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Social distancing

Privacy isn't so much a matter of hiding from the government or google as hiding from my neighbor.

People are social animals and each person's private experience is unique. The social dimension manifests as people's external behavior is more or less constrained by social norms.

But within that normal external behavior the individual has a very vivid understanding of reality that's their world. Reality might be the same for everyone but worlds can be very different. Each person constructs a structure of understanding according to how the world seems to be to them.
The need for privacy grows from this tension.

If people keep their worlds private then that reduces tension among people who have conflicting structures of understanding.

When I was young, it was pretty normal for everyone to get dressed up and go to church but all the people were sitting in the pews with their own private thoughts. The minister might be presenting a thoughtful sermon. The train of thought stimulated in each person by the sermon would be different. Privacy in that case is simply being left alone with your own thoughts rather than continually struggle against the thoughts of others. I lost my belief in God just after I was Baptised into the Baptist Church. I didn't speak of that for a long time but also started reading philosophy as well as science.

Aside: I realized an interesting thing while writing this. By about 1967 I was less and less conformist. A visual manifestation of this was I stopped cutting my hair. And also about that time I became more open about not believing in God. And that was a time when a lot of people were rejecting the conformity of their parents

One of the ways that people's worlds can be different is that some people are predators and everyone else has to have defenses against them. A good defense is to keep the predator ignorant of knowledge that might be useful by doing things like burying your treasure in a secret spot.

Society is not necessarily a benign space. Very often in the past having non-conformist ideas could be fatal. I've been lucky enough to live in a time when (for me) non-conformist ideas were not fatal though I fear that may be changing.

States impose obligations on citizens. They must pay their taxes and they mustn't do drugs for instance. The state also imposes surveillance on citizens to try to ensure compliance with their obligations. People do their best to keep things hidden from the state to try and evade the restrictions. The state (and I mean all states) gets better and better at enforcing obligations. And generally, that is pretty benign in fact.

If cheating on your taxes is way hard to do and paying them is easy most people just get on with other things rather than cheating. But this surveillance has had an unexpected consequence: The surveillance requires that everyone be registered uniquely with the government. That identification is a complex thing involving social insurance numbers and birthdates and addresses.

It's just information. Anybody who has the information about a person can pose as that person in all sorts of transactions. That information can be stolen. And all sorts of entities from the state to stores to our employers have masses of that information. And that information can be stolen and sold.

So we don't only need to be personally private to hide our information from predators. All of the organizations that we deal with have to be even more careful. I've noticed this care growing over the years. Once long ago you could do things like ask for a tour of a control tower at an airport and they'd take you upstairs and show you around. (It helps to be a cute kid :-) Now I bet you couldn't even find the door and they sure don't want people knowing the layout of the place.

Against that background we have Google whose AI's know enough about us that we get customized ads tailored to our interests as shown by the searches we make and the ads we respond to.

This is sure spooky and in the wrong hands could be very dangerous but now it's sort of convenient.

On the other hand, my landlord does annual "maintenance inspections" of my suite. I have a small place with a big collection of books and a bigger collection (physically) of pictures. The place is full - I know that - but I'm not a hoarder One year I was ordered to 'downsize'. It wasn't that there was a maintenance issue that they even looked for. I felt that was a major invasion of my privacy.

So these days I'm more defensive of my privacy against neighbors than Google or the state.

What do you think?

Star I present regular philosophy discussions in a virtual reality called Second Life. I set a topic and people come as avatars and sit around a virtual table to discuss it. Each week I write a short essay to set the topic. I show a selection of them here.

I've been thinking and reading about philosophy for a long time but I'm mostly self taught. That is I've had the good fortune to read what interests me rather than follow a course of study. That has it's limits of course but advantages. It doesn't cost as much and is fun too.

My interests are things like evolution and cognition and social issues and economics and science in general.