March 31, 2014

Glenn Greenwald - Privacy is necessary for creativity

In an article in Salon, "Surveillance breeds conformity" Natasha Lennard spoke with Glenn Greenwald. He explained why privacy the prerequisite to being a fully formed human being and the prerequisite to creativity. He explained this with two points.

Firstly, Glenn Greenwald said that the first value of privacy is the personal:
"I think the primary value of privacy is personal as opposed to legalistic or constitutional or political, by which I mean it’s essential to what it means to be human that we have a private life. We interact with other human beings as social animals, and live part of our lives in the public eye — that’s crucial — that’s why if you put someone in solitary confinement for 23 and a half hours a day like we do in U.S. prisons, it’s a form of torture. And it makes people go insane, because we need, as part of our human functioning, to be seen by other human beings and to be perceived by them and understood through the eyes of other people. 
Secondly, it's about being free to explore and express oneself creatively:
"Equally important to who we are is a realm where we can be free of those judgments, of people watching us. That’s why people have always sought out realms where they can conduct themselves with anonymity and privacy. Where there aren’t other human eyes forming judgments and posing decrees about what they should and shouldn’t do. The reason it is so crucial is that it is only in that state that we are free to do the things that other human beings would condemn us for doing. We can be free of shame and guilt and embarrassment; it’s where creativity resides, it is where dissent to an orthodoxy can thrive. A human being who lives in a world where he thinks he is always being watched is a human being who makes choices not as a free individual but as someone who is trying to conform to what is expected and demanded of them. And you lose a huge part of your individual freedom when you lose your private realm. Politically that is why tyranny loves surveillance, because it breeds conformity. It means people will only do that which they want other people to know they’re doing — in other words, nothing that is deviant or dissenting or disruptive. It breeds orthodoxy. 
Glenn has spoken elsewhere on this issue. In the video above and here, Glenn Greenwald said (at 36 minutes):
"It is in the private realm, exclusively, where things like dissent and creativity and challenges to orthodoxy reside. It's only when you know that you can explore without external judgement, where you can experiment without eyes being cast upon you, is the opportunity for creating new paths possible. And there are all kinds of fascinating studies that prove this to be the case. There are a number of psychological studies where people have sat down at their dinner table with family members or friends and they're talking for a very long time and they're taking in an informal way and suddenly one of them pulls out a tape recorder and puts it on the table and says: I'm going to tape record our conversation just for my own interest. I promise I'm not going to tell any body...  
Invariably what happens is the people who are now being recorded radically change their behaviour. They speak in much more stilted sentences. They try to talk about much more high ended minded topics. They're much more stiffer in their expression of things because they now feel they're being monitored."
And here with
"The private realm is where creativity, dissent, and innovation exclusively reside."
And also:
"If you eliminate that private realm, you breed conformity. When all your behavior is public, then you’re going to do the things that the society insists you do and nothing else, and you lose so much of who you are as a human being."
Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) explained why privacy of the individual matters:
"If I’m able to know everything about you - what you do, what you think, what you fear, where you go, what your aspirations are, the bad things that you do, the bad things that you think about, and you know nothing about me - I have immense leverage over you in all kinds of ways. I can think about how to control you, I can blackmail you, I can figure out what your weaknesses are, I can manipulate you in all sorts of ways. That is the state of affairs that this surveillance state, combined with the wall of secrecy has brought about."
Glenn Greenwald also said:
"This type of surveillance by design breeds conformism. That’s its purpose."
He explained how things should be:
There is supposed to be transparency for government; we’re supposed to know virtually everything they do.

 Individuals are supposed to live in a sphere of privacy; nobody is supposed to know what we’re doing unless there’s a demonstrated good reason to invade that wall of privacy."
Finally, two key quotes below on civil liberties and state power.
"It is always the case, not sometimes, not usually, but always the case that civil liberties abridgments and abuses of core rights, extend beyond their original application."
And so one leads to two:
"A [civil liberties] abridgment for one person is an abridgment for everyone."
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