Sunday, May 31, 2009

Cultures of Secrecy

By recognizing and analyzing the secrets held by individuals and communities, more can be learned about the cultural relevance of secrecy. Studying whether or not secrets are necessary and sufficient indicators of society, anthropologists can also gain more understanding about factors that unite all cultures.

Through studying various anthropological, sociological, and psychological literature, I found that secrets are regarded as almost necessary for the function of cultural groups and organizations. In the second of my podcasts, I recorded and analyzed the cultural phenomenon,  known as PostSecret. The organization PostSecret displays secrets that have been submitted to the founder, Frank Warren. In Warren’s own words, “PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard.”[1] Since the website for PostSecret is updated on a weekly basis with new secrets and the four books that have been published, I was able to study over three hundred secrets during the course of my study. During this time I found that most secrets were about relationships (14%) or identity (9%). 

In the third of my podcasts, I focused on the cultures of secret societies, primarily those of the Knights Templar and the Freemasons. In the Knights Templar, secrecy is used as a way to determine the hierarchy of the organization. An initiate to the Knights Templar would be brought into a chamber and instructed to spit on the cross. Based on their decision, the initiate’s fate in the organization would be sealed. “On one level if the initiate fails to spit upon the cross as requested, he is rewarded for his true faith with membership and believes he has made it. On the other level, if he does spit upon the cross, then he has shown true discipline and will be led by the masters’ authority wherever that may take him – this initiate will move further up the sale that is hidden to the first who failed to follow the command.”[2] Thus, the Knights Templar used this method to help distinguish certain members from others, and allow those who were most trustworthy to gain power more quickly.

 In both the fourth and fifth podcasts, I compiled a set of reasons for why national and government secrecy clearly impacts personal and group secrecy, and how secrecy is clearly intertwined with human society.  In my fifth podcast I discussed RSA encryption, presidential secrecy, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s novel, Secrecy: the American Experience.

By studying the cultures of secrecy,  I found that secrecy is a unique aspect of humanity, and one that certainly has broadened my own perspective on cross-cultural interactions. I no longer feel as though secrecy is a detrimental aspect of humanity, but rather an important part of determining and forging an identity in the world. So while I have seen that cultures of secrecy are not clearly defined, I have found that secrecy is elemental to humanity.  If you want to learn more about this study, check out this link: Cultures of Secrecy.

[1] “PostSecret” 24 Sept 2008. 21 Sept 2008.

- Posted By Jennifer Pawson, '09

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