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Page history last edited by Charlene 11 years, 11 months ago

p. 115

Crust: "But then each generation's got to have a cause, right? ...Our's was ending secrecy. It's why we fought the bankers and the bureaucrats and mobsters, and all the damned socialists to bring everything out into the open, once and for all, to stop all the underlying dealing and giga-cheating."


Status: Open

The oldtimer 'geek' quoted above is talking about the background to the HelvetianWar. An event that is referred to several times in the novel, and appears to have been every bit as traumatic as the current Middle East situation. The outcome was successful, and strict (possibly too strict?) curbs on secrecy and privacy were instituted.



Since writing 'Earth', Brin has expanded on this theme and the social issues involved in The Transparent Society. The general thesis is that technology is rapidly expanding human vision, filling the world with databases and cameras.  This threatens to make privacy a thing of the past.  it can also enhance the powers of the mighty (elites of government or money or criminality) to spy on common folk.  Instead of hiding from this trend, the best way for us to deal with it may be to embrace it, by aggressively opening the information flows.  By insisting on watching the watchmen.  


This was portrayed in Earth by assuming the world's citizens became somewhat radicalized in the 2010s and 2020s... NOT toward old-fashioned socialism, but toward insisting that all the secret backroom deals end. Radical transparency is exaggerated in Earth through the metaphor of the "Helvetian War."  A struggle by the world's poor nations and middle class taxpayers against the secret banking havens like Switzerland, ending (after much violence) in victory with release of all the financial records.


This forecast should be judged on two levels - the garish war against Switzerland... and the underlying trend that it represented.


In March, 2008, it was reported that the European Union... and especially Germany... is coming down hard on Swiss Banking secrecy.

“This land of stunning Alpine vistas, which has chosen to remain outside the EU, has always loomed large in the global imagination as the place where the wealthy stash their money beyond the tax man’s reach. The best estimates suggest that image is true, to the tune of $1 trillion to $2 trillion.”


In March 2009, under intense pressure, Switzerland agreed to abide by the international rules on bank data sharing.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the changes were "the beginning of the end of tax havens".


The novel EARTH forecast a future “Helvetian War” over banking secrecy, occuring in the early 21st Century. So far, no cobalt bombs have been involved. So far...


In recent times, Brin has made repeated references to the Bush administration's love of secrecy, calling it a threat to democracy.


Look at the sidebar to your right and consider the controversy surrounding the changes in NASA's mission statement in February, 2006. Previously, the statement had been carefully formulated in full consultation with the scientific community. Yet these changes were enacted without consultation, and didn't even get noticed until several months afterward! The change seems minor, but it means that NASA is no longer active in monitoring our own planet, and determining whether or not inconvenient truths are in motion.


I (Tony) chose this example, not as the best, but as the one most fitting the theme of this site. It barely scratches the surface. But consider others:

  • Electronic voting systems that are provided by people of known bias, which are closed to independent scrutiny, and which have been shown to be tamperable.
  • A predefined intention of invading Iraq.
  • A distinct link between the increase in rhetoric on invading Iraq and the breaking Enron scandal.
  • A purported intention to bomb a supposedly hostile foreign news network in a friendly country.
  • The prominence of companies with known links to senior US officials in being granted reconstruction contracts.
  • A quiet purge of the US officer corps, in favour of more amenable types.
  • Unauthorised tapping of domestic calls.


In 1989 the idea of fighting a full-on war with Switzerland to 'open the books' seemed a bit ridiculous. Sixteen years on, while the scenario still remains incredible, the objective of 'opening the books' looks more and more plausible.


Especially as it seems 'Helvetian' powers are being preemptive in trying to ensure that they stay closed...forever!




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