As usual, instead of looking at the obvious aspects of an issue, in this case transparency, we’d like to provide perspective from a higher vantage point.
There existed a particular social order that provided an almost completely careless life for people.
They didn’t have to mobilize any kind of creative energy in relation to social life. Although in any waking moment their awareness was at peak intensity, while death was palpably close most of the time, they didn’t have to deal with trivialities that divert attention away from life: what to eat and drink and when, what to wear for what occasion, how to address whom, how to behave and how to speak -including choice of words-, what present to buy for whom on what occasion and for how much, what kind of house to live in, including how big it should be, what profession to choose and how to perfect oneself in it, how to spend one’s spare time, whom to marry, what emotions to express and how, including when to smile at whom and to what degree — they didn’t need to figure any of these out.
While they may have been physically close, the relationship between people was defined by distance and respect; they viewed each other and the environment with a sense of wonder and this was reflected in everything they touched: in everyday objects, architecture, in gardens.
Two things surely come to mind when we hear about such a society:
- How was this possible?
- If they didn’t worry about such things, what did they think about?
The answers are connected.
The answer to the second question is obvious: they focused only on the essential: in every moment, they kept only the most essential things in the center of their attention. This is possible only in a wise social structure, in one that stands in the sign of the truth. It’s easy to see this if we consider the opposite and recognize how difficult it is for justice to prevail even for brief moments in current social constructs that permit only the unessential.
In traditional Japan (the example I used), they imbued even the smallest events of life with essence by ritualizing them. The point is not that everything was prescribed bureaucratically; quite the opposite: everything was a rite. As Mircea Eliade pointed out, we perform a ritual when we perform it as if it was performed the very first time, in illo tempore; we perform the prototype of the act, essentially imitating the gods. Not only when we build a house or create pottery or a sword, or enable grapes to become what they are meant to be, but also when we eat, express an emotion, handle a conflict, perhaps think.
Opposite to rituals we find routine: it has no sense of beauty not only in terms of objects and their mass production but also in terms of people: families have become mechanical units of production, often formed based on economic considerations.
When we look at traditional Japan (or Europe in the Middle ages, or in Antiquity) with a modern pair of eyes, we may have the impression that it was a very transparent society. However, nothing is farther from the truth. Transparency in the modern sense signifies an invasion of privacy and a cynical liquidation of identity, driven by hidden agendas and/or false ideologies. In organic societies the insignificant, external factors simply follow nature and they reflect a well perceived innate order; in mechanical, bureaucratic organizations the external becomes the most important aspect and since there is no innate order (no identity), the external “order” is always unnatural. If this sounds strong, consider the fact that corporate roles are not organic: there is no such thing as a natural a born payroll administrator, manager, etc., thus such roles can’t provide a path of self-realization.
Identity in a social setting means differentiation. However, in a corporate setting identity is replaced with KPIs. To make this point more clear: while in organic societies the person performing a function was more important than the function (the latter originated from the former), in business organizations the function (and the process) is more important than the person, who in this context is more of a liability than an asset. (We may also say that a person is always a long term liability and a short term asset.)
Machines are fully transparent constructs. Clogs have no identity, they have no need for privacy and they don’t control anything. Most modern (corporate or government) initiatives towards transparency lead to mechanization, disrespect and cynicism; what drives these initiatives and the false ideologies behind them is mostly the fear people experience when they find themselves in situations they can’t control with the tools they’re given, while their status is judged by KPI’s towards goals defined by the ultimate and unnatural objective: unlimited growth and its analogies.
We reflected on these and related points in a a podcast: shooting the breeze on transparency & other stuff