[FoRK] Lessig, Anissimov, "transparency fundamentalism", and flip-flopping

Ken Ganshirt @ Yahoo ken_ganshirt at yahoo.ca
Fri Oct 16 10:24:15 PDT 2009

--- On Fri, 10/16/09, Jeff Bone <jbone at place.org> wrote:
> Michael takes Lawrence to task over his recent transparency
> back-peddling article in The New Republic.  Original
> Lessig article:
>   http://www.tnr.com/article/books-and-arts/against-transparency
> Anissimov's critique:
>   http://www.acceleratingfuture.com/michael/blog/2009/10/lawrence-lessig-abandons-transparency-fundamentalism-finally/
> --
> So...  I'm really torn about this.  On the one
> hand, the dangers of complete transparency seem, and have
> always seemed, obvious to me --- going back to sparring on
> the issue with Gordon on this list some decade+ ago, after
> Brin came out guns blazing with his book.  On the other
> hand, the dangers of incomplete transparency and asymmetric
> (with respect to e.g. governors vs. the governed) seem even
> more patently obvious 8 years later.  "Who watches the
> watchers?" ...and all that.

Wow! I think some folks have really over-thunk this whole thing.

There's a conflation here that I'm not sure is relevant. Even if it's relevant, it's not terribly useful on practical terms.

Mixing two risk factors together under the umbrella of "transparency" serves no useful purpose, in my view. One risk factor - that someone is hiding or misrepresenting "hard" information - has little relationship to the other risk factor - that there are variables that are more or less unknowable, like weather conditions or level of demand for a commodity in the future.

One risk factor is controllable: you have the information; give it to me straight. I should not need to hedge (at least not very much) for someone's tendency to prevaricate. This is controllable through regulation and consequence.

The other risk factor is not, so you hedge for it or stay out of the game.

Then the dimension of involvement in decision-making .... what's with that? What does it have to do with transparency?

Let's bring it back to the common person, if that's where the authors want to go with it. When it comes to issues that will affect us, the common person just wants it straight. If the information is available, give it. Without spin. 

As far as involvement, most of us are bright enough to understand that there may be some specific expertise needed when dealing with various issues. But if it's going to affect me, I do want to know that I can be heard. Not about the nit-picky details of How, so much as my fears about how the bureaucrats and autocrats and technocrats might manage to screw it up this time. 

The herd is generally much more sensitive to the laws of unintended consequences than the "experts" who are about to deliver them (unintended consequences). The "experts" and "professionals" too often have a narrow view and will likely not have to endure the unintended consequences in any case.

In my view, only one item mentioned has anything to do with the sort of practical transparency that most are concerned about: availability of unspun exisitng "hard" information upon which to base sensible decisions. As it relates to financial decisions, which is where most of the pressure is coming from, if it's too complicated to figure out I always have the option to stay out of the game or pick a different game. But I can't make that decision if the information is not made available. And it's particularly insulting when it's withheld on the basis that it's too complicated for me to understand. That's hubris.


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