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Old 23-01-18, 09:37 PM   #1
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Join Date: May 2001
Location: Moses Lake, Washington
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Default Secrets, Gossip, Collusion, Government, and Corruption

I recently heard this riddle:
If you have me, you want to share me
But if you share me, you no longer have me.
I thought for 5-10 minutes and came up with two of what turned out to be close-but-no-cigar answers: gossip and responsibility. I settled on the latter before hearing the true answer: a secret. I silently contested that gossip was my first guess, and that’s nearer in concept to a secret so I should receive half-credit for my first intuition. Alas, the true answer fits the riddle far better, but I mused on my near-success.

Gossip doesn’t quite fit as it is an activity, while a secret is a valuable object, about which one may become the subject of gossip if too many people hear it. Considering the damage sharing a secret may cause, why do we possess the well-known impulse to risk such damage? What occurred to me is that a secret is itself not gossip, but to bear a secret is a sort of responsibility (score another ¼ riddle-me point for me). And although a secret and gossip are two different things, they’re very closely related in that the secret is the payload whilst gossip is its mode of transportation. With so much risk involved, that close relationship must be the motive behind our human impulse to gossip.

Given the weight of responsibility the holder of a secret must possess, the desire to share the workload of keeping that secret might psychologically feel like an opportunity to lighten the load. After all, for two to reveal a secret would have no greater damaging impact than for just one to do so, so sharing the burden with one other person would ‘logically’ divide it in half. This rationalization, invalid as it is, we employ in a quick mental risk/reward analysis, and quickly we come to the awareness that to share a secret is high risk but even higher reward. So the bearer of a secret inevitably decides to share it, but it doesn’t end there. Every new person to learn about the secret performs the same rationalization and eventually decides to share and share again, and again, and thus secrets beget gossip. With the damage finally done, those previously in possession of the secret individually feel less responsible for spilling the beans (except maybe for the actual snitch him or herself), and with that lesson learned, masses of people are eventually weaned of their sense of guilt over sharing of secrets.

An ancillary lesson is slowly learned as well: snitches get stitches. Often, by the time a child has developed enough to know the value of a secret, they have already heard stories about or have personally witnessed what happens to snitches. But those who were ignorant of this lesson before they were first taught about honesty being the best policy will be the examples made of for blabbing to the authorities. For one so young and naive to see the truth so betrayed will certainly leave a lasting impression, and that child may learn far more discretion than is advised. Many will fear the repercussions of blabbing so greatly that if or when they do find a problem that absolutely should be reported to the authorities, they will fail to do the right thing.

Perhaps that is the seed of cronyism and political corruption, for those who are best at keeping secrets are those with skeletons in their own closets. Having so much to lose makes is of great importance to unearth other people’s secrets. Everyone will eventually have dirt on everyone else, and will by necessity take everyone else into their confidence. Thus mutually contracted, the temptation to collude and conspire on each other’s behalf will easily overpower any qualms some of them might have, and working together in secret, the party will grow powerful. It was Frank Herbert who suggested it may in fact not be that power corrupts, but that it is “magnetic” to the corruptible. Indeed this was his explanation to why all governments face the problem that “pathological personalities” tend to fill high government offices.

Anyway, those were just a few thoughts on the sharing of secrets and the abundance of gossip. My final self-awarded tally of riddle-me points stands at ¾.
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Old 20-09-22, 06:06 AM   #2
flippin 'em off
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Join Date: Dec 2001
Location: the real world
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Knowledge is power and keeping it from others is key. Reading an interesting book; "The Dawn of Everything, A New History of Humanity (David Graeber, David Wengrow)-2021"; presenting evidence and theories on the ancient development of dictatorial government that espouses that point.

I think when someone with political power asks about your "loyalty" it's really about keeping their nasty little secrets.

After you've kept them for a time you'll also be harmed by their disclosure, reinforcing that "loyalty".
Taking power from the many and giving it to the few corrupts the few and degrades the many.
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