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We Value Belonging More Than Privacy

Posted on Dec 21, 2012
Kr. B. (CC BY 2.0)

In his new book on the global surveillance machine, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and co-authors fail to give the societywide fear “of being lonely and left out” its proper credit as a driver of totalitarianism, Laurie Penny writes on New Statesman.

People are “prepared to do a lot of things they aren’t proud of to allay those fears,” Penny argues, and that’s why they advertise what they hope to be the enticing details of their private lives so freely and willingly. Every Internet user already suspects that their emails, text messages and instant chats are being sucked up by a government supercomputer somewhere, she notes, and they don’t care. The fear of social exclusion is more powerful (a point made briefly in the early pages of “Cypherpunks” by Assange’s fellow hacker Jacob Appelbaum). Penny figures that it’s a primal dread of being alone and its overwhelming power to shape human behavior that makes the digital social network such an effective and terrifying tool for leaders who wish to control their fellow citizens.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Laurie Penny at New Statesman:

You aren’t stupid. You knew what you were doing when you ticked the little box signing over your personal information, your intimate photographs and the history of your private heartbreak that you can now read in a cold text-and-picture box that isn’t yours, displayed next to adverts optimised to suit whatever products an algorithm thinks you might buy.

Nobody was holding a knife to your throat. You gave those parts of yourself freely, because you were afraid that if you didn’t you would be left behind, and unless someone comes along and puts a gentle, understanding hand on your wrist you may very well continue to give and give until there’s no part of your private self that can’t be sold.

If the “global totalitarian surveillance society” that Assange envisages comes about, that impulse will be what brings it into being: not just fear of violence, but a creeping conformism that is as violent as any gunshot in the night.

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