Published On: Tue, Nov 15th, 2016

The cult of transparency

Dear Editor,

As is the case in the wider world, here on St. Martin too, transparency has become a hip hip hurray word; a feel good word; a word without spot or blemish. Few question how they came to love this word and idea so much. A word that is unsoiled and uncontested – and never connected to inhuman trends is a dangerous thing.

If you want to be taken seriously as being anti-establishment—regardless of the fact that you are a millionaire or you are politically well-connected—then make sure you use the word transparency in your criticism of the powers that be (or accuse your adversaries of being non-transparent towards the people). Politicians and wannabe politicians, policy makers, social activists, and those who refer to themselves as concerned citizens, trip over themselves using that word.

The ideal world for these believers in transparency seems to be one where there are no secrets and no lies; everything and everyone must be clearly and completely defined. This is who I am/we are and this is what I/we think of you. A world in which we have the right to let you know what we think about you and you should know this. Everything, and we do mean everything, has to be recorded and accessible to all (from the intricate decision making processes in government to the vox populi). This is what we call the cult of transparency, and the victory of Donald Trump could be understood as the outcome of the dominance of that cult. 

Our plea is to say farewell to the cult of transparency and work towards a St. Martin and a world of more social and economic equality. Equality is not a hip word these days. Our wager is that once elected officials, businessmen and women, and persons active in civic associations, take care of promoting and doing equality, matters will become more transparent to us all; transparent in this case meaning that individuals of all walks of life will have the skills and knowledge and moral character to pick sense out of nonsense.

But let us return to the pickle: wholesale acceptance and promotion of transparency can lead to the ascendancy of someone like Donald Trump. This seems a big leap. Many who have committed themselves to the ideology of transparency, and frequently use that word, may object. They may retort that there is transparency proper and then there is the corruption of that good intended word and idea proposed by good intended technocrats and men and women who genuinely love democracy and the rainbow that is humanity. They stress that the cult of transparency should not be confused with the thing itself (making transparent how public resources are spent and the choice of contractors determined). Trump, the aficionados of transparency respond, has nothing to do with transparency proper (think about his tax evasions, he sought to hide).

Note that their reasoning once again restores transparency to a word and an idea that is perfect. Transparency in their argumentation is not an outcome of other acts, but supposedly the cure and medicine for a world where the growing disparities between the have-a-lots, the have-some, the have-a-little, and the have-none is wreaking havoc. Why is it so difficult for persons to allow transparency to be a soiled word/idea – like every other word/idea – that we should therefore use with caution?

The movie “Liar Liar” starring Jim Carrey comes to mind, and one wonders if these believers in transparency really believe in fairy tales. If they realize that such a world would be undesirable and unworkable, they may come to see why we focus on equality – an ideal whereby there is sufficient room for equal hearing of personal and group grievances, while never compromising on equal concern for the well-being and welfare of all.

But this is a tough sell to the believers in transparency. They choose to explain the rise of Trump differently.  Sophisticated and less sophisticated answers are presented. Here is a summary. We are told by criticasters on CNN and the other international news channels that Trump is simply a misogynist, a bigot, a racist, a xenophobe, etc. He should be viewed as a conniving soul who brought out the worst in an America that was slowly overcoming the racial divide that has plagued the country from its inception. As the moral progress on that front was fickle, and his opponent (Hilary Clinton) could not shake off the general conviction that she was a serial liar and part of the establishment making the poor poorer, Trump was able to reawaken old fears and racial antagonisms.

Conversely, others reckon that we should not focus too much on the man and what he said, but on what he embodies. Trump they say symbolizes the unfinished work of the civil rights movement in the USA. Many in the leadership positions of that struggle became part of the establishment. Having moved up, socially and economically, they spread the myth of post-racialism. Trump shows this to be a lie. The blight of racism is alive and well among pink-skinned Americans (as it is for those with other shades) – and this holds equally for those who live in the trailer parks as for those who reside in the air-conditioned suburbs…  And, given the likes of the Geert Wilders and the Marine Le Pen’s, on the other side of the Atlantic, the same can be said for the Netherlands and France. The world from whence the colonizers came still needs to be decolonized. So too do their best believers living on St. Martin and the rest of the Global South that promote the worst kinds of racism and ethnic chauvinism in the name of “the people”. The right to freedom of expression has been negatively influenced by the cult of transparency.   

An alternative explanation privileges reforming democracy. Such is the line taken by the likes of public intellectuals such as David van Reybrouck who argue that the electoral system of western democracies (including referenda) is outdated. The world of social media, where information is rampant and people form their own opinions outside of traditional channels of communication and authority, calls for new systems of governance. We need to deepen the participation of non-elected persons in ways that also allows them to be better informed.  This latter explanation shares an affinity with what we are proposing here, as it implicitly acknowledges that the tsunami of information in our social media age (with a 1001 TV channels) is mostly appealing packaged forms of misinformation. And this goes together with a downsizing of government’s commitment to offer quality education to the most economically challenged alongside the informalization of labour  (think here on St. Martin about the six month contracts even in sectors where such is not needed), thereby implicitly sanctioning the demise of the importance and opportunity of upward social mobility for all. In such a world hustling (legal and illegal forms) becomes the norm, and security companies boom to further reassure the more well-to-do who imprison themselves after working hours in gated communities; the same persons who simultaneously decry the loss of norms and values in society. People only become well informed when the commitment to social and economic equality is non-negotiable.

And so we return to the pickle: wholesale acceptance and promotion of transparency can lead to the ascendancy of someone like Donald Trump. Many of those who voted for him view him as the man who finally removed the apron of the governing elites and big business revealing monstrosities. He has made transparent according to them that those in power are nothing but two-timers and swindlers, human reptiles, who wear three piece suits and talk a good talk while raping the struggling man and woman (those who live in the ghettoes, trailer parks, and suburbs).

And the fact that he is offensive to women and minorities, well, his supporters reason, he is just being real and having fun. Having fun and being real (read: transparent) with a sexual and racist tinge go hand in hand—and they aver one should not be hypocritical as that is a fact for everyone. These days we are told everything ought to be transparent… Except, so it seems, making transparent how equality will be restored as the highest ideal.

Dr. Francio Guadeloupe, President of the University of St. Martin (USM)
Mr. Josue Ferrol, Coordinator of the Pre-USM program, USM
Mr. Pedro de Weever, Chief Editor of the USM’s Commentaries Journal
Mr. Erwin Wolthuis, Head of the Hospitality Division, USM
Drs. Jordi Halfman, PhD researcher at the University of Amsterdam /Guest lecturer USM
Drs. Sharelly Emanuelson, Founder UniArte, Curaçao/Guest lecturer USM