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The expectation of privacy...

I find the recent controversy surrounding the Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell and the taping of his campaign office interesting. He's having the FBI investigate it as a "Watergate Style" wiretapping and all the news wants to talk about is what was said in the office. Now, quite frankly I find that what was talked about to be really very mild and tame compared to what I hear people talk about every day in private conversations concerning people who's political views they don't like. Hell, it's tamer than most of the stuff talked about online! I mean, all of the topics they touched on are open fodder on the net and in political conversations, so I'm not exactly sure why so many people are making hay with it -- except that they can make hay with it.

I suppose it also distracts for a very basic and important question: is there any expectation of privacy anywhere anymore? Someone obviously taped what was considered a private meeting and they released it to the press. Is that illegal? Is it only illegal when a government sponsored organization does it? Is it only WRONG when a government organization does it? Or is it more personal than that? Is it only wrong with the target of the taping is a person/organization/idea that we hold to be good and right?

Mother Jones (the magazine that released the tape) says it wasn't a "Watergate-style" taping and they are saying that they have the right not to divulge their sources (There's a whole post in that concept). The question is: what is "Watergate-style"? If someone in the campaign is disgruntled and taped it in order to get back at someone, does that make it right? If someone who was against the campaign "infiltrated" the Senator's office in order to tape private conversations and then release them to the public, does that make it right? Does the press have the "right" to do this? Does the government?

Is it acceptable to tape private conversations? Should we go around expecting that everything we say -- in confidence or not -- will eventually be public knowledge? Is this something that politicians should expect? What about people who influence public policy but aren't actually elected or part of the election process? What about bloggers and people who make a living (or at least a mark) on the political culture?

We already impose a much lower standard of privacy on people in the entertainment industry. We believe that, because they are entertaining and talented, we are entitled to know much more about them then we would like people to know about us. We demand the right to film them and judge them for everything they say and do.

Which is interesting because the target of the campaign talk was Ashley Judd, one of these very people who we criticize and marginalize all the time. Nothing that was said in the "closed door strategy meeting" comes close to the the vitriol and scathing comments that are posted to the web everyday. Or perhaps it's that we should expect better of others then we are willing to do ourselves.

Way back at the beginning of the 80s there was much made of Orwell's "1984" and how it was coming true. Now 30 years have passed and we realize that "Big Brother" -- as in a central government dictating how we think and behave -- isn't the problem. It's everyone else. Anyone can tape and record us at any point, doing anything and they have the ability to decide what to do with that information.

What I find interesting is how unevenly condemnation is applied for the spreading of other people's private moments. If the target of this intrusion is someone we don't like or someone who is in opposition of things we believe, well then it's all wonderful. "That person's a douche," I hear people claim, "it's what he/she deserves!". On the other hand if the target is someone we admire or someone who shares our beliefs, well then it's terrible. "No! People shouldn't intrude into the privacy of someone so wonderful!"

I don't think that it's Orwell's "1984" that best describes the society we are evolving into -- the culture that we are choosing to embrace. Nope. I believe that "Animal Farm" best sums it up. In our self-centered, "It's all about what I think" world we are becoming "True Beleivers" -- our side is always right and the other side is always wrong -- we are good and true and noble and they are evil and douchey and undeserving. And by those rules we are able to apply Machiavellian philosophy to everything -- anything we do is right because we are right. Of course, we don't acknowledge that as Machiavellian. No, we say it's right and just.

Our society has embraced Orwell's line in Animal Farm: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

You disagree? Answer me this: If someone would have recorded an opponent's discussion of Sara Palin and released it to the press, would you be equally outraged in what was said? Would the content of the discussion even be in the news? Or would it be the illegal taping of a campaign headquarters that was in the news?

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