Brother, Can You Spare a Document? : The Economy of Unknowing and a Contextualization of Wikileaks

Posted: December 29, 2010 in Uncategorized

Currently we live in a set of National Security States creating a regime of Unknowing based on the sole and explicit requirements of secrets and invisible communications.  The Harvard historian Peter Galison has been exploring the creation of our Empire of Unknowing (both by individual and collectively intermeshed governments) and he details the creation of this institution of state invisibility and its enlargement in his essay “Removing Knowledge published in The Arts of Transmission, University of Chicago 2004. His work explores the alarming growth of the unseen, and stupendously growing,  secret allotment of documents formed by governments from around the world (with the US being the primary source data) and he notes that this unseen faucet of governments are elaborating a systematic enlargement and institutionalization of the Invisible Economy of Unknowing.

Marisa Olson    Double Bind (First Video Channel, 2010)

An estimation of rescinded and withdrawn documents (i.e. Secret and Classified) places the figure as exceeding one trillion documents (per 2004, but see below for further estimation). As Galison goes on to say: “2001, for example, saw 33 million classification actions; assuming (with the experts) that there are roughly 10 pages per action, that would mean roughly 330 million pages were classified last year (about three times as many pages are now being classified as declassified). So the U.S. added a net 250 million classified pages last year.”

And how does this compare to the publicly available and open access documents?

“By comparison, the entire system of Harvard libraries—over a hundred of them—added about 220,000 volumes (about sixty million pages, a number not far from the acquisition rate at other comparably massive universal depositories such as the Library of Congress, the British Museum, or the New York Public Library).”

So the conclusion of this realm of the invisible information is, “about five times as many pages are being added to the classified universe than are being brought to the storehouses of human learning including all the books and journals on any subject in any language collected in the largest repositories on the planet.”  Yes that number is 5 times as many pages of unseen to the available. So this actually means that:

“The closed world is not a small strongbox in the corner of our collective house of codified and stored knowledge. It is we in the open world—we who study the world lodged in our libraries, from aardvarks to zymurgy, we who are living in a modest information booth facing outwards, our unseeing backs to a vast and classified empire we barely know.”

Home (Bitter) Sweet Home Joana Cifre 2009

Galison goes on to focus upon the irrationality and voraciousness of the classification scheme. The Secret economy of the document and the state apparatus which craves this secret allocation to itself only and continually seeks to enlarge itself through the manifest consumption of all secondary and tangential documents which surround it.  A surrounding document may refer to the primary and is withdrawn.  Tertiary documents follow suit and the secret state consumes the open society. Information becomes privileged and removed from the public subject at an alarming and staggering rate which actually comes to exceed the open information and documents in a society.

Given how much information is being consumed by the empire and institutions of withdrawn knowledge what is additionally disquieting is the miniscule number of individuals who are actually empowered by the security state to imprison information in the invisible estate of classification. How can it be that those who can sequester information from the population of a society are “…just over 4000 for the whole of the United States—who bear the title of Original Classifiers. Only this initiated cadre can transform a document, idea, picture, shape, or device into the modal categories Top Secret, Secret, or Confidential. And of these 4132 or so Original Classifiers, only 999 (as of 2001) are authorized to stamp a document into the category Top Secret.”

Gabriela Fridriksdottir HellBound 2008

“Those few people are the unmoved prime movers of the classified world—it is they who begin the tagging process that winds its way down the chain of derivative classification. Additionally this does not only confer invisibility on the founding or originally withdrawn documentation but for every other document that subsequently refers to any form of information in those originally classified and will subsequently bestow the highest classification for these peripheral documents as well. The classified information will imprint its mark of invisibility in a tertiary form through all the subsequent generations of work issuing from the original document making any later information cascade into the black hole of the shadow state of secrecy (and this will carry on continually and exponentially). In practical terms we can see the proliferation of this imprisonment of information (in the three forms: Original classified document, surrounding documents, and future documents touching on the two) in these figures:  in 2001 there were 260,678 original classifications (acts that designated a body of work classified) and 32,760,209 derivative ones. The number of 2001 classified documents  is founded with only the original and secondary withdrawal of documents from public access and not the proliferation of classification in the future context.”

Shepard Fairey Obey (poster) 2010

Based on the trajectories of modern western democracies and the secret machinery these states count on we can see that once a state creates a institution which gives itself a sanctioned locale within the state where each unknowable fact needs its institution and barriers along with the horrific craving for expansion and consumption of information  to safeguard itself (and the populace from the original document), the state moves to a position where it determines what information is allowable to the populace making the constituents of a State ill-informed (let alone decide upon) to consider the operations of the State.
As the Security State, now positioning itself as Paternalistic overseer to the populace, withholds information from the social body (for its citizens protection and “good”), the proposed and exponential proliferation in ignorance, focused in the withdrawn document, will begin to move a paternalistic state towards more a authoritarian regime by the means of the eradication of an informed state subject.  The mechanisms of the State invisible regimes, as founded and perpetuated in the withheld economy of the document and knowledge, generate a state without a state-subject (constituent social individual). Within this context, and given the interchange and conflict been a knowledge economy and the protocols of withdrawal, the subject as social actor is positioned as obliterated and the State as subject becomes ultimate.

Peter Dobill   Tape Body (performance, 2009)

Given the justifications and self-perpetuating growth of the invisible knowledge economy of the document (and Subject Governments Justifications for the invisible document) it becomes increasingly unlikely that things will change within the state mechanism as the national security state has and will continue to create a vast number of layers of justification and a reworking of the language of state operations and a “reinterpretation” of its foes (and motives) which function to keep in place, and further enlarge, the ratio of classification to declassification (and the known operations of the state vis a vis the unknown).

This gives us to the depressing glimpse of the individual subject within the security state and the outcry produced by the Wikileaks dump. The Question which has been proposed by the advent of the wikileaks opening of information to the populace is how is one to create a informed democratic state subject in the midst of state which harvests information solely to itself and demands (as penultimate subject before the constituent subjects which comprise it) acceptance of its hidden reach and conclusions.  The leaks call for a reasserting of equilibrium to the growing imbalance between the self-protective state and its creation of an unknowing subject, between the informed viable citizen and the active operations of artificial conglomerate of the State.

Marisa Olson    Double Bind (Second Video Channel, 2010)

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Comments
  1. maaretta says:

    Good article! A lot of important information here :-).

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