Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
I'm feeling a little perplexed as I read the news on one particular topic over time.... this whole thing about how we are "being watched".
There is no doubt that there is more invasion of our privacy in recent years as we have given others more and more room to be in "our space," invading our privacy.... such that: our personal space now includes our internet activities, commercial activities such as visits to malls, use of a cell phone, use of a GPS system in a car, and such. When we do these things, we are "being watched" -- not only by people we like to communicate with but by people that we don't know are watching and this includes the government and various commercial enterprises. I'm aware from my don't-track-me software that at the qq site here there are 5 companies that track unless we block them. It IS kind of everywhere.
Do we care about this? I can't decide anything conclusive about being personally bothered about all this. I think if I was a very social person who wanted to say very controversial things in public then this might bother me extremely to have such surveillance of everything. And I want people to have the right to be social and, yes, controversial, and to have free speech... Quakers are rooted in being controversial while following their consciences.... There isn't full room for expressing Spirit if we are also in that moment censoring ourselves, so programming ourselves to say the safe or appropriate thing does diminish what Spirit can do in our midst.
And yet at the same time, I keep feeling aware that -- as helpful a tool as internet is for mass communication -- we don't actually have the right to use that and not expect people of all shapes and sizes to watch us. It's like giving a public speech and not wanting certain people to hear it -- if you take responsibility for your own actions then you don't say it "in public" if you don't want others to hear.
I don't trust the government's discernment about our spiritual intentions for one second (and that's not what it's there for) -- but I don't feel that I can legitimately blame them if they want to read my post that I send out to unknown persons far and wide, and I think if they want to look for terrible things in it, I don't like that but I am the person who opened that door by saying something on this ol computer that may not be able to be understood by people in all walks of life.
What are the spiritual implications of posting?
I'm feeling quite sure that the spiritual implications of our choices on this are huge, if only because they are largely unexamined.
- None of us want to live in an Orwellian society.
- As a rule, I would say: it IS hard to feel free and relaxed when one is being watched (as that implies being watched by someone you don't know so well).
- By being online do we buy into a certain amount of denial about what we are communicating and reading and who has a right to see what we broadcast, and who WILL see it ?
- Is there another version in which we accept our freedom and its crazy-powerful implications while we are online? (sensing that expressing true freedom just might not please a government that watches, and gently daring to do it anyway in full knowledge of implications of being a revolutionary),
- What responsibility do we bear for choosing to be oblivious to our own actions (just so we can post and try to have a simpler life),
- Is that in fact the type of "simple" life we are called to follow as Quakers?
- Does our chosen oblivion (just so we can function online) imprison ourselves and others specifically because other people ARE watching us live our lives? (ie: we dump on someone we don't know and that impacts them in ways we don't realize, or we speak freely about something that others don't hear in the same spirit we intended, etc)
Clearly WikiLeaks seems to be the ultimate example of some of these quandries playing out -- the questions about to what extent transparency and sharing information freely is the best course of action in an online world, the experiment of how much good it does versus how much bad. Personally I'd like us all to err on the side of giving freedom and privacy and space to others and I feel that transparency generates good will and good behavior. But...?
What would Jesus do online??
He didn't exactly model speaking transparently and plainly... he often looks more like he's speaking in spiritual code.
Thinking about this stuff leads me to feel that driving a computer may in fact be far more dangerous than driving a car, simply because we are so easily oblivious to their being any spiritual implications of these choices we make online...and yet clearly lives are affected as people online dump on one another, violate one another in "mass" ways impossible to achieve in a person-to-person conversation, risk being "overheard" by people who are not coming from good will toward others, leak information that has implications for societies and individuals, manipulate ways of sharing so that information can be dumped on "the public" without it being thoughtfully understood.... The danger is most acute because we seem hardly to see any need for wisdom and knowledge about spiritual implications of this "machine" we are driving. We have so little awareness of "the other." And we want to speak freely and then blame "the other" for our lack of awareness of them, and fear them for it?
Recognizing that weighing in on this means we're all hypocrites together (posting about not-posting), what do YOU think about all this?
And by the way, if you're so moved, I see that tomorrow is a day of protest against mass surveillance (click here for more). I was moved to think about this topic by their communications, but haven't come to conclusions or personal motivations on it yet for the above very heavy reasons!
Of course it's not right that people with 'power over' want to 'keep an eye on' us in a distrustful way, seeking to 'watch out for' and manipulate & quite possibly to hinder.
When Anne & I were involved in local activism, her son called from out of town, had a terrible time connecting so he tried the operator -- who told him: "Honey, did you know that line's bugged?" This helped us feel like we must be important or something; anyway I sympathized with the poor person having to listen and tried hard not to be boring.
One time at City Hall, I met the Mayor's aide who'd been assigned to read the copy of our newspaper we sent them every month. He said he'd come to agree with us and was no longer assigned to that.
Yes, Jesus was speaking publicly while knowing the crowd was full of informers and outright enemies. There were definitely ways he put things so that everybody would know what he was saying ("Everyone with ears to hear") but his opponents couldn't quite accuse him of saying that, at least not until they had him safely captured, isolated, & set up for a token 'show trial' -- a sort of irregular hearing in which the High Priest & his friends put together a case for Pilate's benefit.
People who are frightened and distrustful seek to snoop and intimidate. I can't say I entirely like everything I say, but what's here is public. In my emails -- I don't want to have to justify everything I say, and shouldn't need to. I doubt they're finding anything too exciting, but I hope nobody's getting bored!
Our progressive lack of privacy from governmental and marketing snooping really does bother me, but so far hasn't deterred my from posting my quite liberal views all over the place, especially on facebook. I jokingly say that I will probably be arrested when I am 80 if our society continues on this path of increasing surveillance, but it really is no joke. I hope I always have the courage to speak out about the things I believe in.
Thanks for your comments, Forrest and Patrice.
Forrest you said:
"Yes, Jesus was speaking publicly while knowing the crowd was full of informers and outright enemies. There were definitely ways he put things so that everybody would know what he was saying ("Everyone with ears to hear") but his opponents couldn't quite accuse him of saying that, at least not until they had him safely captured, isolated, & set up for a token 'show trial'"
Yeah, I guess one thing I really like about Jesus's model is that he frequently responds in such a way that people may have to consider the implications before answering (and thus become more aware of their own choices, or are given a second chance to). But then if they don't, he also has this master chess move in which he creates instant check mate and that on moral grounds: such as that whole "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" thing.
The internet seems to afford some great avenues for holding others accountable and some great avenues for being held accountable, but seems particularly poor at doing both at the same time.
I wish there was a way that internet activities could be subject to ultimate transparency -- the same as with in-person interactions: if you can see someone, they can see you.
Patrice, I guess I'm still sitting with the feeling that the internet is not as small and homey a group as we like to act like it is at the moment when we're making personal disclosures....and that has implications that we really aren't in control of. But that said, the idea of someone in FULL awareness of the implications of their choices committing random acts of civil disobedience for the greater good...this inspires me beyond measure... and is certainly what acts of faith and personal sacrifice are all about: People who are willing to take risks knowing the cost to transform our society or help us to see it differently.... More power to you, even at age 100!
I wanted to share this information that came my way. Though my original post was on the ethics surrounding being watched as a computer user I find that its questions naturally lead to the ethics of drone strikes as well: at what point is the one who is watching us but not being transparent a danger to us? If we take the same matters that I'm kind of "reasonable" about when it comes to the online world and assume that governments do the same things on the level of drone usage....THEN I KNOW it's a problem. So perhaps Forrest's comment speaks to all that the best when he started off with "Of course it's not right that people with 'power over' want to 'keep an eye on' us in a distrustful way, seeking to 'watch out for' and manipulate & quite possibly to hinder."
How can we support a society in which we are all free? Obviously the initial impulse behind government surveillance is for the safety of people, and there are a million times when this has been needed (child abuse may be where this comes up the most on a local level, also the EPA at its best, and all kinds of consumer protections and protections of those involved in commercial matters where love of money makes people cut corners)
I don't really know what to do when a government, capable of supporting these good things, over time turns interested in paranoid watching of everyone / policing. I wish they would know that that cultivates "something to be paranoid about". Didn't they learn from 9-11? When the story was sold to us as a rallying cry against terrorism, all of a sudden we had more and more to be afraid of and now instead of that problem being "solved" (or simply forgiven and allowed to go by) we've created a society of fear.
Anyway....Thanks, Forrest, for your good summation of it and for calling them on their behavior.
Here's a link from World Council of Churches against drone strikes: