Privacy and Dignity

Note: After a two-year break, I am back! Basically, thanks to the pandemic, my blogging went from occasional to never. This is a place where I write a few words about something that I am reading that I find striking, interesting, informative, or infuriating. I used to spend half a day or longer on these posts before, which is not sustainable. So my goal moving forward is to really keep it to a few words.

Today’s Read:
Lawrence M. Friedman, A Tale of Two Cultures: Privacy and Dignity, in Gesellschaft und Gerechtigkeit: Festschrift für Hubert Rottleuthner 273 (2011).

So I guess privacy and dignity have been on my mind recently, especially given the leaked SCOTUS opinion in the abortion case. What does it mean to have and enjoy the right to privacy and the right to dignity?

Friedman’s essay, written in 2011, is more concerned with the ideas of “privacy” and “dignity” as they relate to people who are in the public eye and impacted by celebrity culture. Although that wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I was drawn to this essay by its title, it still offers some universally thoughtworthy ideas.

This essay asks, as a fundamental inquiry, how much responsibility the law, as interpreted and exercised by judges, has an obligation to protect people and culture from corrupt and damaging thoughts and ideas. It argues that European courts, in contrast to those in the United States, sometimes operate under the conviction that “not everything that interests the public is in the public interest.”

The example given of that line of thought is a German court decision as to whether an American film based on the true story of a German man who engaged in cannibalism should be shown in Germany. Although a lot of people were very, very interested in this story, the court believed that the film about it “added nothing to any rational or significant public debate,” and the prohibition on airing the film in Germany was upheld.

Although that is a narrow example, there may be a larger universal truth at play.

Culturally in the United States, perhaps it is inevitable that courts are being asked to re-define what “privacy” rights should be allowed to protect, and are accepting that challenge. While we are all human beings, we are also products of our cultural upbringing and environment. Whether or not a woman should be allowed to exercise control over her reproductive health may seem like a private matter to some of us. However, the United States is also full of busybodies, many of whose inability to mind their own business has been fostered and encouraged by conservative politics and religion. To them, their ability to control people’s reproductive healthcare choices is of great interest.

So the question becomes whether their ability to exercise that control is in the public’s interest. I don’t think it is. I do not want to live in a society that doesn’t believe I should have agency over which of my affairs I keep private.

Interestingly, this is also an argument that many anti-choice advocates would also make regarding being controlled by the government. To them, however, the public interest does not mean the ENTIRE public.

Has this mentality been exacerbated by the (right-wing, undignified) media? Yes, absolutely. They have done this by showing us current events through a lens of only certain people having any right to have their rights to both privacy and dignity respected. They are not interested in fostering reasoned, rational public debate, which according to this essay is really the only reason that could possibly justify not upholding individuals’ privacy and dignity rights. It’s a sad state of affairs, which law alone is hopelessly inept to rectify.

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