Security vs. Privacy

One of my best friends likes to argue that the generational dividing line between his wife and him is the Cold War. His view is shaped by the potential for nuclear holocaust that was suddenly lost in a haze of flannel, coffee, and overproduced garage rock. Growing up primarily in the 80s, I think of his and my shared experience in pop culture spectacles such as The Day After, WarGames, Red Dawn, Rocky IV, and so many others, all of which I remember through very young eyes. It didn’t matter if you were scared by the thought of nuclear holocaust or rejected the concept. American life held this conceit. As such, even anti-war films come across as propaganda that promulgated a scary ReaganThatcherMilitaryIndustrialComplex status quo, and I can still recite the (brief) dialogue of Rocky IV and hum Vince DiCola’s synths along with the montages.

One of my other best friends studies post-WWII Italy and France through the literal lens of the neorealists filmmakers as well as philosophers such as Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil whose books are scattered about her house. The constant presence of these books is almost like one of those military challenge coins; if she were to be caught without The Banality of Evil in one of the six bags of books she carries around, I believe she’d have to buy shots for the entire Academy. And the Academy is large, poor, and thirsty. But I digress. American film showed us the possibility of nuclear holocaust, something tangible and scary, but in the same way zombie movies are scary or, you know, the boogie man. The true danger of totalitarianism (saving us from value judgments about communism vs. capitalism, etc.) was probably closer to Arendt’s view, here in twitter form: that it derived from thoughtlessness, promulgated the death of internal dialogue, and ended with dehumanization finally directing us toward dystopia.

So say you want to make a film that captures the terror of a totalitarian regime. It’s easier to have Ivan Drago kill (1985 spoiler alert) Apollo Creed in a Las Vegas boxing ring than it is to show the slow death of personal liberty in East Germany (unless it involves Disney and hot air balloons). So too is it easier today to make an argument for security as derived from Palantir-powered surveillance which allows Carrie Mathison to both capture and also (2011 spoiler alert) have PTSD sexytime with sympathetic terrorists than it is to show the death of privacy by a thousand cuts, by a million little brothers as they’re called, or several big ones. And that’s a problem, too, if all you can prove about privacy is the potential for Orwell and slippery slope fallacies. Totalitarian dystopias are interesting, but only when they say something bizarrely accurate about the times in which we live now; otherwise they too feel like so much science fiction.

That’s a lot of references for now (and I didn’t even get to address why Dr. Strangelove is successful on so many levels), but expect some more here on the philosophical aspects of privacy / personal liberty, in addition to the usual blogginess.

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