Monday, February 15, 2010

Privacy Concerns

In this very public day and age, many of us have lost our sense of needing to protect our privacy. We voluntarily fill the net with way too many details of ourselves, possibly a byproduct of the craze for reality TV and the idea that everyone should get their fifteen minutes of fame.

Still, as harmless as it may seem, we have to remember the true importance of privacy.  It plays a crucial role in any society.

Everyone has an opinion. And for every possible opinion, at least one person holds it, no matter how unpopular it has become. That means that for every possible issue out there, is a full range of possible thoughts, beliefs, phobias, myths and other base information, each getting wound into the public discourse.

In such a massive sea of differences, there is some popular or 'average' opinion, but a significant number of people deviate from this conformist view. In fact, to some degree we all 'deviate' from 'average' on at least one of our significant opinions, it is inevitable, it is what makes us all unique.

And we are proud and happy to display our uniqueness. To not have to hide any non-conformist views from the world at large. We are who we are.

Like opinions, mankind always has the full range of personality types, some good, some not so good. One common personality type is the 'control freak', that is a person who feels most comfortable when they are able to control the actions and behaviors of others. To lessor or grander degrees, it is a very common personality type, and in many circumstances these types of people lead good and useful lives. There are always situations where someone needs to take charge, and they need to be explicit about it. Control freaks do well in these circumstances.

Still, there are some that have not found such useful outputs for their impulses, and sometimes these people make it into positions of great or influential power. It is there, from these heights, that we generally run into problems. Sometimes it is just an individual, but often history lets a group align to do something dangerous.

Control freaks with too much power, inevitably start some move towards consistency. That is, they choose some set of values, someopinions , some beliefs, and then they deem those to be superior and correct. From there, what they want most is to "help" people into seeing the world "correctly"; at least their version of correct. This is were the trouble starts, and this is were it gets dangerous.

My all-time favorite example of a period like this is "McCarthyism" in the fifties, in the United States. McCarthy was a senator, with a known drinking problem, but a pretty good orator. To keep getting elected, he became the mouthpiece for a group of rather nasty people, whose main concern at the time was communism. Now it is true, that there was great tension between the US and Russia, and that there was great tension between Communists and Capitalists, as movements, but McCarthyism used that backdrop as a pretense to "weed" out undesirables. That is, for any man or woman that held, expressed momentarily doubted, the wrong opinion of communism, the witch hunts had begun. And they were bent on and quite successful at ruining people's lives. It was mean, ugly and an entirely useless period.

So, it wasn't a period about facts or loyalties, but rather a witch hunt for deviant opinions. Exactly what a group of control freaks would devise in order to "cleanse" the world of dangerous or undesirable people.

Far from being an anomaly, these types of collective restructuring efforts are carried on regularly within all societies, at all levels. There are always control freaks, finding their way into positions where they think that for the common good they can impose their views on others. This happens constantly.

Privacy is the only shield, when these types of circumstances rear their ugly head. That is, if some section of your society wakes up one day and decides that they don't like your specific view on some issue, you'll need all the privacy you can get to get away from these people. You can't fight them, and you can't win. Time eventually turns on them, but until that happens they are immune to logic and reason.

And don't forget, each and everyone of us has this vulnerability on at least one of our opinions. That is, control freaks from the "right" might take power, or control freaks from the "left", or even control freaks that think that people who don't side with either or don't vote are really the danger. There is no safe haven, there are no safe opinions, and even 'no' opinions are unsafe.

Someday, at sometime, someone coming into power, will have a beef with what you believe, and for sometime you will need something safe to hide behind. It is the way it works, and the way it will always work. Privacy is a valuable resource in our society to allow it to function correctly.