Sunday, June 16, 2013

Telling Tales, Revealing Secrets

This business of telling secrets, of exposing what might best be left unsaid, isn’t new of course. Not just spying, but tale-telling, gossip, even "pillow talk" are old and sometimes dangerous. Of course, sometimes telling what you know is important, revealing something that impacts others’ lives. The problem is, often the teller doesn’t have any idea of the consequences that act will have. It is, I think, because something is missing, hasn’t been learned, or the teller is unable to comprehend the larger picture.

I’m thinking about these things because the writer within wants to explore what makes the spiller-of-secrets act. I could try to create a story based on known facts about the two most recent exposures, one by an army intelligence analyst and one by a person claiming to be a security contractor. There are enough facts already out there to write a credible story I think, but that isn’t what calls to me. There is something that is much bigger, more critical, than a current whistleblower’s news-making act. The kinds of things these people do, like the release of what are known as the Pentagon Papers, will always happen, and over a generation or two will prove to be either harmless or important or at least part of a larger story. No, that’s not what strikes me about the performance by these people.

Of course I am concerned that high school drop-outs can be part of the intelligence community, with access to information that may or may not be critical to our security, because I don’t believe you should encourage people to ferret out information without their first having developed a moral and ethical sense that extends beyond a personal point of view. Security and intelligence work is done for many reasons, but in a democracy it must be done for the greater good. The greater good means supporting and strengthening the values of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" for all.

I’m much more interested in what part of a person’s character or moral code is missing or skewed. Somewhere, somehow, an otherwise rational and normal person decides that he (or she) has seen a revealing light that exposes some evil, or some unexpected future, and that the exposure will be healthy and necessary. I believe that is where things go wrong.

You see, in my view of the world, nothing is simple or clear or without nuance. I believe most people do not think things through. They fail to see consequences, not just to themselves, but to even the most distant stranger. What I want to explore, as a writer, is what is missing, what might have happened in someone’s life that either failed to implant the ability to understand consequences, or to measure the effect of bad things happening for what one person might consider good reason. And I want to attempt to understand why other people listen to them.

Mapping the brain, exploring it genetically, reveals not just the part of that organ that plays the tune a person dances to, but how that song is heard by others. It now appears that altruism, for instance, has a location in the brain that makes humans give to others. Development (or lack of it) in that part of the brain may determine how much an individual is motivated to contribute to the welfare of others, as opposed to working only for oneself. I want to look at why we share, what we share, and how that sharing affects the larger world around us. It means developing a character from the bones out.

I haven’t been able to come up with a skeleton yet, but when I do, you’ll be the first to know.