Saturday, June 22, 2013

On Privacy

"How absurd men are! They never use the liberties they have, they demand those they do not have. They have freedom of thought, they demand freedom of speech." (Søren Kierkegaard)

Perhaps we should reject also the false choice between freedom and privacy, but lately I've been imagining a renegotiation of the state-citizen relationship. I might prefer giving the state the power to imprison or execute me for the views I express in public so long as it promised not to listen to what I say in private.

This has a quite radical consequence. It should not be illegal (because it should be entirely undiscoverable by the state) to plan an act of political (or even personal) violence. Such planning should be considered part of my private process of thinking the requirements and consequences of my actions through before reaching a decision about whether or not to do it. It is always in principle possible to decide, after carefully planning a murder, that one will not, finally, go through with it. Sometimes thinking the technical details of the act through is the only way to clarify its moral dimension. Thus, even while planning, one is exercising one's conscience.

When a group of political malcontents sits down under a low lamp to plan a subversive act of violence, they are not yet committed to carrying it out. They are really just thinking their political position through to its logical conclusion. By criminalizing their private conversation (as "planning an act of terror," for example) we are criminalizing the social dimension of thought.

To only grant me the privacy to think within the confines of my own skull is, quite literally, Orwellian. ("Nothing was your own," in the nightmare of 1984, "except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull.") I would much prefer to be constrained in my freedom to speak publicly, than in my freedom to speak openly to my friends about what I've "got a good mind" to do.

No comments: