An Unlikely Contrast Between Torture and Social Media

Continuing the point about the good and the right in discussions of the CIA torture program, my attention has been drawn to a domain in which arguments from the right seem more easily to yield to arguments from the good, almost to the point of reducing the discussion entirely to terms of benefits and costs.

I am about to delete my Facebook profile.

I posted some status updates to that effect, along with some links to sources intended to provoke thought about privacy, social life, and the uses and abuses of Big Data.

The responses have ranged from “You’re right, but . . .” to simply “But . . .”, and what follows is generally a set of claims about how useful Facebook is for this or that purpose.

Arguments about the right to privacy, about how offensive it is to be treated as a mere means to the various ends of a private, for-profit corporation, and more general worries about the pervasiveness and possible abuses of Big Data, all fade to the background.

In this domain, at least, arguments about usefulness seem to carry the day with many people who, I suspect, would very much resist such a reduction-to-utility in other domains of public life, including the use of torture by agents of the United States.

I do not intend this as an accusation of hypocrisy, or any such thing. People are too complex, the world too complicated, for us reasonably to expect perfect consistency.

It might be interesting, though, to map out those domains in public life where the good tends to supplant the right, and vice versa.

3 thoughts on “An Unlikely Contrast Between Torture and Social Media

  1. Two kinds of not entirely coherent questions. Second attempt to post.

    Whose reactions are you addressing? To what extent do we have power and authority to make meaningful choices about either? Especially with regard to our relationship to corporate capital, it's not clear to me that we have a meaningful right to privacy in the first place (and I'd be willing to entertain the thought that we lack m other meaningful rights, e.g. to autonomy, free speech, property). How distorted is our ethical perception of things we don't control?

    Is our ethical perception of these different because one is mundane and the other is violent, because one is abstract and the other visceral?

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  2. Yeah, I have a lot of the same questions, and no great claim to coherence about any of them.

    As much as I'd like to make some noise about privacy and power, it's not at all clear to me that making noise can accomplish much of anything.

    But, then, I don't think quiet acquiescence is a viable response, either.

    How many people stay on Facebook just because they are resigned to it all?

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  3. . . . and the idea of distorted ethical perception is well worth considering.

    I've thought and written about such distortion in connection with decisions about the built environment. Our capacity – or lack of capacity – to control aspects of the situations in which we find ourselves does strike me as especially important, cognitively speaking, as does the degree to which we have a personal stake in things that are close and familiar to us.

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