I've been reading a fantasic book for the last month of so, a piece on American intelligence leading up to 9/11 with a focus on the events in Afghanistan from the Soviet invaision onwards titled: "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001
" by Steve Coll. Now, while I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who, like me, enjoys a kind of a "behind the scenes" look into historical events and politics, my reason for bringing it into discussion are somewhat different.
While reading on the subway home from work today, I got to thinking about the benefits of living in a society that values transparency and accountability. I am particularly amazed by the extraordinary access to information that would be required to put together such a book. Conspiracy theorists aside, the level of openness and transparency in American government and political processes is truly second to none. I can, quite literally, access de-classified scanned NSA documents online, which are publicly accessible to anyone, anywhere. Arguments can certainly be made that, dispite this, popular media in the US is surprisingly sheepish and docile. I tend to agree with this line of argument, which is all the more disturbing given the unprecedented level of information available to both the media savvy intellectuals as well as the average citizen.
I wish to spend a bit of time addressing this paradox.
Firstly, the power of information and transparent government functions cannot be downplayed. Living in a society that values freedom of information is not only morally defensible as an end in itself, but also because it allows such fierce analysis and truth-seeking as is demontrated by Coll. Contrast this with typical regimes of governance that exist, and have existed, in which a select few like-minded elites have access to all
the information. The obvious weakness of such a system is that the agents involved in the governing structures of the state lack the feedback, the dissent, as well as the ability to decentralize and diffuse decision making functions. Furthermore, transparent political arrangement are not only desirable for politically expedient reasons, but also because it facilitates a broader involvement of civil society and other non-governmental actors in both the decision making processes of government, as well as the necessary criticism to ensure that those who govern remain accountable to those who are governed.
to be continued...