I meant for this to be a wide ranging piece on the relationship between secrecy and the state, but as works such as Scott’s Seeing Like the State emphasizes, this topic could easily span years and fields and many many pages.
Instead, I think it would be a better use of time to merely sketch out a few of the threads that I’ve been intuiting as of late, and leave the grander pull of condensation and compressor to someone far less dilettante.
First, you should know that I work in a cryptographic adjacent industry. I attend talks by the era’s leading thinkers and have heard much, albeit briefly, of Shamir’s shared secrets and Pederson’s commitments. I am familiar with the concept of blinding keys, randomness, that seeks to hide the true meaning of your actions and data transmissions.
Second, you should know that I am a citizen of the Corporate state, a 9/11 child, come of age when Snowden told us all about the NSA and what they knew about our metadata.
The blinding keys that the state uses are not numbers. They are the compliance of large organizations, set firmly in the greedy self interest or abject fear of poverty that guarantees the adherence of the salaried to the ever present NDA. The state issues warrants in secret courts that give them permission to see your information, with the caveat that you may, no must, be left in the darkness as to the breach of your privacy.
The secrecy that the state seeks is to not just know your actions and your community but further to shield you from knowing of the extent of their invasion. They keep you blind as to the illusion of your privacy. This is their ultimate power.
Cryptography seeks to grant you back this permission to choose who can see your data. It looks to go up against the claimed right of the elected kings and the birthed oligarchy.
One thing that stuck out to me about the wealthy, at least the wealthy that are depicted, I like to believe accurately, in Crazy Rich Asians is the extent to which they control their own right to privacy.
Go look at the top 500 billionaires that Forbes lists and know that there are probably fortunes left out from their sheer ability to hide behind conglomerates and byzantine generation skipping trusts. The extent of Donald Trump’s madness is not his politics but the extent to which he craves that which most truly, hidden wealthy strive to avoid. If anything his legacy may be the way he bullied and cajoled the lesser of the oligarchs to flaunt themselves in the public sphere. We, the impoverished in both privacy and power, may but hope his grand delusions may be their forever folly.
We don’t hear about the truly wealthy.
That in itself speaks to their wealth.
So then what is cryptography if not private wealth for the masses? What does cryptography bring if not some small consolation of truly private power back to the hordes from whom their lives have been marked by its very lack? It may not make us rich in spirit nor in power but it brings the hope of something that for long we have lost — that of true equality.
Feb 5, 2019
On Secrecy and the State
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