More on transparency

“Transparency is at once the most powerful, dangerous and incomplete political ideal of the 21st century.” – Parag Khanna

This image from the hilarious self-parody that is the ‘Quotable TED‘ gallery on Facebook is worth commenting on. I don’t know anything,¬†anything at all about the rest of Khanna’s talk, but I almost don’t need to (we know what kind of talk TED tends to attract). He’s right though – transparency is a dangerous and powerful ideal, as we’ve seen with the McDonald’s video. Clearly “just enough” transparency can be as illusory as silence.

There’s also a growing awareness in some circles that what can often happen with ‘Transparency’, far from making clearer or clarifying, is actually an obfuscation and distortion. Consider the self-reporting and self-surveillance techniques that Mark Fisher talks about as an integral part of the (neoliberal) modern university bureaucracy: anywhere ¬†targets, goals and metrics are put in place to measure things like education/teaching performance the metrics become and end in themselves. The teaching shifts to “teaching the test” (Cf: The Wire and it’s episodes in Season 4 and 5 recognising this issue in the US public education system) and performing for the sake of the metrics instead of… actual teachin.

To return to the issue of transparency, I think an identical thing happens. When the goal is transparency, transparency itself becomes the goal rather than the product of a higher ethical commitment to honesty (or anything similar).