My kinsman* Rick writes:
Why do we value privacy? I have thought about this question and the only answer that I have been able to come up with other than just a feeling of unease about the lack of privacy, is that we as Americans and maybe all people, demand the right to break the law. We accept that there will be consequences – the numerous statutes and their associated punishments that come with breaking law are evidence. But we do not make laws or rules that prevent us from breaking the laws or rules.
What do you think? Would your thoughts be any different if I make the supposition that robbery is abolished?
Hmmm...first off, why do you ask me? Have I expressed a particular interest or concern with privacy rights that you think that I am some sort of arbiter in this matter? Are you trying to tell me something? Should I be worried?
I presume that your supposition that robbery is abolished is an attempt to circumvent one obvious reason that folks feel a need to keep other people's noses out of their business: that these busy-bodies are scoping out your stuff preparatory to picking out the things they want to take once your back is turned. This remains a strong argument in favor of privacy, and I don't think you can simply make the threat of robbery go away with a flourish of rhetoric.
"Why do people feel the need for air? Let us suppose that breathing is no longer necessary; does that make a difference in your thinking?"
"Well, yeah, if I don't need to breath, then the only thing I'd use air for is to light up a smoke, which I wouldn't be inhaling, because I no longer breath."
People, to coin a phrase, are scum and there will always be those who will take advantage of you if you don't guard yourself from their view. But, beyond the obvious value of keeping things private so that bad guys don't steal from you, there are other reasons to value privacy.
I think one reason that we value privacy is because we are capable of shame. No one, to choose an example, is shown to their best advantage while squatting on the pot, and we learn at an early age to keep this act private. There are other items, such as the sex act, that (most of us) keep private primarly because we feel that this is something of value that two people share that shouldn't be casually viewed by others.
There are plenty of things that we do that we enjoy but for which we feel shame (rightly or wrongly). Many a closet "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fan would be chagrined if his private choice of entertainment became bandied about his place of work by the running tongues of office gossips.
Another reason we value privacy is because we perceive that a lack of privacy equates to a lack of freedom. We all remember when we were kids and we kept secrets from our parents, even about things that were not covered under any existing rule or law. One of the reasons we did this is because of the suspicion that, if our parents found out about [whatever] then they would make a new rule prohibiting [whatever], and the fun would be over.
I want to be free to do [whatever], and I know that if [whatever] became widely known, I would come under societal pressure to stop doing [whatever] even though (and this is important) there isn't anything wrong with [whatever].
I'm not talking about things that are illegal, though of course different view about civil disobedience come into play; I'm talking about, I don't know, dressing in women's clothing (uh, if you're a man) or collecting plush animals (uh, again, if you're a man) or, dare I say it, spend a lot of your adult life nuturing an interest in Dungeons & Dragons. T'aint nobody's business.
You may feel that I've simply slipped by your question; but I don't feel that way. To say that I value privacy because I want to be free to break the law isn't right. I think that most people who aren't sociopaths believe that a person's right to privacy ends the moment they break the law.
But I have a right to loll about my house in my underwear without fear that someone will peep in my window and take pictures. And my desire for such privacy doesn't imply a desire to break any laws.
My two cents, anyway. What does everyone else think?
*That’s right, I wrote ‘kinsman’. That’s a word you won't see Glenn Reynolds or Charles Johnson or James Bleeding Lileks use. Pious Agnostic has kinsmen, do you hear? Their herds are plentiful and they cover the plains….