Life is a baklava and/or onion of secrets, open secrets and secret secrets. A good example of an open secret would be George Michael’s sexual orientation while he was famous… or, better, the irredeemable fact of Mortality, itself, which we manage to hide from ourselves to the extent that we bother to do things like develop languages and plan cities and catalogue the heavens. If we, as the species capable of it, faced squarely the abstraction in the fact of Impending Death Unending, would we really bother? With anything? We function at all by keeping this blatant fact a sort of open secret from ourselves as individuals and a group. There are many highly-evolved tools at our disposal for maintaining these kinds of Secrets.
After all, what is a Euphemism but a half-assed secret? The term “fecal matter”, for example, is a translucent veil draped decorously over the open secret of Shit. Just as the term “collateral damage” is a gossamer covering draped daintily over a war crime, an open secret we agree to honor, decorously, in language. Language is one of our greatest coping mechanisms and a major tool in the production and maintenance of Secrets. It’s very hard to maintain a Secret without a lie and it’s very hard to lie without language.
There are so many shades and degrees of Secrets (from trademarked industrial assets to “national security” material to personal matters like STDs, extramarital affairs and what you really think of your best friend’s mate or taste in trousers) that it’s quite obvious that Secrets/ hoaxes/ conspiracies/ delusions/ white lies/ tall tales/ taboos/ codes/ counterfeits/ impostors/ propaganda/myths and evasions are major preoccupations of Human Consciousness… right up there with Eating and Fucking. And yet…
Like the apocryphal fish who pay no mind to water, Americans are particularly immersed in, and seemingly oblivious to, all these kinds of Secrets and their foundational place in Reality. One hundred years ago I would have blamed pseudo-genteel, aspirational Christianity for this paradoxical obliviousness; for the modern age I’ll have to do with blaming Disney.
Raised on Disney Euphemisms about everything from the killing-and-eating-and-fucking machines that are Wild Animals, to our own bodily processes, to such abstractions as Race (Disney is full of cartoon euphemisms for Negroes) and the Political Process (social problems in Disney are invariably addressed by getting a Grumpy Old Man in touch with his Inner Child), Americans are trained, from birth, to look at Surfaces and see Meaning; to think of Secrets in terms of (aberrationally) grumpy old men or once-in-a-lifetime treasure-hunts (and when I write “Americans”, of course, by the way, I mean “citizens of the West”). When Americans make their traditional pilgrimage to Disneyland, the last things they want to see are power cables or porta-potties or a man half-dressed in a Mickey costume picking his nose. Only the dysfunctional types… the radicals… are fascinated by the legend of the extensive off-limits network of tunnels under the carefully-worked Disney facades of Euphemistic jungles and outer-space and small towns from 1910. I’m sure the low-level Initiates (the workers) do everything in these subterranean Disney-tunnels from swearing to farting to oral sex… which would shock and upset the children on the surface, as well as the majority of the grownups. But could you really, then, refer to the latter as “grownups”?
Grownups keep secrets from children because children aren’t developmentally ready for The Truth. And the key to keeping a Secret from a child, as I well know, is keeping secret the fact that there are Secrets. Would one say to one’s child, “Whoa, just wait until you find out what’s really going on! It’ll blow your mind!” Quite the contrary: you put a fair bit of energy into surrounding your developmentally-unprepared-for-the-Truth offspring in a bubble of illusions, white lies and propaganda in which Facts of Life like hard drugs and cannibalism never intrude (a very benign model of brainwashing). Being unaware that these things exist, your toddler won’t go sniffing around for info on the topics. If a classmate brought up cocaine suppositories or cannibalism at recess, your toddler would probably just scoff.
Just like we do, sometimes.
In the Judeo-Christian narrative, God was so serious about keeping The Truth from developmentally-unready toddler-Humanity that when His kids breached the fence around The Secret (with the aid of a pre-phallic Serpent; remember, Serpent became a phallic symbol after the breach, as its punishment: what was It before?), God revoked Humanity’s Security Clearance. Off with their badges and they saw that they were Naked. Such a traumatic event that we, children of the “West”, still go into all sorts of panic and angry denial at the mere suggestion that Very Big Secrets even exist in Eden, six thousand years (I’m guessing here) later.
In fact, the Grownups behind Eden’s NSA think we’re all so developmentally-unprepared to confront Secrets of any sort that they are kindly relieving us of any of our own, these days. Which is the reciprocal function of protecting Their secrets even better, and maintaining the magic lock on the Disney-like treasure chest of Secrets owned by the Grumpy Old Man they work for.