23 February 2014

Today, an ordinary person can't pick up the phone, email a friend or order a book without comprehensive records of their activities being created, archived, and analysed by people with the authority to put you in jail or worse. I know: I sat at that desk. I typed in the names.
This is a quote by Edward Snowden from yesterday's Guardian. All well and good, I want to say. But no, what bothers me more than anything is the term ordinary person. Because, my dear Edward, you are thinking in a box, your box of ordinary people. Your ordinary people live in Western societies, affluent Western societies. In another interview, you claim that a child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy. You actually claim that mass surveillance is watching everything we do, how it affects the average person. I get your point, don't worry, but when I think about your average person, I also get the arrogance, because with all due respect - and I mean it, you did and continue to stick your neck out for all the right reasons - the world is far more complex and there are children born in all the myriad corners of this planet for whom privacy will never be a concept worth considering. In fact, according to the latest statistics, 22000 of them die every day and not because Bill Gates has failed to supply sufficient mosquito nets or because someone is spying on them. Indeed, maybe they would benefit from a bit of surveillance, maybe less would die. But before I get carried away with my standard rant about causes of poverty, hunger and injustice (which in my book are all man made), let's remember this: Just because we are wealthy - and by gosh, we are - and have iphones, we are not the apex of some imaginary pyramid of advancement.

If we accept that we're all cut from the same genetic cloth, it means by definition we all fundamentally share the same kind of raw human genius. And that brilliance and potential is made manifest through technological wizardry and innovation--which has been the great achievement of the West--or, by contrast, invested into unraveling the complex threads of memory inherent in a myth, or understanding nuances about the relationship between human beings and the spirit world. All of those things are simply a matter of choice and cultural orientation.
 Wade Davis


  1. Yes to everything you wrote in your post today. Thank you so much for the link to the article by Wade Davis, Sabine. I share his point of view completely. Especially this:

    TreeHugger: What do you see out there that keeps you feeling optimistic?

    Davis: Well, first of all I'm a father, so I have no choice but to be optimistic. Secondly, I think pessimism is an indulgence. I always remember something the writer Peter Matthiessen once said: "Anyone who thinks he can change the world is both wrong and dangerous." And of course he had in mind people like Hitler, Stalin and Mao. But I think what he also would say is you have an obligation to bear witness to the world and to do your bit.

    You live one life and you've got a choice. Do you want to indulge in negativity, or do you want to try lean your shoulder to the wheel of the positive? Maybe some of this comes out of my own upbringing as a Christian, where I really did come to believe that there was good and bad in the world. If there is one thing that I have inherited in my older years from that Christian upbringing it's the strong sense that you can do good or you can do bad in the world, and you have a choice.

  2. The idea of privacy is a bit audacious when there are so many who don't even know the concept of a sit-down dinner or any sort of communication other than in person.
    Well said.