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9.2 Secrecy as Capital

In a study of secret societies, Ayabe (1988) says:

Irrespective of being civilized or uncivilized, and both in public and private, people must have had secrets and continue to have them now. It may be said that, unlike animal instincts such as concealing dens or a catch, the concept of secrets at an intellectual level was born with mankind, and has kept pace with man's history. It should be considered that individually the 'secret' is born with the formation of the ego, while collectively, the secret societytype association has been built up with the emergence of the principles of binding other than those of territorial bonding or kinship. (Ayabe 1988: 8–9)

The secret appeared with mankind and is indispensable to human beings. According to dictionaries, “secret” means something that is kept hidden or that is only known by a few people and should not be told to others. In addition, secret also means particular knowledge and skills needed to do something very well. In order to broaden the scope of comparative study between religion and company, in this paper, I will use the term secret in these two meanings.

In a classical study of secrecy, Simmel (1950) describes secret as an “adornment” (Schmuck in German) and writes that “the secret … operates as an adorning possession and value of the personality” (Simmel 1950: 337). Simmel also refers to the secret as a form of “inner property” (Simmel 1950: 332), which can be exchanged for money and power. Therefore, the secret functions as a stratification resource. Possessing secrets can be a source of prestige and symbolize an individual's importance.

Then, why does the secret function as a form of property? It is derived from the asymmetry of information based on the simple fact that others know nothing about certain information. The asymmetry of information is closely related to the social distribution of knowledge. In a study on the sociology of knowledge, Schutz asserts that “[m]any phenomena of social life can be fully understood only if they are referred to the underlying general structure of the social distribution of knowledge” (Schutz 1964: 123). He also points out that all knowledge is not available to all members of a society. It is easy to see examples around us. High-ranking government officials have information that ordinary people cannot access. Technical specialists have technical knowledge which is unnecessary to most other people. As these examples illustrate, knowledge is allocated unequally according to our areas of concern or our social status, and this leads to the asymmetry of information.

Furthermore, in order to understand the secret as a form of property, Bourdieu's concept of capital may be helpful. In Bourdieu's oft-cited work on religion (Bourdieu 1991), influenced by Marx's notion of capital, he expanded Weber's political sociology to the political sociology of religion. Bourdieu defines capital as accumulated labor. As Verter (2003) summarizes, “[t]he notion of capital is encapsulated assets rather than the money and property. Education, social networks, artistic abilities, and cultural knowledge are all obtained at the expense of labor, and these forms of symbolic capital are all subject to the same laws as accumulation, inheritance, and exchange that govern material forms of capital” (Verter 2003: 152). Regarding religious capital, Bourdieu writes, “religious capital depends, at a given moment in time, on the state of the structure of objective relations between religious demand (i.e., the religious interests of various groups or classes of laity) and religious supply (i.e., the religious services, whether orthodox or heretical)” (Bourdieu 1991: 22, italics original). The relation between supply and demand can be applied to another type of capital. What can become capital is decided by its relation to “field” (champ in French). To put it simply, a field is “a structured place of social forces and struggle” (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992: 243). For example, if France stops teaching Latin (or Japan stops teaching Chinese classics) at school, anyone with the ability to teach Latin (or Chinese classics) loses their market in which to sell his or her knowledge, and his or her “capital” will revert into just a kind of “possession.” In the field, “[t]he struggle is over forms of capital…, and the action is comprised of the production of capital, the consumption of capital, and the jockeying for positions among agents…and institutions” (Rey 2007: 44).

As I pointed out above, the secret as a form of property is derived from the asymmetry of information. In addition, the secret can function as capital in the Bourdieuian sense. Obtaining more secrets, and therefore greater capital, is linked to gaining superiority in society. In the following sections, based on this understanding, I will discuss the secrecy in religion and company and the strategies to protect their secrets through the comparison between them.

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