I read a lot. It’s too the point now that I’m mostly gleaning information and less looking for information that I want to read. It’s not really a bad thing, but I could probably have more focus in all areas of my life. Anyway, this new article by Ana Marie Cox got me thinking. You should read the whole thing. Here’s the part that I find most interesting.
We’ve lost the habit of keeping things to ourselves – and with that, we’ve lost the conviction that privacy is a right. “Private” is actually the default setting for modern civilization. There are social and communal costs to putting on clothes and putting up walls, but the ability (and desire) to make one’s own decisions – about anything, from what to wear to whom to worship – without regard to our neighbors’ or our rulers’ desires is where democracy (and art, for that matter) begin.
Today, we think that privacy is valuable primarily because we don’t want others to discover we’re doing something embarrassing. But we don’t think of privacy as a fundamental characteristic of democracy, just as thing standing between us and our neighbors knowing what kind of porn we like.
As porn becomes less shameful, and as we become accustomed to the convenience afforded by letting marketers known our desires as soon as possible, so grows the general sense that privacy is for people who do bad things.
So, I sort of agree with her but I sort of don’t. Let’s try and break this down a little bit.
There are those that do not, under any circumstances, want the government to listen or record any activity. The idea is that the government will find ways to use this information to it’s benefit. What happens when new Occupy Wallstreet protests start? What happened when these protests were going on? Will (Or did) the government use it’s information vacuum to break up the protest? Or worse: Will the government use the data it collects to persecute or prosecute those protesting the government?
Here is why most American aren’t too concerned: Most Americans don’t care.
It’s the truth. Most Americans, right now, as we speak, do not give a damn about any of this.
What are most Americans worried about? Their jobs. Their kids. The rent. Bills. Most Americans will die never going to a protest, never reading long-form articles, never thinking too deeply about politics or the moral implications of NSA interloping.
You might think, “Well, lots of people on my Facebook and Twitter care!” Yes, they do. And you’ve carefully manicured your social networks so that you are only exposed to people that care. I doubt you spend much time going door to door, block to block, asking people what they think about a particular issue. If you did, you’d find a ton of slammed doors.
This is theoretical on my part but it’s also something I’ve witnessed. In DC, Planned Parenthood volunteers frequently stand on the side walk, asking people to sign petitions or give donations. If you watch them for five to ten minutes (like I did once), you’ll see that they hardly ever get someone to stop. Most people keep walking. Why? Because they don’t care or because they care about other things.
Think about yourself for a second: There are ways to hide your emails from people who want to see it. But are you going to go through the process? Just so a guy can’t potentially read your email to your mother wishing her Happy Birthday?
That’s not to say that this NSA/Privacy story isn’t something to care about. It is, actually. I’m very interested and concerned about it. But I’m rare. My family doesn’t care much. Students in my class don’t. Most people I talk to don’t care. They are distracted by the minutia which is their lives. Can you blame them? Which fight should they fight? Should they spend time rubbing their hands over Edward Snowden’s fate? Or should they help their ten year old with their math homework? You can say, “BOTH!” but that is unrealistic and unfair.
What I think we’ll see in the next months and years is a very large swell of annoyance and anger from progressives about how much the American people don’t want to be bothered with this NSA story. There is nothing more hurtful when you yell and scream about something vitally important and no one pays attention to you.