This probably isn't the whole explanation, but I'm fascinated-- in a Gorgon's face sort of way-- my mind is apt to get stuck) by the way people can believe that punishment is a reliable way of getting what they want. I'll willing to bet most of them know of times punishment didn't control their behavior, and I'm sure they're heard of punishment failing to get punishers what they want (in extreme cases, the failure is called martyrdom), but somehow, it doesn't register.
Punishment isn't even a reliable way of guaranteeing that you don't get what you don't want.
Anyway, Timothy Burke wrote something which reminded me of the lovely essay at the end of Charlie Stross' The Atrocity Archives that looks at the overlap between espionage, horror, and geekery:
Covert action doesn’t seem any better than overt action in deliberately producing complex, multilayered sociopolitical change. “Get this government to stop doing something that is not in our long-term interests”, “Change the cultural and social nature of this government over there”, “Make this place stable”, “Make this group of bad actors less able to do bad things in the world”.
A covert action plan can, if all the stars align, accomplish these goals for a little while in a little way. Not, as far as I can see, to a degree markedly different than many overt institutions can. But there is something about secrecy that unleashes extravagant dreams and imaginative fantasies about a world where sociopolitical trends have simpler, more intimate, and more knowable levers, where killing heads of state is a hey presto! way to make a new state, or mindfucking insurgents with some leaflets and misinformation is a way to get rid of an insurgency.
It’s not just that coverts and their armchair supporters dream of finding the delicious center of tractability inside of the confusing, multilayered Tootsie Pop of modern life. It’s that they also hope that covert action will somehow rid us of the demon of unpredictable and unintended outcomes who so relentlessly stalks most other policy-making, as if covert action might be a humanint form of a smart missile, delivered only to its target. But if there’s any domain of government action where that demon makes his home, it’s covert action: most of all, he hates sunlight and transparency.
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