Law in the Internet Society
Okay, so I've slept on this for a couple weeks now.. and although I'm now well-slept, I'm still clueless as to how I could "fix" this paper. I'm afraid it's terminally flawed. The fatal flaw, as Prof. Moglen's red ink pretty well illustrates, is that the paper is dishonest. It's presented as logic, but withdraws to the comforts of satire where logic is unhelpful or inconvenient. But I can't just strip the paper down and rebuild it as logical, because that would bring me to the logical conclusion that privacy matters and I should care. And I've already married myself to the conclusion that privacy matters and I don't care.

So.. what to do. The fact of the matter is that my classmates and I viewed Law & the Internet Society as a cerebral, enlightening experience. We'd rave about it long after class was over. And both we and the people to whom we raved are still on Facebook. No one I know has taken any meaningful remedial measures to guard our privacy, or to help sculpt a world in which privacy and social networking may fruitfully coexist. I think we've all subordinated logic to rationalization, and the arguments in my original paper (below) are an attempt to profile that act of subordination. If I needed the self-flattery, I'd label it performance art.

I'm leaving the original paper below, unrevised, but I'll continue to revisit it periodically over the coming weeks and months. Like many of my classmates, I've got a cognitive dissonance which I've resolved in favor of the continued use of Facebook. But perhaps one day I'll read over Prof. Moglen's red ink, review our conversation, re-engage myself in conversation, and resolve to deactivate my account.

RE: Internet Privacy; The Case for Deliberate Apathy

-- By AnilMotwani - 08 Dec 2011

The last couple months have taught me that very little is secure on the Internet. It has also taught me this this outcome is not inevitable. Rather, with a little bit of care and discipline, we can enjoy the vast resources of the Internet and we can do so without exposing ourselves. And yet I feel, personally, that I’m probably going to continue doing what I’ve always been doing. It’s not laziness, but rather a value decision. I think that the logic behind my decision may be shared by others, and as such, it’s worth examining whether this logic is good.

There might be a precedent question. Generally, we observe that people comfort themselves by giving post-hoc "logical" justifications for unconscious behavior they do not want to or choose to understand, to bring into consciousness. The resulting thought process is called "rationalization." You've just told us that you want to have your rationalizations confirmed, by having readers take them for your "logic." Wouldn't the precedent question be, why we shouldn't discuss your behavior without rationalizing it?

Nudity is the norm

For my part, having a sanitized or inaccessible online history is bad. I don’t trust people with a totally clean record. It’s not because I suspect they’ve been hiding something, but that on balance, I find these people tend also to be super uptight. It makes sense: do you really want to elect, hire, or -- generally speaking -- entrust someone who has spent their entire post-adolescent life carefully nurturing their Internet persona so that it conforms to shared conceptions of good taste and morality? Having an online footprint, blemishes and all, is good because it indicates that you are who say you are, and you’re relaxed enough to let that broadcast to the world.

4/17/12 EDIT: check out this new supportive video short from the Onion News Network:,27963/

This is crap in both directions. People who are far more relaxed about their unconventional behaviors and ideas than you are also have a strong positive regard for their privacy. Many people who are extremely happy with and relaxed about who they are barely use the Net and have "totally clean records." Many super uptight people I know are technically incompetent, use only proprietary software on their computers, and are as naked on the Net as you could imagine. People like me who may be prolific sources on the Net can be also so much written about that our own contribution to our "Internet persona" is nonetheless much smaller than everybody else's. The real determinants of the net profile of an individual at this particular stage of the evolution of the Net have little to do with intrapsychic traits. The attempt to judge character merely from how much or little you get from a websearch is ludicrous.

On the flipside, working for someone or befriending someone who has a prejudiced view of you because of something you said or did on the Internet raises questions about the enviability of that employment or friendship situation to begin with. I’d much rather surround myself with people that search for deeper, more reliable indicators of who I am rather than abstractions from bits of often out-of-context information culled from the Internet.

Which, given that you were just engaged in egregious and hopeless efforts to determine "who people are" from out-of-context assessment culled from the Internet, suggests that if your friends were like you say you are now, as opposed to who you were being in the last paragraph without saying so, they wouldn't want to hang around with you. Probably, however it would be better to say it's just an incoherent, illogical mess, and that we're now two sections into the essay without knowing what it's about except that it's a record of your rationalizations, which given its now-proven irrationality seems increasingly probable.

Abiding by the rules of the matrix = fewer legal citations

Further, without obsessing over technical details, assuming that nothing you ever do is totally private functions as an excellent internal safeguard. Instead of taking measures to secure my computer so that I can Google “child pornography” with impunity, I just won’t Google “child pornography.” I won’t Google a lot of things. I’ll grant that many so-called “taboos” are the product of social construction and should be eradicated. But in my worldview, most taboos are okay. And any fear that the government is watching is just added incentive for me to be a well and good law-abiding citizen.

Well, now. If we weren't compelled to accept rationalizations as logic, but were instead allowing ourselves to ask how the structure and content of rationalizations communicated unconscious motives lading to patterns of thought and behavior, I believe that we might feel that this passage helped us considerably. On the logical level, it seems to me that this passage stands for the idea that it's good to be super-uptight. Super-uptight enough, at any rate, to think that there's a reason not to Google "child pornography," among other things. Which was previously the state of mind you didn't trust. Without obsessing, we might want to revisit the point that privacy is not about the secret you don't want revealed, if we weren't actually analyzing the unconscious emotional limitations against remembering that this was actually the point of what I tried for four weeks to teach you.

Paranoia is bad for your skin

Finally, there’s the mental health side of things. Facebook is fun if you just let yourself go wild, but it’s not fun if you start fretting over privacy concerns and then, accordingly, make painstaking adjustments in how you publish your posts so that they only reach your desired audience.

But that's not what one would do if one had privacy concerns. If one had privacy concerns, one would go wild on a website that one built for oneself somewhere other than a centralized social networking database. People could leave messages, and you could send out status updates and do all the Facebook things that you like, without losing privacy. The problem with this logic isn't that it's illogical. It's completely bat-shit crazy, but that's not the problem either. The problem is that it's rationalization and you're pretending that's logic. Seen as rationalization, it's perfectly fine and it makes total sense. Of course, it doesn't lead to the ostensible conclusion, but what difference does that make?

It’s good to be critical of flawed institutions - and to be sure, there are many in America. At its best, critical thought both leads to progressive change and constitutes a healthy brain exercise. But there’s a point at which critical thought becomes corrosive and self-destructive, and limits your enjoyment of life. I’d rather spend my 20s blissfully ignorant than scared of Big Brother.

Which would be the point, if there were in fact anything to be scared of, which is the only time in which all that "critical thought" (which we could also call "logic") would be particularly necessary.

Damage Control - if things get out of hand

There are, to be sure, safety options – lest we change our mind and suddenly morph into privacy nuts:

Move to Costa Rica and become a scuba instructor

I don't think they do background checks - at least not extensive ones. Labor mobility is fantastic in America (as in, from America). We can switch our locations and careers with ease. Allowing your online persona to become gradually polluted can function as a powerful change agent by forcing you to pack your baggage, literally and figuratively, and go somewhere else in pursuit of a new, clean start.

Pseudonymity: reconstructing YOU and YOUR MANY personalities

Further, there’s so much digitized information these days that profiles of individual identities could easily enmesh and get lost in the mix. Programs exist that help facilitate the process of shrouding your online identity (see There are typically two paths to doing this: burying your online persona, or obscuring it through the injection of false information. The latter strategy can actually be quite fun. You can create fake names for yourself – and then develop wonderfully elaborate backstories to match.

In conclusion...

Full online anonymity is so ellusive in the 21st century as to cast doubt on whether it’s even worth the time and headache. I’d argue that it’s easy for people to recognize our precarious situation, its consequences, and then decide on a best advised route of simply not caring; and as far as I can tell, I think that’s me.

Call me philistine; say that I'm ruinous for democracy. But I suspect that others think like me, and as such, it's worth addressing these arguments on their own turf, however anti-intellectual that turf may be colored. There gets a point at which information gathering systems become so highly networked and tightly integrated that one feels a need to just say "Forget it all!" and throw his hands in the air; to do so, I'd argue, isn't a sign of frustration or resignation, but rather, a tremendously powerful act of emancipation.

And for what it's worth - judging by their public Facebook albums, those emancipated souls seem okay with letting the whole universe know how much fun they're having.

I don't take these paragraphs any more seriously than you do. I see no reason to believe the reader will take you seriously, either.

The route to the improvement of this essay is, it seems to me, to make it something that can be taken seriously. First, you have to confront the argument the very predicate of the essay is to ignore. If each of our behaviors in the Net affected only our own privacy, giddy self-involved ignorance might be ugly, but it wouldn't be unethical. Littering, however, is unethical. Abetting others' unwelcome invasion of the privacy of people you know who would prefer you wouldn't help to destroy it is immoral. Abetting others' tracking of people who will be hurt or killed based on their activities should be avoided at almost all human cost. You pay no attention whatever to the real issue, which is the ecological nature of the destruction of privacy. You can disagree with the basic argument around which I built this section of the course, and I don't have the slightest objection to your choosing for the purpose of your disagreement whatever Paris Hilton imitation you think best advantages your argument through satire, but you've got to disagree with the argument I advanced, not ignore it. If what you do destroys other peoples' privacy, teaches the machine both generally and specially how to interfere in the lives of others who depend upon you not to be working against their human interests, then all this cheerful bullshit of yours is just the shallow excuses you make for negligently and self-involvedly hurting people. So the first step is to explain why I am factually wrong in my central proposition on this matter: that the privacy crisis is an ecological problem created by an anti-commons: we hurt OTHER people when we share a photograph with Facebook.

Second, if you have advanced an argument sufficient to show why, despite my argument to the contrary, it IS all about you after all, there aren't significantly harmful third-party consequences of our choices, and thus there is no problem you could create that you couldn't solve by running away, we are still left with the distinction between logic and rationalization. The very tone of the essay discredits the ostensible "my logic is so good that you might want to adopt it" posture of the piece. It winks "rationalization" loudly enough that it cannot be taken seriously no matter which way it's taken to be intended. However it is to be rewritten, that surely must change.

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

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r7 - 04 Sep 2012 - 22:02:22 - IanSullivan
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