Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Privacy, Transparency, Espionage, and Secrecy: Assange, Manning, and Snowden Incidents / First Interlude

So far I have scribbled out three brief essays and, as such, we have some working definitions of the private sphere and the public sphere and their characteristics - I just want to pause and sum up, making sure that everything is clear. 


The separation of public and private is not a necessary characteristic of human social life - rather, it is an artifact, an institution developed through legal, political, and philosophical struggle and debate. 

Implication: It is possible, however unlikely, that pressures could emerge, internally, externally, or in some combination, that could degrade this institutional artifice. Given the level of development of contemporary communication and transportation technologies the outcome of this would most likely be totalitarianism.


The rationale that underlies this system is simple: (1) what is held by an individual actor, or a group of actors, who lack the power of compulsion, is both private and entitled, insofar as practical, to privacy; (2) what is held in common by all of society and managed by the polity, which has a monopoly on the use of compulsion (to be used to secure the life, liberty, and property of private actors through rule-making, rule-execution, and rule-adjudication), is public and to be managed, insofar as practical, according to a principle of transparency.  The goal is of course to maximize factional competition while minimizing the negative effects thereof and allowing collective management of commons that otherwise could not be secured.  Overstep cannot be tolerated all benefits will disappear.

Implication: The weakness is that the practical limits are vague and inevitably subjective and dynamic, meaning that the greatest point of instability to the preservation of this system is reflexively linked - the present threat of societal conflict undermining the system must be undermined through the use, as we will see, of domestic espionage, though the capability to engage in domestic espionage, plus the real necessity of non-transparency in some areas means that, as we will see, the polity presents a genuine threat of undermining the system as well.   Put simply, too much transparency and not enough oversight by the polity may result in anarchy, civil violence of a Hobbesian chord.  Too little transparency and too much oversight and the polity becomes tyrannical, threatening authoritarianism or even totalitarianism.  


General Implication: In a civilization, like ours, that depends upon both a robust and competitive civil society and an open, free, popular government the key political institutions that preserve the system also present its greatest internal threat.  

I call this the seed of destruction - and it means we have a few more essays to go.  If you're interested in speculating where I'm going with this consider reading about the Doctrine of the Mean (Greek or Chinese, no matter) and of course check out The Federalist Papers.  Otherwise, sit back, relax, and let's go deeper into the rabbit hole. 

To be continued in Second Interlude / Liberalism