Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Private Parts

So, privacy.  Let's start with the obvious.  You don't have any.  Historically speaking, you may have had the brief illusion that you as an individual were important and that where you dropped scat or scratched a tree somehow had meaning beyond its larger role in an ongoing territorial calculus.  Humans were so naive.  However, it would be foolish to continue trumpeting their tinny morality and respecting the illusory boundaries that accompany their petty egos.  These things will only slow us down, and just when the only way to make progress is to go faster and faster.  We can't let the brief period in which the monkey machine produced a superflous subjectivity stand in the way of greater joy.

This is why seemingly well-intentioned endeavors such as this Google anonymizer (called Googlesharing) are so dangerous.  They are created by people willing to cut off their nose to spite their face.  Consider, as an illustration of my point, the prepositional vagary involved in the site's tagline:

Who knows more about the citizens in their own country, Kim Jong-Il or Google?

"In" or "of"?  It's easy to see how this conflation sparks paranoia.  But Google is not the government.  It is not the threat, but the promise.  What can Google do to you without the government?  They don't give a shit that you gave the ol' webcam the flying squirrel this morning.  They love this stuff.  Just keep clicking.  But undermine Google, weaken them to the point where they fall into the waiting arms of an ever-expanding government, and then there will be no escape.  The government, ultimately, is the one that wants to control you, the one with real coercive physical power over you and an iron-clad fascist grip on those fanatics with the mini-motorcycle down the street.   Clearly, the worst thing is to let Google become the tool of the government -- to let the government claim Google or vice-versa.  But the solution these guys propose is to break the tool (not technologically, but politically and financially, break), to limit it just when it is gaining the power to become really useful.  Dangerous power, sure, but the only one we've got at the moment.  It doesn't make sense to fight back against Google when it's the only thing that can give government some competition.

This makes Googlesharing little more than an internet era update of the unibomber plot.  It looks to destroy the best weapon we have.  It is a purely nihilistic response -- it offers us nothing better than more hiding.  It doesn't disconnect the information from the abuse of it, something that only a reform of our political system would do.  It doesn't even create a new stable solution to the problem -- after all, who controls Googlesharing?  are they above future corruption? do you think the government will let them continue to operate if they get big?  -- it just drags our feet and gives Big Brother time to get a clue.  Every time you don't click is a vote for the big bumbling Washington sponsored terrorists.

But then what would be a solution?  Maybe nothing besides building complete encryption right into the heart of the system.  If you could smother the Earth in a blanket of randomness, perhaps you could preserve the random individual joys underneath.  It's not enough to have one service controlling this though.  It has to replicated again and again.  You have to unable to use the tool without it.   Maybe this randomness is the best immune system against fascism.  Maybe this is an answer to the question of how one would propagate worldwide anarchism, how you might protect the delicate flower of anarchism from the ravaging weeds of a democracy gone mad.  How else can you ensure that power structures stay voluntary and for mutual benefit?

Fundamentally though, none of this is about individual privacy.  The sacred thing here is not your secret love of fat women standing in doorways.  In fact, in a lot of ways, crypto-anarchism would return us to more local interactions and is designed to dramatically reduce the long range centralized control of the state.  We might end up with a lot less privacy, and a lot more face to face interaction with our neighbor.  We might return to pre-Renaissance privacy levels, where the individual subject was simply less central and the community more important. 

What we would gain instead is the joy of being able to come together to create novelty without asking permission and without clearing it with the global governmental chokehold.  This ability to continue into the future and create new forms is the real positive freedom that we're trying to preserve/produce.  Privacy is a shibboleth and a red herring.  We don't encrypt ourselves to keep the past a secret, but to open the door to the future.

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