24 June 2006

Secret Societies

The whole world is fascinated with secret societies.

Many of our Presidents, including our current one, have been members of them. Indeed, one of those secret societies, the Free Masons, was central to the formation of the United States. My own alma mater was profoundly influenced by opposition to that same organization. Public enemy number one in the United States today, Al-Queda, is something of a secret society, as are, more generally, most elements of the Iraqi insurgency. Others are more social in nature, like the many secret societies of New Orleans. In politics, we focus on secret cabels of private contributors funding shadowy 527 political groups. We are governed by one of the most secretive administrations in U.S. history.

Even organizations that are not themselves secret, often operate in secret. Petite jury deliberations, grand jury proceedings, the college of cardinals, and almost every board of every governmental organization conducts secret deliberations. Even Congress has secret conference committee proceedings, and sometimes entire secret sessions. Even ordinary offices frequently have "Secret Santas."

The best selling Da Vinci Code, now a movie, tells the tale of dualing secret societies. Many of the classics of science fiction and fantasy, like Frank Herbert's Dune series, Asimov's Foundation series, and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, give central roles to secret societies. There is an entire genre of fiction devoted to a secret society known as the mafia. Other genres are built around secret governmental agencies that no one knows exists, from the Mission Impossible series to Men In Black. Denver Post columnist Ed Quillen frequently discusses his fictional committee that really runs America. Almost every Superhero has a secret identity.

We fear them, but also look to secret societies for salvation. We are loathe to underestimate their power, yet recognize that many conspiracy theories are overblown. They often seem diminished once they are in public view.

Secretive banks from Switzerland to the Cayman Islands use the mystique of secrecy as a sales pitch. Many professions, from attorneys, to doctors, to accountants, to teachers, to psychologists, to journalists, to salespeople, to clergy are bound by law and honor to keep secrets. Encryption software is available at your local office supply superstore, along with shredders, firewalls, safes and lockable file cabinets. Blogs are frequently published anonymously.

It would be nice to have a powerful, secret, force for good afoot in the world. It would be nice if its members were well connected in politics and business. It would be nice if this society were out there countering all the conservative plots and dubious government actions that seem to surface again and again.

The left has journalists and attorneys working in the public eye to save the world, but do we have anyone behind the scenes working towards the same ends? If we don't, do we need one?

I'm not exactly sure what such an organization would actually do, but it does make for a nice pipe dream.

1 comment:

Julie O. said...

Like a Justice League? Oh, if only we had a golden lasso of truth.