Privacy: an op ed rant

by rthieme on April 7, 2007

Privacy? Never again.

Our option?

As Scott McNeeley of Sun Microsystems said years ago, “Get over it.”

A good friend, a well known information security expert, was asked this morning whether or not one can still do something to have privacy.

He said, “When people who are serious ask me what to do to prevent the loss of their privacy in full, I tell them that serious people have as many non-intersecting identities as possible, and that protecting one is no longer feasible at all, full stop.  It would take so much money to do so that the existence of that amount of money would work against your being able to achieve privacy – some sort of parallel to JP Morgan’s famous “If you have to ask, then you can’t afford it”, such as “If you can afford it, then you can’t have it.”

He is simply describing what’s so – in other words, he is invoking a metaphor created by Marshall McLuhan, the “global village.”

Recall that in small towns and villages, people pretty much know everything about their neighbors and develop interpenetrating concentric circles of behavior that suggest when one can act as if one knows and when one can’t. Social boundaries are created, that is, in the absence of boundaries of information.

When information is concentrated in the hands of the “information-haves,” of course, it creates the split world in which we live, a kind of informational third world of haves and have nots. In place of a middle class, there is an expanding paranoid class, consisting of people who know they don’t know but not knowing what they don’t know. Because they know that their perception of “reality” is often managed, they fill in the blanks, often with farfetched stories.

That’s why almost anything is believable, these days, for some people.  It isn’t paranoia. It’s the inevitable consequence of a national security state in which compartmented information is power and the technologies that enable such a state to exist. It’s because people know that much of the truth is held back, but don’t know what.

When I talk about these issues in greater detail in speeches, I am sometimes asked by educated adults if I believe we landed on the moon. That’s only a step away from asking if the Holocaust took place.

As I said, almost anything is believable. It isn’t just ignorance. It’s inevitable that members of the paranoid class who know they are fed distortions, half-truths, and outright lies as “the news” will project fears and unrealities onto the blank screen of unknowing. They know that propaganda, public relations, and much of what they see and hear as “news” are part of the same spectrum.

This is also why routine blackmail procedures used by the intelligence community have become standard political and business practice, too, when the stakes are sufficiently high.

I once asked a confidante of a Midwest governor why the opposition party did not use its knowledge of the governor’s sexual adventures to its advantage.

“That’s easy,” he said. “We had a sit-down. We know what they have on us and they know what we have on them. It’s mutual assured destruction so no one will launch the first strike.”

Some call this sort of ramble “conspiracy theory.” But I know better. I work with these people, some of whom are designers of the reality show called modern life.

Of course it’s easier for some to live in denial, to live “as if” because it manages cognitive dissonance better.

I don’t judge that quasi-conscious decision. We all do it some, and some do it all the time. The managers of perception count on that. It makes their work more fun.

And now … back to Survivor, The Apprentice, the Amazing Race, the Bachelor, Fox News, and all the other reality shows that make five hundred cable channels such a blessing ….

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