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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

 
Human beings need privacy

by digby

I have been assuming that a lot of my visceral loathing of government surveillance (and not just the NSA, but all the public cameras and the general degradation of privacy in our culture) was just a sign of my old age. I simply cannot reconcile myself to the idea that one's every thought an action should be in the public domain. It's always struck me that a need for privacy is fundamentally human and that it's uniquely stressful in some way to live your life entirely out in the open. Still young people seem to be pretty comfortable with this idea in a way that I'm not, so what do I know?

This article about the psychological effects of surveillance sort of backs up my own instincts, however:
While pundits have argued vigorously about the merits and drawbacks of such programs, the voice of science has remained relatively quiet. This is despite the fact that science, alone, can lay claim to a wealth of empirical evidence on the psychological effects of surveillance. Studying that evidence leads to a clear conclusion and a warning: indiscriminate intelligence-gathering presents a grave risk to our mental health, productivity, social cohesion, and ultimately our future.
It goes on to spell out the various psychological and sociological studies that show just what happens to humans when they are subject to constant surveillance. It changes them. The following are the headings for the various ways in which that happens:
Surveillance impairs mental health and performance
Surveillance promotes distrust between the public and the state
Surveillance breeds conformity
Surveillance can actually undermine the influence of authority
Surveillance paves the way to a pedestrian future
The conformity and pedestrian future segments are particularly interesting :
For more than 50 years we've known that surveillance encourages conformity to social norms. In a series of classic experiments during the 1950s, psychologist Solomon Asch showed that conformity is so powerful that individuals will follow the crowd even when the crowd is obviously wrong. A government that engages in mass surveillance cannot claim to value innovation, critical thinking, or originality...

As the world's governments march toward universal surveillance, their ignorance of psychology is clear at every step. Even in the 2009 House of Lords report "Surveillance: Citizens and the State" – a document that is critical of surveillance – not a single psychologist is interviewed and, in 130 pages, not a single reference is made to decades of psychological research.

We ignore this evidence at our peril. Psychology forewarns us that a future of universal surveillance will be a world bereft of anything sufficiently interesting to spy on – a beige authoritarian landscape in which we lose the ability to relax, innovate, or take risks. A world in which the definition of "appropriate" thought and behaviour becomes so narrow that even the most pedantic norm violations are met with exclusion or punishment. A world in which we may even surrender our very last line of defence – the ability to look back and ask: Why did we do this to ourselves?
The surveillance society naturally results in less creativity, less innovation, less dissent, less freedom. I know it sounds ridiculously hyperbolic, but this strikes me as a potentially huge social change that nobody's talking about. What kind of a world will it be when people no longer have an inner self, at least an inner self that has any possibility of expression without being revealed to everyone else. What happens when you lose control over your identity, your history, your ability to reinvent yourself and take second chances?

I think it's insidious. People aren't meant to be on display all the time. We need our secrets. It's the government that isn't supposed to have them, not us.

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