Thursday, November 18, 2010

Privacy… Why We One Day Might Not Need it

Privacy is a big part of our society. Deep down, the root cause of privacy is shame. We are ashamed of our bodies, or the bodies of others. We are ashamed of certain sexual acts we enjoy, or our browser history. And while it seems to slightly underplay this particular situation, we are ashamed of doing things that are illegal (more like afraid).

But privacy is not a good thing. Privacy is not a bad thing, either. Rather, it is a non-moral defense mechanism. Privacy is a form of lying, which is also not necessarily good. Because of the irrational nature of man, lying is also not necessarily wrong.

The classic example:

You are a German who runs a store in 1944. You are hiding Jews in your attic. SS officers enter your shop and ask if you are hiding anyone. In this case, I think most people would agree that lying is a moral imperative.

And yet, lying is not good, because it was lies that led to that very situation, lies which pinned a nation’s troubles on a scapegoat.

It is a very confusing situation, because most people would rather imagine that things are simple enough to just say, “Lying is wrong.” Our language has no word for a “good lie” versus a “bad one,” though we have a term for an illegal form of lying: perjury. We have also done this in some sense with murder/kill. It’s safe to say you should never murder someone, but there may be instances where you have to kill someone (as is generally accepted in a self-defense situation).

What does any of this have to do with privacy?

Well, I hate privacy. I am glad it exists, though not for my own personal benefit. I’m a pretty open book. If you ask me a question you think will be embarrassing, I’ll give you an explicit answer. It’s not because I have no regrets, I just have no problem owning up to them. If anything, it would be nice if some of my mistakes led to others not having to repeat them.

[Do not cook bacon nude… trust me.]

However, the fact that I don’t need privacy doesn’t mean no one should have it. It just leads me to ask: why do other people need privacy?

Why, indeed… because people do need privacy. They don’t need it like they need air or food or water, but I imagine if privacy (or to be more accurate, the illusion of privacy) completely disappeared tomorrow, I cannot even imagine the chaos that would ensue. Oddly, I think the anarchists would love it.

For one thing, there would be a whole lot of politicians resigning. Perhaps the group that most relies on privacy, the government would likely crumble. I imagine that there would also be a severe shortage of “acceptable” politicians to replace them, so I doubt things would get back to usual any time soon.

I like to imagine that one thing that would happen is we would see just how many people are doing things that they publicly opposed. I imagine a lot of pastors and priests abandoning their ministries for various things they’ve been doing (weird stuff… butt stuff…). People who railed against drug use who are addicted. People who criticize others for being promiscuous who are themselves unfaithful to their spouses. And then there’s the politicians, again.

I am positive that a lot of things would change in what our culture viewed as acceptable, and it would be for the better.

The problem is, we can’t just snap our fingers and make everyone omniscient. It’s interesting to speculate, but how can our need for privacy be realistically weaned?

I think the government could lead by example.

As it stands, the president’s correspondences and phone calls are already recorded for posterity. Given our ability to store vast amounts of data cheaply on modern computers, I don’t see why this can’t be the case for every elected official.

Would you, my humble privacy advocate, oppose such a measure? I hope not, because elected officials are our employees, and every company in the world watches their employees. And for good reason: an unsupervised employee has a tendency to cost the company money, one way or another. Gee, I wonder if our unsupervised government would ever do such a thing…

It’s only natural to take a “you first” stand-point on privacy, but it would be disingenuous to tell someone to go first with no intention of doing so yourself. Is the public ready to lose their privacy?

In many ways, we have no privacy. Most privacy advocates and voluntarists would be quick to try to claim that we choose to have our privacy invaded, but this is not true in several cases. For one thing, there is no informed consent in a vast majority of cases. If you are walking somewhere that has a privately placed hidden security camera, you have not consented.

In point of fact, eavesdropping and recording others without their consent isn’t (or in cases where it is, shouldn’t be) a crime. If you are trespassing while doing so (like sneaking up to someone’s window and peeping inside), you have broken a completely different rule.

Witnessing or recording a private act is simply not criminal. It may be embarrassing, it may be creepy, it may even be immoral in that it is a betrayal of trust, but it is not essentially a crime… unless, apparently, the government does it.

Now, I asked a question that I hope I could get answered, but I was met primarily with comments which, to put it as politely as I can, provided me with very little use. It wasn’t a trick question, it wasn’t some passive-aggressive attempt to advocate for government wiretapping (I pointed out more than once that I did not support wiretapping). It’s a legitimate question: why is it wrong for the government to listen to phone conversations?

Ultimately, I keep coming back to the fact that our laws and social norms are all fucked up. People need privacy because they deserve to be who they want to be without having to endure unjust punishment or shaming. In a way, it would be enviable to live in a world that didn’t need privacy.

“But Bret, you don’t even have what state you live in listed on your blogger profile.”

That’s true, and believe me, I wish I could. For one thing, I might be able to find a drug dealer down here a lot faster if I could use my blog for networking that kind of stuff. Unfortunately, my wife has received death threats, and not the kind that are spammed in all our blogs (hey DM, I’m still alive, fucktard).

I think she is nuts if she honestly believes that someone will go to the trouble of tracking her down and hurting her. Still, I find myself respecting her decision to keep our specific location “private” – though let’s be honest, you can IP track anyone down to what town they live in… but I don’t want to burst the illusory bubble of anonymity that people enjoy so much.

Privacy is just another irrational desire, but it’s one we are forced to accommodate until more people are willing to accept reality, because the harm caused to those who have their precious privacy taken away from them just might be very real.

[Oh, and if anarchists still want a legitimate argument against this sort of thing: how about cost? I’m more than a little disappointed…]


  1. Explain just how this post does not boil down to:

    If you have nothing to hide why are you protesting about “privacy”...

    You make some interesting points, most interesting is the mental anguish that can be caused by acceptance of uncomfortable facts, I don’t think that removes the fact that your position is the elitist position and that spills into almost all of your posts... it is the “I know best” view.

  2. If you have nothing to hide why are you protesting about “privacy”...

    More like... "You only want privacy because you have something to hide, and that sucks that you have to hide it... unless it's dead kids in your crawl space, then I hope you choke on your dinner."

    Since you added stuff about "protesting" and "nothing to hide," I ran with it a bit at the end there.

    Did you notice I didn't once say anything about how I know best or I'm an elitist? I'm an unemployed blogger, I'm not speaking from an ivory tower. Something tells me I lead a more humble existence than you, because the white privilege that drips from every ridiculous assumption reeks of soft luxury.

    But it's not a race to see who's more impoverished, that's just a ridiculous way of not addressing my ideas.

    And how could I know best when you do, yet we never rarely agree?

  3. Yes Bret you know nothing of my past, and your thinly veiled life of privileged college education shows all the time, of course now that you are expected to earn a living you are all bent out of shape, too bad.

    "Did you notice I didn't once say anything about how I know best or I'm an elitist?”

    You do all the time Bret, when are you going to face the fact that you simply are an over propagandized spoiled brat trained to be hateful?

    You may well lead a more humble life that I do, get a job and you may well gain a bit of self respect.

    Privacy is a right, you can exercise that right or not, criminal acts have a special procedure that is also imbedded in the law.

    Why do you believe you have the right to tell another they do not need privacy?

    At first, I may even be inclined to think you are offensive enough to make me angry, to be honest I am just starting to pity you.

  4. Why do you believe you have the right to tell another they do not need privacy?

    Um, the first amendment would entitle me to doing that, if that were a point I wished to make. From my actual post (as opposed to the ridiculous caricature you're trying to paint me as):

    because people do need privacy.

    [emphasis in the original]

    You can save your pity for yourself. You might want to read what I write, not what you think I wrote between the lines.

    I am absolutely at a loss as to how what I wrote managed to garner this kind of hissy-fit.

  5. "as opposed to the ridiculous caricature you're trying to paint me as”

    You are ridiculous Bret, and it’s not a hissy-fit... not at a loss, you are just an ass.

    When is the next time to see “faggot” from you?

    You try this every time Bret, and in the end you just look like an ass, someone takes you to task and you don’t have the competence to put up a reasonable and rational defense of your delusions.

    "Um, the first amendment would entitle me to doing that, if that were a point I wished to make.”

    You actually are delusional Bret, and relatively dense on top of that, it makes me want to ask if you post under the influence. At first I thought you were just trolling but you have not picked up on any of the drops.

    First amendment - yep, and you skirted the question as you obviously understand I support what little rights we have left under the Bill of rights.

    And none of us here are stupid, we don’t need you to spell out in every post that you are a snotty, narcissistic, over-propagandised, daddy’s boy college brat that is typical of the “bully by proxy” left. You have been very clear for some time that you and your political fellow travelers think you have better ideas on how others should spend money and make choices - and you may well be correct from time to time - but you are not “better able” you are just a propagandized tool.

    The left typically too cowardly to make changes themselves with personal earned money, rather fantasies about using the guns of the state forcing all of the ridiculous unworkable delusional political fantasies out of the pockets of others - all for the “good of ______".

  6. You have the worst reading comprehension skills, and so much ridiculous pent up anger for left wing people that you try so desperately to attribute to me.

    It's comforting to know you're old and dying.

  7. Sad for you I’m not that old and if you continue to irrationally partake in drug induced delusions I will likely outlive you - if the economy crashes I can guarantee I will outlive you.

    Funny you would also talk about reading comprehension as you obviously only learned in college what you had to regurgitate to squeak past the testing your delusional points are breathtaking as is your ability to never answer a question with any content outside of what I would expect from a third grade ADHD diagnosed kid on compliance enhancing medication.

    The part you play here is clown Bret.

  8. The part you play here is clown

    That's weird, because you never laugh at anything I say, now matter how hard I try to be funny. Though to be fair, you try to be serious and crack me up, so I guess we're both horrible communicators. I just have more time to work on it.

  9. I value my privacy intensely and it has nothing to do with shame and everything to do with god damn not wanting anyone see my business - and I have nothing to hide.

  10. I laugh at you all the time Bret, I have more fun with you than 20 third graders could have at the lego factory.

    I like showing your irrational narcissism and programing, you don’t get it but you are not the target for winks and nudges in the first place.

    Google “fast food” and “no drug testing” possibly Carl’s Jr. could be a good start for an appropriately fitting job, mediocre is as mediocre does.

  11. Radio, you seriously amaze me. You're unemployed and you criticize me for... being unemployed. You claim I'm a drug user, you claim I flaunt the fact that I went to college... it sounds like you can't make one tangible argument not pertaining to sissy-slapping my character.

    The problem is... your insults are baseless and completely skirt the issue being discussed. What amazes me is that you manage to pull so many groundless attacks out of your ass and yet still have room for your head to fit up there.

  12. I value my privacy intensely and it has nothing to do with shame and everything to do with god damn not wanting anyone see my business - and I have nothing to hide.

    That's illogical. That's okay, because people are illogical, and people who might be "logical" (which is subjective as hell) are no better or worse. I'm certainly not logical, I just couldn't care less who hears my phone calls, and I wonder what people are saying on the phone that they don't want others to hear. A concrete example would be nice, but I have a feeling it's just some imaginary line in the sand that people cherish.

    Either that, or it has something to do with wanting to hide, even if only to feel warm and snuggly under the fallacious belief that privacy even exists.

    If that sounds condescending, maybe it's because I just don't think you have all that much privacy. I'm certainly not saying anything about no one having a right to privacy; I wouldn't know whether rights pertain to privacy. If you think you have a right to privacy, I wish you luck, because you have some work cut out for you trying to get it. I certainly know there are limits we should not cross (I think airport security is one of these, just based on an economic cost/benefit analysis alone), but like I said in what I wrote: why don't we let the government try being looked at under a microscope 24/7 first?


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