need secrets because they need the assurance that there is
something left to discover, that they have not exhausted the limits of
their environment, that a prize might lie in wait like money in the pocket of an
old jacket, that the existence of things beyond their ken might propose as a
corollary that their own minds contain unsuspected corridors. People need
uncertainty and destabilization the way they need comfort and security. It's
not that secrets make them feel small but that they make the world seem
bigger -- a major necessity these days, when sensations need to be extreme
to register at all. Secrets reawaken that feeling from childhood that the ways
of the world were infinitely mysterious, unpredictable and densely packed,
and that someday you might come to know and master them. Secrets purvey
affordable glamour, suggest danger without presenting an actual threat. If
there were no more secrets, an important motor of life would be stopped,
and the days would merge into a continuous blur. Secrets hold out the
promise, false but necessary, that death will be deferred until their unveiling.
(Luc Sante "What Secrets Tell", The New York Times,
Sunday Magazine, 03Dec00, p.77)
|Tell God your secrets: Go take confession!|
|| clear-eyed essay about sentimentality
(re: O. Henry, "The Gift of the Magi").|
|| unambivalent essay against ambivalence
(sentimentality's siamese twin).|
Read about the banality of surprise endings.|
Learn why Oedipus's tragedy was not inevitable.
Learn the power of "bracketing" beliefs.
Think about myth.
See also [my page on] Leisure, the basis of culture.
See also [ " " ] Civilization and its Discontents.
See also [ " " ] Philosophy and daily life.
there are some things that for good reasons some persons feel they need to keep secret
(e.g., if one was a Jew in Hitler's Reich but could "pass" for not being jewish). But these
"good reasons" are dependent on bad things. Apart from such misfortunte situations, it seems to me
that secrets themselves "help" make life more misfortunate than it needs to be. The famous
O. Henry story, "The Gift of the Magi", shows how keeping secrets to try to make
others happy can mess up everybody's life. Oedipus's story shows how keeping secrets
due to shame, etc. can bring about the very evils one "kept" the secrets to try to avert.|
|Many secrets aren't even considered
to properly be secrets; they're smuggled past us under disguise. It's just obvious that
students shouldn't have the answers to the S.A.T. exam before they take it. Then there are the things people
make be secrets through personal desire: Like choosing not to read the end of a book
first to make oneself be "surprised" at the ending because of self-selected ignorance. The persons
could have read the ending first, and then been
able to see as they read how well the whole work supports its conclusion --
not to mention getting an early indication whether
the whole book is worth reading, or whether knowing how it ends exhausts all it has to say
(so that one could skip the rest and do something else with the time that might yield some value)....|
|As the Times article says: "If
there were no more secrets, an important motor of life would be stopped." Teachers could no
longer "give" students tests, and book consumers could no longer look forward to surprise endings.
Question: But would this cause "the days would merge into a continuous blur" and make the world
|I call this way of thinking:
a spiritual economics of scarcity. It goes back to ideas like that the world already all
exists and that our job is to dis-cover what's already there (like finding the right
answers to those S.A.T. exam and other test questions, etc.). But philosophy at least since Immanuel Kant shows
that we create our world, i.e., that persons construct what things mean (i.e., what they "are"...).
And meaning builds on meaning, so that
everything that exists (i.e., everything we already understand...) can be viewed as "raw
material" for synthesizing into new, further creative accomplishments (George Steiner:
"Most books are about other books").|
|I propose: Let all secrets be
revealed (except for the kind that really do protect persons from harm, like being jewish
in the Third Reich)! Let there be [to use Kofi Annan's lovely word which he used in reference
to Iraq's programs to develop weapons of mass destruction]: transparency! Let persons be judged
not on how good they are at finding out what we have hidden from them, but on
how good they are at coming up with previously unimaginable good things to add to --
and, best of all, to: transfigure -- our world.
Instead of hiding the afikomen and the kids looking for it, let all try to think of
new recipes and other uses for matzoh. At least as important, let us also research and
reflect on the meaning persons previously
found in hiding and finding the afikomen -- for we may find, in persons' experience of
myths and rituals,
appealing meanings to try to incorporate into our self-selected form of life,
only in more self-aware, self-accountable and creative ways! (Every myth is a resource; every idea anyone ever had
is part of a universal semiotic "junk yard":
scrap meaning for us to incorporate in our own new productions.)|
|Secrets do make persons small: the less one
is aware of, the smaller one is. Even worse, one's own smallness is encompassed in the
bigger perspective of the persons who already know the answers -- which facilitates
social power relations of super- and subordination: teachers and students, bosses and workers,
governors and governed, etc.
Secrets also prevent persons from standing on the shoulders they have not
yet become aware of, of the giants that have been hidden from them. I see this, at best, as digging holes
for the purpose of filling them up again.|
Learning cannot really be "discovery learning" unless the teacher
does not know the answer and the answer is not in the teacher's guide (and
Educational Testing Service
(ETS), Princeton New Jersey does not know the
|Real questions are open-ended,
and discovering something nobody knew does not leave one finally feeling that
one has finally succeeded in reinventing the[ir] wheel. Without knowing about Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, Marcel Duchamp
could not have created his L.H.O.O.Q. Without knowing about Duchamp's L.H.O.O.Q.,
I could not have created my I.U.D.T.C.R.[fn.55]
Without knowing about my I.U.D.T.C.R., you could
not create your.... (Also: a new idea is more valuable the more existing things we can
relate it to (i.e., transform thru it): Inventing the wheel and applying it to going places and
understanding the motions of the starry heavens is a more "substantive" innovation
than inventing the wheel and persons only spinning it in idle distraction between their fingers.
"An invention" is not a binary thing, as if previously you didn't see it but now you do -- It
is more accurate to say that "an" invention is potentially a seed from which may
sprout many inventions.)|
||The big secret about secrets --
what secrets tell -- can be that we live under conditions of intimidation, where
it is not safe to tell (like Jews in the Third Reich). Else secrets may tell that we don't
know how to play together creatively: that we are so imaginatively impoverished that the only things we have to
share with each other are things we temporarily don't: secrets, "surprises"... and
after we do share them, "an important motor of life stops"....
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