Why is information as bad?

Friday, July 29, 2005 at 09:56 AM

It seems to me that, again and again in our country, we find the people who run things acting as though information was something bad, something that needs to be guarded against at all costs.  Why is that?

Many blogs and message boards have horrendously long threads in which left and right battle over the right's claim that any attempt to "understand" terrorists amounts to enabling terrorist activity.

The current White House is well known for its addiction to secrecy (except when a leak can accomplish an administration objective).  Documents now achieve Secret status far more often than in the past, with all indications being that most of the newly secret documents have no national security implications of any kind.

It was changes to regulations dealing with disclosure of pertinent financial data that allowed Enron and other corporate scandals to arise.

The government now comes down on the side of lack of information even in the food and drug arena. I understand that the government sided with the biotech corporations in their fight to prevent any requirement that food labels tell consumers when their food has genetically engineered material in it (that's right, you've probably eaten lots of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) already).

The government could easily require businesses to keep detailed records on hirings and firings and wages and salaries and hours worked.  That would allow us to really understand what's happening in and to our economy at the level of individual employment.  But no, no government support for that.

So what's up?  Is information bad?  Can people die from too much information?  Can information infect us and make us too weak to fight off our enemies?  Or is the answer to our newly developed antipathy to information explained by the saying "knowledge is power," and its flip side: "lack of knowledge is lack of power?"

If there are forces who want knowledge to stay within a select group of hands, why is that?  Who is being deprived of power by being deprived of knowledge?

Well, we all know that sometimes knowledge must be kept out of the hands of our enemies.  That might explain the trend toward classified documents.  Except that when the documents do get declassified or leaked, it turns out that there was nothing in them that could have empowered our enemies.

But what about the rules for corporate disclosure, the use of genetically modified plants in your food, the lack of detailed employment information, or the motivations behind terrorists and other enemies?

Only the American public is being denied the information. What is it that the public could do with the information that makes the people in power want to keep it to themselves?

We could get upset by something we didn't know before.  We could decide for ourselves how well our nation is functioning.  We could evaluate for ourselves the wisdom of some national policies that might be getting us into some really hot water. We could decide for ourselves if we wanted genetically modified crops, with all the organisms used to make them, inside our bodies.

We could decide for ourselves.