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The Transparency Prism

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In the media frenzy that followed the revelation by the Guardian newspaper that the NSA was routinely spying on the US and other citizens, a very significant op-ed was published by the same British and global paper. The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei argued that "The US is behaving like China."

Usually in the West the media praises dissidents elsewhere, formerly in the Soviet Union or Czechoslovakia now in China or Russia. In these countries, for example on RT (Russia Today), American radicals are given a voice they do not have in their countries. The dissidents of one country become traitors at home and heroes abroad, as far as MSM (Mainstream media) are concerned. Ai Weiwei like fellow Western dissidents breaks this rule and sticks to principles: freedom of speech and protection from abuse of power by the state matter more than national allegiance. Democracy, as advocated by Ai Weiwei, Edward Snowden, Noam Chomsky or Daniel Ellsberg and defended by the Guardian and its reporters is a global fight that transcends national boundaries. Today the democrats who defend Greece are not in the Greek government but in opposition to it, both within and outside Greece. They protest the shutting down of the only public news service in the name of freedom of information. Americans and Chinese, Europeans and Americans are involved in a global fight against the global arms of control agencies.

One key word in this fight is: transparency. When Ms. Clinton criticized countries limiting access to the Internet, this term was often used. Transparency is said to be a key characteristic of free societies. Of course when "free societies" resort to universal spying the concept becomes a joke. Arguing that Snowden should be prosecuted because he broke the law is indeed comical when the criminals who lied about weapons of mass destruction and caused hundreds of thousands of deaths are not anywhere near a court. When a Chinese dissident breaks an illegitimate Chinese law the West applauds. When an American whistleblower reveals hidden crimes the accomplices of these crimes cry foul. Transparency in political matters is claimed only when the other has something to hide.

Governments everywhere claim transparency yet operate in opacity, withholding key information from citizens. Whistleblowers try to right the balance and throw light on the hidden schemes of secret services or the secret decision of democratically elected governments. In a sense, what Prism and the NSA affair illustrate is the transmutation of transparency. Governments insist on making every private citizen transparent, a man (or woman) without qualities to use Musil's phrase and without the right to privacy. From the democratic ideal of open deliberation accessible to all citizens to the compulsory transparency of our Brave New Digital World the concept of transparency has been stood on its head. From a political right in democracies, transparency has become a totalitarian feature of democracies and non-democracies alike. It is significant that social networks are the allies of government obfuscation and cooperate with the powers that be rather than help fight against them. Big Brother is watching us from the cellars of governments but also from the towers of media and Internet companies.

The NSA revelations show the Obama Administration in a bad light but they also should destroy the myth of liberation by Facebook or the Internet. Major corporations make the snooping of governments easier and are motivated by profit not by any political ideal. They cooperate with the Chinese or the US government and enforce a "naked ape" (Desmond Morris) approach to privacy. In the Brave New Digital World citizens must be transparent, under constant surveillance and they must even welcome this surveillance whereas the powers that be can remain hidden, operate in secrecy and dismantle democracy with the open smiles of social networks. Political transparency is a scam; compulsory nakedness is justified in the name of the fight against terror. Totalitarian measures such as the digital version of Bentham's Panopticon are presented as a protective move. The fight against terrorism has enabled attacks upon civil liberties; it is now clear that we all live in the ever seeing eye of government approved spies. The state of exception has become the new normal. Every time we touch a screen or a phone the pursuit of happiness becomes an act of obscene mental undressing. In order to protect us authorities are stealing privacy and intimacy. The transparency which should apply to political decisions has been perverted. The perverts are at the head of agencies and governments; the dissidents, whistleblowers and radical critics are the defenders of democracy, the opponents of perversion.

Daniel Ellsberg was considered a hero by many in the US when he leaked the Pentagon Papers; now his support for Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden is buried in the alternative media or the Guardian in Britain (and fortunately on the Net too).

With Ai Weiwei and Daniel Ellsberg we need to form a global alliance against the perverts in power and restore the fight for transparency where it belongs -- in the decision-making process and protect ourselves from the perverse protectors who penetrate our privacy and our freedom of thought.