Freedom of Information.
More and more I realize I’m becoming, an old curmudgeon. Some insist I won that title several years ago already. In spite of that I feel it incumbent on me to try and bring light and truth to some of the murkier areas of our lives.
I was led to believe when I was a young lad and still idealistic, that I was living in a democracy. Not speaking Greek it took some time and considerable effort on the part of teachers and parents to inform me what that meant. It turns out that democracy is a form of government. It also turns out that it is quite rare in the world. In this form of government it is posited that the citizens of a nation actually are the owners of and organizers of the nation. It is the citizens that have the power to rule the country and direct it as they see fit. This is different from most of the places in the world and indeed different from the way things have been here except for the past couple of hundred years.
Our nation like most others 300 years ago was ruled by a king who claimed to have the authority to rule given to him directly by God. He got that authority not by getting the nod from the citizens but merely by right of being born oldest son of the preceding king. It is a system of government that is quite common and with minor variations about male versus female, elders agreeing, noble classes accepting etc, etc, etc, it has been used for centuries. The reality of kingship however was that often the guy who got to be king got that way not so much by God but by being a better warrior than the others.
Anyway to cut a long and often confusing story shorter over the course of many battles, many kings, many ups and downs the power and authority of the king was slowly spread out from him alone to include nobles, then to wealthy though not necessarily noble citizens, then to pretty regular citizens as long as they could read and do Euclidean geometry, till we arrived at our present situation where we suppose the authority and power of the nation belongs to all the adults in the country as long as they aren’t criminals and can recite the dead parrot skit from Monty Python. The government is presumed to be the group of people we the citizens hire to actually do the day to day work of running the country.
We presume the government will do this work in a fair and equitable manner according to the traditions and laws we have established over the last few centuries and we get the right to vote for who exactly gets to do this job every now and again just to remind the governors that they are in fact hired by, and can be fired by we the citizens.
This brings me to the area of freedom of information. We have a long standing tradition that since the government is actually doing our business we have a right to know how, what, where, why , they are doing it. But governing is a very seductive thing. Lots of people like ordering others around and many people don’t like being ordered around and so the governors often don’t really want to let us know what they are doing. I understand this. When I worked at GM I didn’t want my boss to know what I was doing all the time because as shocking s it might seem I was not always working as hard as I might have to do what the company wanted me to do. Still as much as I might ty to hide what I was doing or cnfuse the boss about it I realized that since they were paying me they actually did have a right to know what I was doing.
Likewise our governors know that the citizens actually have a riht to know what they are doing but they don’t always want us to know all that is happening. In fact often they are so secretive that we have had to write laws that codify the fact that we have a right to know.
Now I would like to propose a change in tone and function aout this right to know. I think it is high time that the laws were changed so that it was very difficult for the governors to do anything that was not openly displayed to all the citizens. I think they should be told that while they are doing our business for us we have aright to know everything they are doing and it should be up to them to come up with clear and reasonable claims for anything they wish to keep secret. The citizens should not have to request that information about the working of our governments be published, all the workings of our government should be published unless they can prove a very real and urgent need for kepping it otherwise.
It was not so long ago that virtually every meeting of every committee and panel and function of government was open to the public and the press with very rare exceptions. Lots of times they revolves around personnel matter, the feeling being that it wasn’t fair for everyone to hear how the bosses felt about a particular employee at job review time or salary negation time. If some legal proceedings were being contemplated they might be kept secret so as to not warn a criminal they were under suspicion or conversely to not smear someone who might be innocent although suspected of some wrong doing. By and larg though all the actions of out governments were expected to be open and carried on in public so we the citizens, the bosses, knew what our employees were dong and how and why they were doing it.
I think many of our leaders need to be reminded of this. I also think it might stop a great deal of the mismanagement of our nation’s business if all these proceedings were made open and public all the time and we could all marvel at the skill, erudition and just general classiness of those citizens we have chosen to be our representatives and employees. In spite of moments of general disgust at the way our politicians behave we are truly blessed in our democracy that most of them are in fact honest decent people who are trying to do what they think is best for the country. Let’s make all that work public and help them keep up the better side of their efforts because the ones who are trying to subvert the processes will be under better scrutiny by We the people.