objectivist doctrine reconsidered
These are casual notes, not a rigorous treatment. I haven't read David Brin's The Open Society. It's on my list. The little I've heard about it excites me. I'm thinking about privacy, secrecy, surveillance, tapping, and encryption alot right now.
I don't want to lose my rights. I don't want people to use ordinary private information about me to infringe upon my rights. For example, with the sudden rush of patriotism has come an alarming rush of religious noises. I wouldn't want someone to decide that "If you're not with us, you're against us" in the area of religion, because I'd come out on the Against side. This is, I'm given to understand, the main difficulty that libertarians and objectivists (and a bunch of other Americans) have with people listening in: it gives people potential power over me that is morally wrong and currently forbidden by the U.S. Constitution.
I think the probability of that is very low. And I've been really proud to be an American this week, as I see how the people who really matter are responding to the nazi targeting of people on the basis of their religion, which is a private issue. I think the United States is past institutional persecution on the basis of religion or absence thereof, and unless we backslide hard, or suffer a lot more destruction at home, I don't think it's going to happen.
But other people don't seem to care whether the probability is low. They seem to be really really concerned that they have complete privacy. And while I don't think that we should randomly and maliciously violate people's privacy, the question that always leaps to my mind immediately is, What in the world is so desperately secret?
If someone found all my email today and read it, I'd have some cause for embarrassment, maybe, but not much. There's certainly nothing to incriminate me. I don't write as carefully in my journal as I do in my essays, and I don't write as carefully in my private email to friends as I do in my journal. Someone could find some particularly bad piece of reasoning of mine, and spread it around the Free World as an example of what an idiot I really am. Oh, no!
But it's hard for me to imagine something that I would want to keep from the government. I criticize my government, leaders, policies, the police, in public, right here in this journal. That's my guaranteed right. If I have to worry about any of my written statements, it's the statements I write in public. The things I say in private are, well, boring by comparison, if you're any sort of government official or secret agent.
Again, I might be a little embarrassed if I were surprised by a backpack search in a store, depending on what I was carrying. But I handle these things the same way I handle buying private things in stores: surely the checkout person has seen other people buy those things, so it's really my own problem, if I ever feel embarrassed. (I don't anymore, but I can remember feeling that way when I was much younger.)
And so my mind begins to wander around the edges of what it is that other people are concealing that makes them get so upset about this issue. What I see creeps me out.
Before September 11th 2001, the issue of surveillance and privacy came up most often for me with regard to the safety of children from their guardians. My basic view: when you become a guardian, your life becomes public. Otherwise, you can subject the child to all manner of atrocities for years without anyone ever finding out. I know this first hand. Many was the day and the hour when I wished that someone would come, someone would see, someone would help, someone would stop her, someone would take me away. But my mother's privacy was inviolable, and so I suffered in her private jail. I suffered so much that it was many years before I was able to begin to distinguish acceptable behavior from unacceptable behavior. There are vast numbers of children who grow up this way and much much worse; I knew some who were the captives of a much more horrible hell, such that I would say to myself that I had it good by comparison. I talked to a friend yesterday, and this issue came up, and he said he could remember saying the same thing, despite how horrible his own parents were.
Nothing would have pleased me more than to have surveillance cameras in my mother's home. Being clinically paranoid, she herself actually believed that we were being watched by surveillance cameras. But being nuts, she also thought that she could avoid being watched via camera, by never turning on any lights in the house and keeping the mirrored medicine chest doors swung open to face the wall.
Children are individuals. They have the right not to be held captive, subjected to physical abuse, or brought up in a psychologically toxic environment against their wills. Our Constitution means very little, in my view, if it doesn't protect the basic rights of children. But to protect them, you have to see them, and as things stand right now once the door to the parental home closes no one sees them for hours and sometimes days on end. In the worst cases, no one knows about them until they're killed.
My thoughts cruise from this point, to terrorism. It is almost universally accepted that human beings are naturally violent and there's nothing that can be done about that. I vehemently disagree. I think that human beings are endlessly creative experimentalists. Yes, small babies will experiment with violence, where violence is defined as swinging an arm or leg to see what will happen. But they also experiment with crapping on the floor. We teach them not to crap on the floor, and then they don't do it anymore. We don't throw up our hands and say that crapping on the floor is just human nature.
The violence of ordinary human beings is entirely and 100% the fault of their parents. It is their job, first and foremost in a free society, to teach them that the experimental swinging of the arm is not acceptable. It is no more acceptable than crapping on the floor. This is how you teach the little experimentalists that that particular strategy won't work and is not to be used, ever, ever, unless there is an extraordinary emergency. A child disagreeing with its guardian over bedtime or saying 'fuck' is not an extraordinary emergency. Neither is the child's crapping on the floor.
I ask you: How many parents crap on the floor to prove to a child that it shouldn't crap on the floor? How many parents crap on the floor in order to punish a child for anything? (Actually, I'd rather no one answered that; I'm sure there are some, but I'm hoping that there are only maybe 3 or 4 and that they are safely interned. Please don't spoil my pretty delusion.) This is unacceptable behavior, from anyone. We don't engage in behavior that is unacceptable, in order to prove that the behavior is unacceptable. Oh, but we do, don't we? And thus parents manufacture violent human beings, creatures who are taught by their idols that might is right, that violence is an option, and that the biggest, hardest hitting person in the vicinity gets his or her way under the most commonplace of circumstances. Couple that doctrine with the idea that it's ok to say "Because I said so" and "Because it's my house" and you've got a recipe for human beings who either perpetrate violence or who accept violence perpetrated upon them, or both.
Before September 11th 2001, I was just about to begin a concerted campaign to end all violence against children. The violence of that day makes it seem all the more urgent. It made me think about how we train our little ones for war: we show them violent films, teach them to engage in violent games, permit them to perpetrate violence upon each other in the name of "kids being kids" and most importantly, adults subject them to their own violence. I submit that violent kids are not being kids; they are being their violent parents in the only place that they can get away with it. And thus when it is time to draft them and send them to war, they are ready. You think it's cool to watch things explode in the movies? Good. Now go to it for real.
It is up to parents and guardians to curb the violent habits that their elders taught them, so that they can teach their children that the strategy of swinging an arm is as unacceptable as the strategy of crapping on the floor. Our society, our laws, should enforce this, not just sit and hope that nobody is getting tortured in the dark somewhere. And because captives aren't able to call the police on their own behalf, we have an unhappy choice before us: watch the kids and protect them, or wallow in violence for the rest of eternity. We need an Amnesty Intranational.
When I start to rave like this, my libertarian and objectivist friends are appalled. You think this is appalling? Live with my mother for a week.