The concept of privacy is born from the antagonism between individuality and the desire to belong to a group. The instinctive drive to form groups – for protection, mating and warmth – is much older than the human race itself. It’s an instinct of almost every animal, and a successful characteristic or many plants and fungi. Individuality itself comes from pride and greed, two characteristics more specific to higher animals (such as felines, canines and primates).
Pack animals, like zebras, benefit a lot from being indistinguishable from each other (this is why they have stripes). Other animals, such as most felines, have leaders and there’s a succession line (much like royalty, but favouring physical strength). However, even on hierarchical species, the people is just the people, and they’re fine with it. Even on primates, you seldom see identification of one’s work or specific concerns with privacy. You can see them mimic privacy (if you beat them when doing something you wouldn’t do in public), but that’s Pavlov’s conditioning more than anything else.
However, group behaviour’s strengths and benefits if applied to the human race are quickly dismissed as communism.
There was a lot of group psychology in Marx’s political views (and a lot of Marxism in Pavlov’s ideas), hence, there was a strong rejection of any conditionalization of the people impose by the state or any strong enough body, on the capitalist side of the world.
The individual entrepreneurism of modern capitalism (as opposed to the original binary model from Adam Smith and co.), borne during the colonisation of America (no rules, no government), has been revamped by communism fears during the cold war, Cuba and now China.
As with any faith, the belief that individuality is the landmark of the human race brought its own problems.
First, individuality goes against most of other values we have as humans. My right to fart in a bloated bus goes against the respect I should have for others. My right to eat my pudding goes against the compassion I should have to spend the same amount for the mains of an impoverished child. My right to press the tooth-paste in the middle goes against my love for my wife.
Putting individuality higher than other important human values, such as respect, compassion and love, makes it a lot harder to live in societies. And given that we are now passing the 7 billion people, it’ll be a lot harder to be alone. But faith has no boundaries, nor logic. People were raised believing their individuality is more important than anything else and they die for it.
Biting the hand…
But life has it’s ways of being ironic, and deeply satisfying at it, for the bystanders. Extremely capitalist countries (like UK and US) have figured out long ago that such freedom cannot be. There is no society based on individuality (they’re antagonistic, after all). Worse still, a society that is purely based on individuality is a society without government. That, whose people have the right to do whatever they please. For this society to thrive, people would choose the right thing to do more often than not. That apolitical society has a name: anarchy. I don’t believe any government would like that!
To control people without telling them they’re being controlled, you have to resort to subversive techniques, extensively described in Orwell’s 1984. For centuries, both sides of the Atlantic have resorted to such measures, but today, no country is more Orwellian than the US.
Countries in Latin America or old USSR are failed nations (in the ayes of the American Government), where people know how bad it is and, well, live with it.
West European countries have, to a certain extent, succeeded in creating a more stable, if somewhat socialist, government. People still have their own liberties, but the government is strong and has it’s strong hand (NHS, public schools, social security, etc.). While they could do much better on many things, people know the failures and, well, live with it.
But the US is a special case. And the critical elements in the country’s history of the aggressive capitalism (internally and externally), individualism and greed, is biting the hand that fed it. For decades now, the government is increasing the grip on people’s freedoms, while increasing the liberty of major industries such as media, software, pharmaceutical, weapons on its grip of the government. After all, the recent breakdowns (like the one in 1929) of Enron, the Internet bubble and now the housing market and the financial crisis are signs that capitalism still has a lot to go wrong if unrestrained.
And still, the government gives more power to those same companies every year. The social reform Obama promised is yet to be seen, the technology-savvy campaign he did turned out on a technology-moron government, failing to understand basic concepts of day-to-day life that most Americans already know for ages. And since the US has such a power on the world’s economy, they’re spreading their chaos to Europe, as they did with Latin America for centuries (ever since Monroe Doctrine).
Recent court battles in EU for copyright infringements, the three-strike laws (rushed in by puppy Sarkozy even before the US) and all the prosecutions over Europe regarding software (Microsoft) and stupid hardware patents (Samsung vs. Apple), shows that stupidity took over the world, for good.
After the recording industry successfully convincing underpaid musicians that they were being robbed by piracy, and the successful creation of the the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, making legal things such as DRM (and illegal to have the right of privacy), and crippling their own patent system with useless patents (giving birth to a whole new industry, called patent trolls), the US government now is superseding itself by creating the Stop Online Piracy Act, the new idiocy that goes beyond any idiot boundaries any human being has ever gone.
The US government has consistently and strongly reminding us, the rest of the world, of countries like China, where people don’t have the right to freely access the internet (due to the Big Firewall of China), and how much better is the freedom that capitalist countries give you. That freedom, ultimately linked to individuality and the greed to make more money that your peers, is what makes the American capitalism thrive. But every action, every argument has been destroying this dream, for more than a decade already.
Of course, as with any decent Orwellian government, they don’t tell you your freedoms are being displaced. And people that do say that, like Richard Stallman, are tagged as crazy lunatics, in spite of what GNU has done for society in the last 30 years. Anyway, the government’s arguments are, actually, promoting freedom. The freedom for the companies to make pornographic profits at the expense of the population’s freedom.
We, the people
But the people is not fooled. Recent movements to occupy Wall Street and the increasing mention that capitalism is failing in the alternative media (blogs, independent media channels, etc.) are clear indications that the nation’s mindset is changing.
A recent survey has shown that 75% of the Americans disagree with the outrageous fines (or any fine at all) for copyright infringement. Actually, most of them are knowingly infringing copyright themselves.
So, how does this happen? From a nation that valued their individuality and community to a nation of filthy pirates that don’t give a dime about other people’s property? Well, nothing has actually happened. To the people, I mean. But two things have, indeed, happened to the government.
First, the notion of property, individuality and respect, that were never meant individually, are now showing its colour. Second, the greed in which people were bred made them respect so much their individuality that other people’s profit is not as important as their own comfort. While this is the driving factor behind the population fight against the failed patent and copyright system (a fight that I do support), it’s for the wrong reasons.
My view is that the patent system, copyright, the media industry, the firewall of China, etc. fail on a basic respect level. Not only individualism, mas also the sense of society and community. Respect is by far more important than individualism or community. It’s a concept that, when applied correctly, can derive communities that do respect your right to individuality and privacy, at the same time that it stops abuse short of damaging others.
Respect is not perfect, nor equal to everyone. There are always those that abuse of the system and people will get hurt, or killed, before the community can do anything about it. But isn’t it true to every kind of community? Do you really believe that SOPA will stop piracy more than harm loyal customers? Did DRM? Did DMCA? Did the Terrorism Act really stopped more terrorists than it locked up regular air travellers?
All those solutions were direct infringements of privacy, the right to defend yourself (ex. Guantanamo Bay and patent trolls), the right to share and give away (DRM), the right to use your property where and how it’s meant to be used (DRM). Now, the US is also losing the right to use the Internet. And don’t think that this is staying within their borders… it’s most definitely not!
Expect Cameron and Sarkozy to be adhering to that idea sooner than the Americans do…