Note: The weekly Taki post is up. This week is a return to a topic that cannot be stressed enough, it seems. More important, the editor there insists on using lower case for Left and Right, which seems wrong to me. The word left is a direction, while the word Left is a proper noun for a political philosophy. Clarity seems to require capitalizing these words. There is also the Sunday Thoughts podcast up behind the green door. There are no grammar disputes in this week’s show.
Imagine if all of a sudden you were transported to a place where all of the walls are clear and no one was allowed any clothing, other than that which is completely transparent, like the walls of every structure. Everything about you, even your most intimate habits are on public view. Obviously, this would also mean that everything about everyone else is on public view. Further, your thoughts can be read by anyone and everyone, so that even inside your head is now public.
It makes for an interesting science fiction plot, because for most people such a world would be a nightmare. Even the most freakish exhibitionist has some need for privacy in his life. According to the Bible, the first thing man did when he became self-aware was cover himself. The story of Adam and Eve was created in a time of minimum privacy, yet people at the time understood that there is a natural human need to maintain a domain of life away from public view.
Even though privacy is something that exists to some degree in every settled society, we can be sure that it did not exist before humans settled down together. A group of humans hunting and gathering within a range would have no privacy. They would do everything as a group. Of course, this would have bound them together, as sharing is the nature of human relations. Since these groups were blood relatives, the lack of privacy probably helped them survive in the wild.
What this means is that the concept of privacy probably evolved along with human settlement, which means it is an asset for settled people. Once groups of humans began to cooperate so they could operate in groups larger than the Dunbar number, they must have evolved traits that maintained the small group cohesion, while preventing conflict between groups. The first private moment was one group not sharing what they truly thought of the other group.
It is not hard to see how privacy was an asset for people living in relatively close proximity in small villages. Lots of unrelated males, for example, would be cooperating, but also competing for mates. Similarly, the females would be weaving the social fabric of the village, while keeping an eye on one another to make sure they did not lose their mate to another female. The privacy of home life probably evolved as a way to avoid the poaching of mates within the community.
Even if we put mating aside, the creation of a private domain separate from the public domain is an obvious peacekeeper. In a small group, disputes can be solved by the leader imposing his will on the group. Once you get past a certain number, that is impossible and small disputes could easily become big disputes. The private domain is where Grog can tell the missus what he really thinks of Trog, without creating a feud with him and possible drawing in the whole community.
Another point in favor of the essentialness of privacy in large societies is the fact that authoritarians always seek to violate privacy. The communists, for example, would listen in on citizens and rummage through their lives. For this reason, the Founders put in the Bill of Rights the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” What constituted reasonable in this context was a direct threat against the security of society.
As a narrow tool of terror, violating the privacy of citizens is effective, but very expensive to maintain, which is one lesson of the Soviets. It is not just the practical cost of mass spying, but the cost to social trust. In a world where anyone can be a conduit for the state to listen in on your life, the willingness to trust strangers drops to zero. The only people you can trust are blood relatives and associates who have everything to lose by violating your trust. Criminal gangs did well under communism.
There is another angle to privacy. Privacy is the key to one’s identity. It’s why militaries march recruits around naked so much in their initial training. Criminal gangs, like some motorcycle clubs, will do the same thing to prospective members. Take away a person’s privacy and they can no longer stand apart from the rest. It’s hard to hold yourself distinct from others when they know even the most intimate things about you, which is why authoritarians love violating the privacy of others.
This may be one key to understanding why modern America appears to be having a nervous breakdown. The microprocessor revolution has had many consequences and not all of them have been good. It has made it cheaper and easier for authoritarians to pry around in the lives of others. Everyone lives in a world where they are tracked by agents of the state, who also act from private interests. They are even trying to tease out our thoughts from our internet activity.
Not only has technology made it easier for the state to violate your privacy, but it also has weaponized the worst elements in every society. People who call themselves “extremist researchers”, for example, are just busybodies encouraged to violate the privacy of their fellow citizens. For most of human settlement, there were rules to keep this type under control, because they endanger social cohesion. The gossip is a greater threat to the whole than any criminal, because they undermine social trust.
There are many things that are causing American society to crumble, but one big one is the inversion of privacy. The lives of citizens are put on display, but the facts of public life are routinely hidden in waves of lies. Activist organizations like CNN threaten to ruin private citizens if they refuse to be props in their charades, but also tirelessly work to prevent the public from knowing the truth about public policy. The collapse of privacy is turning America into a large-scale prison camp.
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