Monday, October 12, 2009

Secretly Strengthening Nationalism

Galison points out in his conclusion titled "Producing Ignorance" that classifying documents threatens the circulation of information, and thus, the flow of knowledge. If whole domains of learning are classified, it interferes with the progress of science and technology. Paglen points this out in his book: his work as a geographer is impeded by the "blank spots on the map", and defense technology is certainly slowed by the intense national security that surrounds it.

If print capitalism's ability to transmit knowledge was the foundation of the modern nation-state, as Anderson so claims in Imagined Communities, this week's readings seem to imply that secrecy, or the restriction of knowledge circulation, also strengthens the nation. The classification of knowledge is closely tied to the agenda of the state, most notoriously, the development of the atomic bomb as highlighted by Galison. As Paglen discusses in his book, the construction of secret terrorist cells and prisons are further proof of this; the web of secrecy is used to maintain the security of the nation-state. In realist terms, knowledge is capital is power, and the ability to control the flow of information is thus the ability to maintain power.

Foucault traces the exercise of power in Western society as historically tied to the establishment of the law. Paglen claims that the power now lies in a state's ability to enforce policies outside the control of the law, national or international. Institutions such as the CIA, NSA and NRO all (attempt to) function outside the constraints of law because it gives them the secrecy. The reasons for maintaining this veil of secrecy are framed in terms of national security - in terms of self-preservation. Secrecy and the restriction of information circulation thus become tools to reinforce nationalism and the primacy of the nation-state.

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