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Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Twitter Privacy Treatise


Michael Anissimov said...

OK, let me try to parse what you're saying.

1. "Rights" are fictions we invent and make them sound important. If this is what you're saying, I agree. By "productions" you mean we present them as depoliticized even though they're political. If this is what you mean, I agree.

2. This one is ironic since I am a reactionary and I don't disavow the personal as being political, though I did used to, ironically when I was more progressive. Progressives and conservatives both attempt to make the political "just personal" and act like it's common sense. If this is what you mean, I agree again.

3. Here is where you make a statement of substance that seems open to interpretation. You seem to be implying that we don't deserve to frame our own exposure to publicity. I'm not sure I agree 100% but I'll accept it for the sake of argument. If we imply we have control over our own exposure to publicity, we restrict the freedom of others to talk about us, and that's "anti-freedom" in a sense. This talk about "freedom" highlights that the concept is not at all cut-and-dried, there are many different freedoms which are all in conflict. This is obvious to the nuanced thinker, though every child is taught that freedom is some concrete and easily interpreted thing.

4. Here is where you seem to go off the deep end a bit. Privacy rites can elaborate whatever we want them to. You're not the boss of being interpreting the wider significance of their privacy rights. People can elaborate fantasies of prepolitical substance from dawn until dusk if they see fit. I think you're considering specific examples of "fantasies" and "control" rather than the general case, but I can't imagine what they are.

5. "Privacy should instead foster publicity." Uhh OK. Eye-rolling from me here. This sounds like one of those classic bits of postmodernist poetry where you're being edgy by making a statement that sounds contradictory but really isn't. Good job. "Pluralizing and destabilizing," by this you mean contaminating particularist narratives by exposing them to universalist sanctimonialism that sticks its nose into everything, creating a suffocating blanket of forced consensus.

6. This one is just bizarre. You're framing privacy as something nice, postulating the negation of it, then holding that up as a great thing. Why bother fighting over the word "Privacy" as a silly MacGuffin anyway? Just come out and say "these are my values, and I'm articulating them by defining Privacy in a certain way, though it's ultimately arbitrary."

Particularist interpretations of things will always carry authoritative weight, because people do not value everyone else's opinions equally. For instance, a dim person with an IQ of 70 could not compete with my or your interpretations of reality in any compelling or effective way in any normal forum, no matter how far left you care to go. That's just one example.

All in all, this looks like a form of Marxist critique, where authoritative interpretations of reality are held up as targets to be bombarded by an intersectionalist, self-interested universalist mass. I've heard arguments along these lines a million times, so, nothing new here.

Dale Carrico said...

Everything is open to contestation in principle, and such contestation is the substance of the political. What passes for "nature" are those conventions rendered less susceptible to contestation through habit, superstition, procedural roadblocks, in all sorts of ways.

I don't think this necessarily means they are more important, and certainly it doesn't have to involve pretense, but I think you read this first aphorism mostly correctly.

The reason I included it was to set the stage for later claims: reminding (or proposing) that rights often declared observations of nature are actually produced as such historically and making a connection between politics and contestation early on (thus resisting in advance reductive understandings of the political as merely, say, ruling, administering, or distributing that would get in the way of later points).

That privacy is privation is a reminder of its etymology in privare to deprive, and its earliest implication, Roman seclusion into the domestic sphere and out of public during mourning. Since privacy has come to name a substantial right in liberal discourse -- privacy as the integrity of body or home that cannot be invaded, private property, and so on -- it is interesting to grasp that it arose politically as a deprivation of the substance of the political as contestation in public.

Part of what I am proposing in offering up this reminder is that when privacy is figured as pre-political substance (body, home, possession) that is not to be violated by outward intrusion (a hostile figuration of the public) it is actually an example of the de-politicizing naturalization we agreed about in our discussion of the first aphorism.

I certainly do not agree with your gloss of "the personal is political" as a tendency to declare all politics is just personal, especially if that is supposed to mean political questions are all subjective or arbitrary or whatever. Most political questions are contests over the objective and all political processes are inter-subjective and so obviously I would never countenance such foolishness. But nor do I think that's what liberals think either.

Obviously, the slogan originated or attained currency in the context of feminist politics pointing to the abuses of women (domestic abuse, battery, marital rape and incest) that were and are facilitated by the refusal of legal authorities to interfere with what are declared to be private matters or house-hold affairs or the traditional prerogatives of the patriarchal household. The point of the slogan is directly connected to the points that have preceded it in this discussion, what will count as the concerns of the "personal" (and often, hence, as the pre-political) are produced politically, ritually substantiated through the inculcation of norms and working of institutions, a production of that which is not political, through politics, with obvious political effects.

Dale Carrico said...

The third point is a reminder that politics comes from polis, a reminder that it is our exposure to the diversity of lifeways connected to our social settlements and social arrangements that gives rise to the experience of the political as such, and gives rise to the special kind of human being Aristotle defined as the political animal. It is a condition of the political that we are exposed to the scrutiny of a diversity of others, and there are ineradicable vulnerabilities (of being misunderstood, mischaracterized, humiliated) associated with this exposure along with its incomparable benefits -- "benefits" puts it mildly, I would say a non-political life is probably impossible and certainly not human. It is understandable that the anxieties that freight exposure would yield compensatory projects of control, and the worst abuses can be mitigated with protections, but I think one has to accept a measure of vulnerability for the pleasures and attainments of political contestation. Sometimes the politics of privacy takes the form of a paranoid effort to control the terms under which one is exposed to scrutiny (I think the cypherpunks in their 1990s heydey provide ample examples of this tendency), and such projects are ultimately anti-political in their effects however much they use political words like liberty, security, and rights in making their case.

I should add that I saw points two and three as operating together -- delineating a naturalist anti-politics against a paranoid authoritarian anti-politics as two forms "privacy politics" typically take. This is why I recapitulated the substance of the two prior points as a couplet in the fourth point.

I have no idea why you describe this effort to reiterate points entailed by my prior stipulations as "going off the deep end" or trying to become "the boss of the world" or whatever. One argues in the first place, and repeats things in the interests of clarity, precisely because one knows that one's fellows see things differently and have to be convinced to see things your way. Obviously?

Be all that as it may, the connection of two and three, summarized in four, suggests conceptual problems with the idea of privacy as it plays out in so many discussions of the topic, and helps account for why it seemed a good idea to begin even a twitterized treatise on the topic of privacy with some basic reminders about the nature of politics (rights are rites, politics is contestation) in the first aphorism.

Dale Carrico said...

In sections five and six I move from my effort to characterize the limitations of so many discussions of privacy by my lights to an effort to propose an alternative account of my own. One is often on shakier ground when one makes such a shift, and I guess it is not surprising that the unseemly eye-rolling you were able to refrain from up to that point became unstoppable once I dared the thinner ice of making actual suggestions. I leave to the side your suggestion that I am trying to say things that will sound "edgy" -- for whom and to what end, exactly? What a weird image you must have of me! I will also pass over the vapid charge of postmodernism. Cite the specific theorist you think I am in thrall to, and declare the specific error into which it has presumably lead me if you want to elicit more than a yawn from that old chestnut. As with your comparably dumb charge that I sound "Marxist" to you -- let me say that as somebody who has actually read most of the texts that get called "postmodern" and most of the texts written by Marx I know enough to know the differences between them and the vacuity of those who see no such differences, not to mention knowing enough about these texts to judge them as I do most: as texts with plenty to disagree with even if they are interesting or useful in some measure.

Although I entertain doubts about conventional characterizations of privacy and its politics I do not think of it as some kind of McGuffin in the least. I am neither as cynical as that proposal implies, nor as nihilist as your subsequent proposal that all values are arbitrary implies -- and if I may say so, you aren't remotely as smart as your comments about IQ imply you think you are if you believe such nonsense yourself.

Since I actually agree at some level with most people who value their privacy and since I tend to corral the usual civil liberties questions together that most people do under the umbrella of privacy issues, it seems consistency demands I find a way to defend something called privacy that still captures much of the substance of the usual intuitions but which refuses those versions of privacy politics which I have critiqued as amounting to anti-politics.

Since my alternative account refuses to locate privacy in some pre-political substance inhering in the person or the home or one's possessions, it made sense it would would have to be located in some sense in the conditions of publicity itself. Since my alternative account refuses to denigrate publicity as such, it made sense it would have to suggest that problems of privacy were instead pathologies or violations of publicity as I defined it. And so, naturally enough, I proposed that the problem of privacy is not that one is exposed to scrutiny as such, but that some interpretations arising from that scrutiny can be made to prevail in ways that become authoritarian through their amplification, policing, misinformation and so on.

Part of what I am assuming is that in most matters a plurality of perspectives in public will yield a plurality of accounts, and that the interpretative instability yielded by this plurality might come to misconstrued as the pre-political substance sometimes defended in the name of privacy in ways that ultimately conduce to anti-political ends (even when they are defended by people who mean to defend politics in so defending privacy).

The commitment to "foster publicity" in the fifth aphorism affirms the political explicitly, the description of "exposed rite-darers [who] re-politicize nature" in the sixth aphorism reiterates the point in a way that draws on the language of the political in the first aphorism, this rendering even so truncated a treatise as something of a whole.

Dale Carrico said...

To all the foregoing I would add that I also defend as part of "publicity" the support of a host of general welfare provisions (basic income, healthcare, lifelong education, housing and nutritional assistance) as well as civil rights (expression, assembly, franchise, representation, protections from force and fraud, eligibility to hold office, recourse to law, juries, equitable accountable administration of public goods) which, taken together, would secure the scene of nonduressed consent to everyday sociality.

This scene of consent is no less ritually constituted than is privacy itself, of course. It is no accident that a right-wing politics of privacy figured as control premised on the denigration of publicity as exposure to interpretation is conjoined to the rightwing politics of privatization as plutocratic wealth-concentration figured as optimization/ spontaneous order premised on the denigration of publicity as democratizing commonwealth.

Another face of publicity in this sense are the "professions," accountable registers of expert knowledge and responsibility -- and though they have their problems, once again, I think it no accident that right-wing privacy politics also often connect to anti-professionalization politics that facilitate deception and fraud.

Dale Carrico said...

I suppose I should mention Pancryptics: Technocultural Transformations of the Subject of the Privacy.