternity to that of a New Time, a spacialized time that becomes our consummate landscape: a mythical time that ceases to “rise” historically towards an (or its) end, expanding instead eccentrically to expose—and here is the crux of the matter—all that had been thitherto left concealed.
The contemporary ideology of transparency decried by Zarka is nothing other than the vulgar face of a logical conclusion stemming from the early modern premise that freedom—man’s own—could resolve within itself the problem of given-standards, of premises, of antecedents.  Modernity, in short, calls for the death of interiority, if only through the Romantic flattering of sentiment as resolving within itself—“imaginatively”—all mystery.[2] The imagination that for Romanticism is the form of all interiority conceived in terms of sentiment or feelings, is supposed to replace, more or less surreptitiously, the intus intellectualis or “intellective intuition” that for premodern civilization is the form of all pure and substantive intelligibility.[3] Once modernity reduces interiority to “subjective feelings,” it can, or is supposed to be able to control and manipulate interiority, thereby establishing it on the plane of “objective exteriority,” the phycological integration of the individual serving as preface for social integration.  The private is then to become a New Public.  But this is possible only through Technology, which aims explicitly at a transhumanist “Singularity” in which man is a machine, or more precisely an android in which all that is hidden is immediately translated into full visibility, readily and conveniently accessed from without, as sheer data.  What futurists such as Ray Kurzweil envision is the rise of nothing falling short of a new God (this, the conclusion of the 2009 documentary Transcendent Man), a God of data as synthesis of inner and outer life: life as expansion of an interiority reduced to aspects or “faces” of expansion itself, until what Galileo would still call “The Book of Nature” is reborn as a universal book of faces, or a global “Facebook”.
History as conflict between Nature and Man, inaugurated by the early planners of the modern world, is supposed to be resolved in the expansion of Nature in terms of a Man who has turned into a Robot for the sake of translating natural necessity, or the natural tendency for everything to “die” into “the past,” into a death-defying impetus, an integrative-expansive “movement” that is, so to speak, faster than death itself, insofar as it converts the physical (the dying) into a new human: simulated consciousness, or Artificial Intelligence (AI).
With AI, consciousness is not “merely” natural, insofar as it entails the use of nature as material to transport consciousness—the properly human element—onto a new platform, a stage on which the naturally hidden, including the inherited, is exposed as or rather seemingly-replaced by mechanically processed/digested or digitized information.
To be sure, in information, interiority is merely symbolically appropriated, just as the “identity” that computer hackers can “steal” is a mere fiction.  Yet, this matters little or not at all to the heralds of Brave New World, insofar as reification is the New Normal they call us to cherish as a better-than-real world, a New “virtual” World built to be better than the underlying one.  What is “better” about the New World?  Its all-inclusive safety in symbolic abstractions utterly indifferent to the ancestral discrepancy between real and illusory; for our New World rises as the overcoming itself of that discrepancy: an Order that is at once kosmos and taxis, at once “spontaneous order” and “consciously planned order,” to echo F. A. Hayek’s celebrated distinction.  Our New World offers a posteriori the synthesis of natural generation and artful creation that the God of classical and medieval Platonism offers a priori; under the assumption that the a posteriori is superior to the a priori, insofar as the latter “evolves” out of the former, just as perfection is assumed to “evolve” into imperfection.  Yet, why would such an evolution ever take place?  The staple modern answer engraved most conspicuously on every single brick of the edifice of Hegelian ideology is that perfection is a mere geometrical abstraction (as per Spinoza himself, after his mentor, Niccolò Machiavelli) serving as steppingstone for its “realization” as infinite, asymptotic progress, or the conversion of classical concentric progress to origins into expansion coinciding with the production of ever-new Vistas where the only logos surviving is grammatically plural.
Discourse reduced to advertisement?  Why not, if all that really counts is the Centrifuge?  If the only whole presupposed by parts, or the partial, is the fantasy of an outdated imagination; if “the thing itself” (res ipsa) of classical Platonism is merely the hypothetically first among virtually innumerable historical signs; if the only speaker presupposed by any and all voices is a social construct begging to be deconstructed; if the only being presupposed by becoming is worth less than a bean ready to sprout (where “to be” is the emptiest of all actions); if actuality underlying all potentiality is at best a useful fertilizer and at worst a useless one; if, finally, all questions find their completion and liberation in answers; then Zarka’s nightmare is at our door and the end toward which we are called to labor is but a common dungeon (already Leo Strauss had spoken of a Second Cave beneath the one decried by Plato), while the justice we are incited to pledge allegiance to cannot but be institutionalized injustice.  Justice as the justification of injustice, where law, no longer seeking and failing, as it must, to be truth proper, emerges as outright pretension, “truth” as pretention.  Hereby, a foolish (but equally redeemable) aspiration of old yields to the venomous (and unredeemable) madness that in earlier ages was merely sipped at intervals by emperors having mistaken God for a metaphor of all that man could be.
Today’s madness, the contemporary apotheosis of pretension as truth itself, is modernity’s Final Answer to the primordial problem of Man (the anthropos), the problem posed by the human being in the midst of the totality of finite beings.  Man as central question mark amidst an indefinite plurality of exclamation marks is eclipsed by an Android caught up in a universal or global net/trap, ubiquitous distraction from underlying questions.
Unlike the Old Man, the New Man—the Android—is supposed to crave answers, instead of freely desiring the questions hidden behind all answers.[4] If the Old Man, the pagan, was a pre-philosophical “child” dreaming of “another world,” the New Man is a post-philosophical worldly-being called by the forces of Evolution to attend to his ready-at-hand Environment, if not altogether to “Save the Planet,” by molding it into the New Man’s Promised Land, the place in which Man may finally overcome himself as problem, himself as central question or “clearing” in and presupposed by an immense forest of answers.  The New World would then emerge as a world in which all questions are converted into answers given that the central question of life—the human being—has converted into an answer among others by shutting itself to any otherworldly answer, or any question as answer.
If we are no longer seeking answers in questions, answers “resurrected” in the living context of eternal questions, as bodies in minds unfettered, then the prototypical Darwinian Genealogical Tree (early-modern teleology) cannot but metamorphose into a neo-Darwinian Bush burning in absurdities, or expanding through the burning of Reason and the whole literary Cathedral it animates and that constitutes the salt of civilization.  The conversion of reason into the Absurd, or the elevation of absurdity to the rank of highest reason is the surprise-prize that Satan offers Faust as the Machiavellian approaches the pinnacle of self-realization.  The “Bush Model” of today’s naturalists bespeaks just that sort of institutionalized madness.
The New Human is necessarily a transhumanist leaving the Old Man, or all that is old in man (including the left-overs of tradition fattening old Darwin) behind as mere vestige, at best a vintage object of curiosity for antiquarians; not as a reminder that our Faith is well-founded, but as reminder of the meaninglessness of all faith.  Trust must yield to suspicion, with the understanding that the transition is made possible only by institutionalizing suspicion itself.  We do not follow laws in the spirit of trust, but of fear.  We must not simply love our God; we must resent him; which is to say that we must enjoy repressing our love.  Herein the essence of modern masochism, which by its very logic of absurdity demands that we enjoy repressing love in others, as well.  Therein the essence of modern sadism.
In a climate of repression, all answered are welcome except for those provoking thought, or exposing us to thought.  Answers exposing, not say awakening us as questions for thought, are anathema.  All answers are “kind” (sweet and cozy) except for the “offensive” (radically evil) ones that point back to underlying questions, questions unsettling all dead answers.
This is what modernity’s New Science demands, if only tacitly, namely the killing of all answers and the enthronement of a singular Dead Answer as supreme authority over a massified population of minor, dependent zombified answers.  To the former the latter bow, as to a Golden Calf, terminal point of reference in a system of self-referentiality.  Pinnacle of institutionalized pretentiousness, where “definitions” are not to educate us to, but suppress the indefinite.  Law no longer points to, but denies truth as question underlying answers.  The hidden dimension of truth is simply bad, in accordance with the Ideology of Transparency demanding that truth, as nature, be a naked tramp.
The New World is one of definitions, then, answers dispelling underlying questions, hunting them down as witches, burning them at the stake even as they are asked to confess their sinful alliance with transcendence, with the “occult,” with all that resists homologation in the New World.  Definitions must rule, then, beyond all storytelling, much as “special effects” must become the main storyline uniting all narratives, as soundbites confirming that all is propaganda, that all stories are mere metaphors for scientific definitions, definitions purged of all mythical interiority.
Overturned is the old pre-scientific poetic account of good answers as stories or discursive compositions helping us think, which is to say, exposing us to thought (not the vulgarizing reverse), inviting us to participate in thought by letting go of ourselves—our sense of certainty and fears—as answers, or as repositories of answers.
Education, an ancient author reminds us,[5] does not fill our minds with answers, but awakens them with questions.  A society that is afraid of questions because they might upset our most cherished answers is a despotic, even tyrannical society.  But what questions are dangerous?  Not the impostors promoted by a Regime bent upon confirming dead answers.  Real question are not about means cut off from the meaning of ends, but about ends inherent in means.  Real questions are about truth as the meaningful content of means, the inherent worth of things—the substance; and derivatively about the relation between the substance and what falls short of it (the original quest for truth does not discount the import of truth in the discrepancy between the surface and the soul of means).  For we do not seriously ask only about what is ultimately the case, but also about the way we ended up losing sight of truth.  Real questions are also about the hiatus between truth and lies and thus too between questions and answers.  For lies are in answers, while truth hides in questions, even as it can manifest itself in answers; even as there is a twist to the story, for questions hide in answers for the sake of manifesting truth.  So the “job” of answers is not to expose truth, but to point back to questions are proper locus for truth: letting the questions teach us “from within” or “inwardly” instead of imposing lessons from without.
It is not answers, but questions that manifest truth, if only in the mirror of answers.  Indeed, we need answers, certitudes, to recover the questions that enshrine truth.  Answers can then manifest truth indirectly, or via questions, by drawing us back to the questions; by calling us to face the challenge of interpretation: interpretation as the quest for questions presupposed by answers; questions in which truth hides, even as it manifests itself in and as answers.  For the manifestation, the revelation, the unmasking, the exposure, is always or necessarily open to interpretation.
Answers may be the manifestation of truth, but only indirectly, or insofar as answers reflect questions, thereby inviting dialogue open to truth, the truth about all questions and answers, alike; not merely of “being” as finite given, or empirical determination, but of “being” as pointer back to its own perfection, its absolute integrity: eternal being.
Evidently, the Ideology of Transparency rejects eternal being and therewith the dialectical nature of truth, truth as dialogue between concealment and un-concealment, between mind-in-itself and mind-incarnated.  The mutual alienation of the dark/passive/female principle of concealment and the luminous/active/male principle of un-concealment is supposed to be resolved by an a posteriori synthesis in which, in the name of transparency, concealment flows continuously into an un-concealment stocked by machines in terms of “data”.  Not an original, mysterious divine mind, but a free-floating Database is assumed to serve as consummate storehouse for all un-concealment, as for truth reduced to data.  Hence the “fluidity” of genders invoked by certain strands of contemporary ideology.  The male and the female must become transparent to each other.  As the two fade into each other, they are to yield to a kaleidoscopic plethora of mechanically-spun “genders”: virtual possibilities disclosed by the demolition of truth’s original dialogical nature.
This, too, even eminently, is transparency: the obscuring of all that is not simply transparent, of all that resists full-exposure not because opacity is a good in itself, but because, while transparency in the eyes of a Biblical (benevolent) God is angelic, transparency in the eyes of gluttonous voyeurs is but a stimulus for perversion.  The pudor (“old modesty”) qualifying resistance to Big Brother’s Big Eye, fit for financial, rather than noetic heavens, tells us that transparency is good only somewhere and sometimes, or strictly speaking utopically only in eternity and thus no-where and at no particular time at all; certainly not everywhere and all of the time.  The City of Transparency cannot but be a Sodom or Gomorrah in which transparency serves as mask for opacity, instrument for perverts to hide their perversions in the name of freedom; their own sins in the name of “expression”; their own evils in the name of “objective” transparency as the highest good.  And this, all, compliments of digital screens, smokescreens of immodesty, rendering all things transparent by abstracting them from their “hidden” soul.
The technology that was supposed to produce transparency tout court, transparency that would free us from injustice, now cannot help producing masks for unprecedented—“newer” by the second—horrors: not merely those lurking on the “subjective” side of our digital screens (where today’s Raskolnikov and kindred social atoms hide in formatted cells “beyond good and evil”), but also those that institutionalized voyeurism craves and dies for on the “objective” side, where strife unbound fuels unceasing correlative lust.
NOTES:
[1] “Disons-le tout net, notre temps n’est pas celui du secret, mais de son opposé, la transparence.  Il y a même, plus ou moins confusément, une idéologie de la transparence qui assimile implicitement la transparence à la vérité, à la rectitude et même à l’innocence, tandis qu’à l’inverse le secret comporterait, dans ce qu’il cache et qu’il n’avoue pas, de l’inavouable et de la culpabilité.  L’idéologie de la transparence entend que tout peut s’exposer, devenir public pour être soumis au regard des autres, être également l’objet de procédures de surveillance et de contrôle.  Le plus inquiétant est que l’idéologie de la transparence est aujourd’hui souvent liée à l’idée de démocratie.  Comme si le progrès de la démocratisation était corrélatif de l’extension de la transparence et du recul du secret.  Mais qui ne voit que cette démocratie ressemblerait à un cachot sans murs ni verrous, un cachot étendu à la société entière, et la vie de l’homme démocratique à un enfer ?“ All translations appearing in the present article are by its author.
[2] See my “Saving Superman: A Daunting Lesson from Old Christianity” (Jan. 6, 2021), at https://voegelinview.com/saving-superman-a-daunting-lesson-from-old-christianity/.
[3] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I, Q. 57, art. 1, ad2.
[4] Consider the opening verses of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, where we are reminded that the human being as such is characterized if not altogether defined by free desire to enter in communion with the interiority or hidden form of all things.
[5] Plutarch, Moralia: De auditu (“On Listening to Lecutures”), 18.

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