Tuesday, November 13, 2007
  Privacy and all that

Polistra has been thinking about anonymity and privacy. It's a hot topic at the moment, but she thinks our basic definitions and expectations are messed up.

What exactly do we mean by anonymity, and is that really what we need? What exactly is privacy? When we seek privacy as currently defined, are we moving in an appropriate direction?

Let's look back at how these terms were treated before our Communist masters took over. Look back at the '30s and '40s when America still had an American flavor.

It's hard to get precise information about such ethereal concepts. Memories of older folks won't help, because every human mind is constantly reshaped by current tendencies and remembers things from a modern framework. Literature and architecture can help some: we know that a typical bungalow was designed to let all sorts of visitors, servants and tradesmen in and out easily. Movies and radio shows give us a feel for the furnace man, the milkman, the mailman (who came twice a day!) the ice man, the grocery boy, the phone operator, the maid if you were slightly above middle class, Grandma if you weren't, a neighbor kid who was staying temporarily while his drunk parents dried out .... In short, there was a TREMENDOUS amount of daily contact with a wide variety of people.

Polistra has found one small fact that reveals another difference.




Herewith a few samples from a forgotten radio show of 1946. "Breakfast in Hollywood" was essentially a promotional device for Tom Breneman's restaurant, and it grew into a national show for a few years. Nothing profound in the show, just Breneman talking briefly with the ladies (and their uncomfortable husbands) who frequented the restaurant. Every day he held an "age auction" to give an orchid and a kiss to the oldest lady present; every day he read a letter giving tribute to a "good neighbor".

First clip: A "good neighbor" tribute to a schoolteacher. Note that the school would be considered a "home school" by today's standards, but was clearly considered just another public school in '46. The state wouldn't fund it, so the community set it up without state help and without state regulations.

Second clip: A "good neighbor" letter about a Japanese lady who ran a drugstore in New York. Note that Tom doesn't waste any sympathy on the plight of the Japs who were interned, which would be the entire topic of such a letter now. Nor does he automatically hate the Jap lady, as might be assumed by our modern everything-is-racism mentality. No, he praises her tremendous war-bond sales, and her brother's sacrifice on behalf of this country. In short, he is judging by merit, not by blood.

Third clip: Just a delightful conversation with a younger woman, who clearly enjoyed her 15 seconds of fame. Note that smoking is perfectly normal and natural, not even worth mentioning, but tipping your ashes on Tom's carpet is impolite!

Do you pick up the one salient fact? The commonplace and unremarkable bit of speech that would be unthinkable today?

Everyone gives their home address cheerfully and openly, and Tom reads the full address of the "good neighbors" in other cities.

What? No privacy? No anonymity? No protection? No RIGHTS?

Did these ladies consider announcing their full address to a national audience as a dangerous risk or a precious freedom? Probably closer to the latter, if they even thought about it.

No radio or TV host would consider giving an address now, and most people won't even give their full names in such a situation. If we can afford it, we live in a gated community with private security, triple locks, double alarm systems, and no nameplate on the door.

And this is a perfectly rational decision.

Does the difference connect at all with 'enumerated rights'?

In fact there's a negative correlation with 'enumerated rights' ... with one exception. I suspect the right to self-defense was a positive factor. Potential burglars knew that every home was likely armed. Most husbands and many wives were recently returned soldiers who had a thorough and fresh acquaintance with weaponry.

So it comes down to this: Who owns the rights? Who is restrained and who is free? WHO IS INSIDE THE WALLS?

Before 1968, bad and crazy people were inside the walls, and nobody thought about using 'enumerated rights' to turn them loose against the rest of us. Since the Communist takeover in 1968, the SOLE AND EXPLICIT PURPOSE of 'enumerated rights' is to turn the bad and crazy people loose so they can destroy and confuse normal people. Since 1968, normal people are restrained from defending themselves, even restrained from speaking accurately about the bad and crazy people.

This is exactly how Stalin meant to kill us.

Read Kennan's famous 1946 telegram. It's all there.

= = = = =

Back to the original question. Did Americans before 1950 cherish privacy? No. Did they cherish the American way of doing things? Yes. Enough to die for it willingly. So by whatever name we might call it, Americans liked their situation. They had the confidence to declare their name, address and phone number in public, without fear that a burglar or identity thief would take advantage of their pride; and without fear that the authorities would decide to prosecute them for meaningless or fraudulent charges. And why did they have so much confidence? Because the authorities were confident enough to distinguish between good, bad, and crazy people, and sensible enough to restrain the bad and leave the good alone.
 


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Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.

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