Society, Privacy, Autonomy and Democracy: Individual or Social good?
Understanding the correlation between privacy, autonomy and democracy have become a major thought for focus among political theorists. Unlike the debate on privatization influencing the market economy, this is mainly centered upon conceptualizing the inner links between privacy and legality. The concern has come into the picture because of a variety of reasons. It may be technological developments or emergence of aggressive identity politics, one or the other way these have triggered unforeseen social issues. Through this essay, I shall try to detangle the intertwined nature of individual privacy, autonomy and democracy and bring out the relations existing in-between them.
Technology today has inevitably advanced to an extent, where employing all types sophisticated devices without regulation is likely to leave no trace of privacy. Inventions like powerful surveillance cameras and biotechnological techniques have unscreened the impenetrable areas of life. It has now become essential to be vigilant about the individual image in life. But rapid upsurge of identity politics in the issues like feminism, multiculturism, gay movements, racial discretion and national politics has given birth to ambiguities or highlighted the limitations of privacy rights. Constant critics on drawing boundaries between the individual interests and democracy have generated suspicious thoughts of condemnation, segregation and dominance on one part or another. Most important of all, privacy has created a significant impact on the society. It has been a potent reason for the arrival of prevailing forms of racism, ethnocentrism and nationalism. At this point, older regulations to protect the privacy of people are not ideal. Moreover, people are volunteering themselves to relax their private space with an interest to gain goods and services. The interests to acquire a self-determined life and fantasized rewards are affecting the idea of democracy and the autonomous subjects working under it.
Radical critiques from the anti-democrats have also influenced the deprivation of conceptual resources in making a proper judgment. The necessity is to take account of all the possible sources available, reshape and refine it. The main resources in context are privacy rights and democratic rules. On the other facet, feminism has always questioned the loopholes in the democracy. It has played an important role in revealing and justifying the issues faced by women in the civil community based on lack of economic opportunities. However, it has also given rise to situations where democracy is forced to build discriminatory laws and experience legal disabilities. So there are obvious discrepancies and complexities in the modern day society. The issues related to privacy and publicity have mostly been discussed in terms of male interests and norms which thereby have led to prolonged opposition against following the social hierarchies.
Whole societal structure can be seen in two halves, private and public. Firstly, public involves the egalitarian ideals of preserving peace and unity among the people. Secondly, privacy or personal space essential for individual well-being tends to create segregations in the society. Thirdly, autonomy resides somewhere in between the two spheres that influence both the ideas. Democracy certainly requires autonomy for its functioning. Besides solely working on the central command of power it distributes its autonomy among various levels. So democracy and autonomy are related to each other.
In fact, separation of privacy and autonomy is potentially not feasible as they are interrelated in a very dependable way. Similarly, using a public approach by considering the society as a whole by disregarding the various levels in the social structure is also not a viable option. So at the least, rules must exist to provide legal protection and acquire political balance in safeguarding the privacy and publicity. In other words, both the voices of many and individual voices must be protected in a democratic setup. The core intention of democracy should be to avoid leveling, prohibition and homogenization. Again, feminists are continually arguing about having personal priority over privacy. On this context, natural domain that comes into the picture relates intimate relationships, sexuality and family needs. With the attention to this matter, efforts have been made to refine the concept of privacy that oppresses women.
Autonomy greatly influences the policies and principles structured in the interests of society. A few autonomous agents are provided with the power to take actions and judgment. This in one sense is nothing, but overlapping the identity interests over the democracy. The providing autonomy to a group of people to regulate the democracy has both advantages and disadvantages. If deserving subjects who are clean in their conduct are placed as autonomous bodies, it would lead to prosperity. On the contrary, incapable candidates can pose questions over the justice of democracy. Likewise, it is also true that too much autonomy gets bad results. This happens when a person considers his choices as supreme and disregards the balance in privacy and publicity. The personal choices arise as a result of convictions, desires and values. As a result, it directly influences the goal set and actions of a person. There are also other instances where a person doesn’t have his own goals, but gets inspired or carried away by others actions. This is where self-direction comes as a part of illusion. In addition, ongoing social life is another factor that influences the person’s motives. Here an autonomous subject depends on the others judgment to carry out his actions. But in strict terms, autonomous person is one who has his/her choices and actions into play according to own will. Now the question is How to balance these actions following the rules democracy?
As an example, consider the operation of the Web. Democratic ideals must allow the web or internet to operate at maximum potential. Meanwhile, it also needs to protect the privacy of Internet users. Internet today is vastly familiarized, so these statements may seem as a matter of common sense. Nonetheless, for obtaining the objective, one has to perceive things relatively in a complex way. It requires the understanding of the real world situation and devising appropriate rules in a constrained environment. Looking at today’s trend of widespread use of social media, has left us ponder about making a distinction between public and private deeds. Something that was entirely concealed before is not anymore. The times have changed. Furthermore, it becomes more complex as there are distinct groups of people interacting with each other with diverse mindsets from all over the world. I after referring the Book called “The Public and problems” from the author John Dewey came to know an alternative way to perceive the distinction between privacy and publicity. The solution provided focuses on understanding the actions and consequences of the users. In other ways, after observing the adaptability of the users to the new technologies, rule of thumb is to keep aside the old situations and avoiding taking strict unforeseen decision that affects the people. The democratic principles must support the ever changing people to have their way of life. Additionally, imperatively taking decisions on the social privacy can outburst negative consequences and restrict the freedom of movement of the people.
The consequences of one’s actions can be direct and indirect, and as a democratic body it is very important to classify the actions of a user. When it comes to direct consequences, it remains bounded within a definite area and it can be dealt privately. Whereas indirect consequences on the other hand spread to a vast extent immediately after the action takes place. It should be clear by now that indirect consequences must be taken care of to preserve the public interests. Consider an example, where a house owner is burning garden waste in front of his house. In this case, immediate result would be affecting his children and family members. But if toxic pollutants are being burnt then, it becomes a question of the whole neighborhood. Here first part is a direct consequence and other is indirect consequence. The situation can be taken care by installing pollution measuring instruments and warning the owner, so that he hesitates to burn the toxics again. So private acts, triggering public consequences must be taken care by the legislation. In the pollution problem, the process would involve inquiries, warnings and charges against the home owner.
The indirect consequences are not always bad for the society. For instance, if a group of Facebook users come together and discuss their common problems with Facebook groups, it doesn’t pose any problems. It could rather solve the problem unless the issue is anti-democratic and against the government. So in this new generation the conventional philosophies may require refinements with the use of pragmatist approaches. It is very much necessary to safeguard the individual privacy along with curbing the activities that lead to mass tension. Overall, privacy, democracy and autonomy must be considered as parts that whole make up a whole system called society. Also to note, there are unavoidable influences between all the three subjects, and considering them as individual entities can create social enigmas that could remain unsolved. Finally, privacy is not to be neglected but instead must be considered as essential element to democracy and autonomy.