Privacy

Paperback | August 7, 2012

byGarret Keizer

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American essayist and Harper's contributing editor Garret Keizer offers a brilliant, literate look at our strip-searched, over-shared, viral-videoed existence.

Body scans at the airport, candid pics on Facebook, a Twitter account for your stray thoughts, and a surveillance camera on every street corner -- today we have an audience for all of the extraordinary and banal events of our lives. The threshold between privacy and exposure becomes more permeable by the minute. But what happens to our private selves when we cannot escape scrutiny, and to our public personas when they pass from our control?

In this wide-ranging, penetrating addition to the Big Ideas//Small Books series, and in his own unmistakable voice, Garret Keizer considers the moral dimensions of privacy in relation to issues of social justice, economic inequality, and the increasing commoditization of the global marketplace. Though acutely aware of the digital threat to privacy rights, Keizer refuses to see privacy in purely technological terms or as an essentially legalistic value. Instead, he locates privacy in the human capacity for resistance and in the sustainable society "with liberty and justice for all."

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American essayist and Harper's contributing editor Garret Keizer offers a brilliant, literate look at our strip-searched, over-shared, viral-videoed existence. Body scans at the airport, candid pics on Facebook, a Twitter account for your stray thoughts, and a surveillance camera on every street corner -- today we have an audience for ...

Garret Keizer is the author of six books, mostly recently of The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise. He is a contributing editor of Harper's Magazine, a contributing writer to Mother Jones, and a recent Guggenheim Fellow.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:208 pages, 7.16 × 4.64 × 0.55 inPublished:August 7, 2012Publisher:PicadorLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0312554842

ISBN - 13:9780312554842

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1LET’S BEGIN BY DOING A LITTLE SHARINGA PREFACEMan did not enter into society to become worse than he was before, not to have fewer rights than he had before, but to have those rights better secured.—THOMAS PAINE, COMMON SENSE Does anything say so much about the times we live in as the fact that the word sharing has almost everything to do with personal information and almost nothing to do with personal wealth?Of course, some will answer that we live in times when information is wealth. Generally these are people who have good teeth and drive nice cars. When they sit down to eat, which they do regularly and well, you can bet they’re not eating information.To say the same thing in slightly different words: You and I belong to a society in which the gap between the rich and the poor is widening even as our personal privacy shrinks. It is the contention of this book that these two phenomena are connected, and connected in a number of ways.To state just one of those ways: We tend to think of our right to privacy as a value that came about with the historical growth of the middle class. If, as current indices of income suggest, the middle class is vanishing, then it should come as no surprise if the privacy of all but a few people is vanishing with it.This book also contends that privacy is important and worthy of preservation. It is important and worthy of preservation for the simple reason that human beings are important and worthy of preservation. These may seem like rather obvious statements, though if they were that obvious or universally believed we would not be so easily resigned to losing our privacy and to watching so many of our fellow human beings fall further and further behind in health, in education, in political power, and in privacy.That privacy is a good thing for human beings is not hard to establish. Were it not a good thing, the wealthier among us would not enjoy more of it than the less wealthy do. The best things in life may be free, but that seldom prevents those at the top of the food chain from appropriating a lion’s share of the best things. Air is free, but it tends to smell better in Malibu than in East L.A.Some would contend that Americans, like citizens of other democratic nations, all have an equal right to privacy regardless of the air they breathe—and in some notable if not always typical instances, courts in the United States have agreed. But the right to privacy depends in large part on one’s opportunities for enjoying a private life. Americans are all guaranteed freedom of the press, too, but what does that mean if you have never been taught to read or write?In the hopes of giving as thorough an introduction as possible to the big idea of privacy, this small book will range over a number of topics, but it will always come back to the basic themes I’ve stated above: the sacredness of the human person and the value of privacy; the things we share and the things we don’t; the ways we make ourselves lonely and the ways we mistake alienation for a private life.I should add that giving a thorough introduction to privacy is not the same thing as giving it an airtight definition, a project I regard as both impossible and unwise. That’s not to say I won’t try for a tentative definition later in the book, or that I agree with a scholar who says, “Perhaps the most striking thing about privacy is that nobody seems to have any very clear idea what it is.”In fact, I think most of us do have a clear idea—if not clear enough to define the word, then clear enough to express the need behind it. Clear enough to say “Let me alone.” Not to be confused with “Leave me alone,” “Let me alone” is ever the cry of privately disposed women and men, of anyone who struggles to keep some reasonable hold on his or her short and not always sweet life. We are entitled to that cry.That said, we will cry it in vain so long as we settle for anything less than a beloved community, with liberty and justice for all. Copyright © 2012 by Garret Keizer

Editorial Reviews

"[PRIVACY is] a series of provocative juxtapositions and suggestive arguments. It encourages its readers to reframe how they think of privacy before it's too late. Read it to jolt your imagination into new territory, and to understand why the privacy that many of us sacrifice so readily ought to be held more dear. ... there's an abundance of nutritional thought in 'Privacy.' Keizer has a way of turning lazy notions inside out to exhibit their fallacies." -Laura Miller, Salon"Keizer ably describes the disturbing and ever-diminishing expectations of privacy...and makes a cogent analysis of the threats to privacy that accompany smartphones and other digital devices. Keizer's commentary reaches deeply into the fabric of post 9/11 America and finds a landscape that has compromised the fundamental human need for privacy, and argues passionately for the value of privacy in a democratic society" -Publishers Weekly"Acclaimed essayist and Harper's contributor Keizer conducts a philosophical meditation on the nature of privacy and finds that the 'right to be let alone' is a lot more complex than many may think.... With unyielding analytical scrutiny, Keizer raises plenty of doubt about the primacy of so-called private lives.... The consequences of such revelations are vast, and readers will be left considering the implications long after the last page is turned. A provocative and unsettling look at something most take for granted--but shouldn't." -Kirkus Reviews"[A] thoughtful examination of the concept of privacy... Though debates over privacy tend to be driven by technological developments-Facebook and the like-Keizer reminds us that our personal and cultural "privacy settings" or lack of them have political, environmental, and even spiritual valences that are ignored at the expense of democracy and social justice.... Keizer's cautionary wisdom is informed by a deeply felt humanism and presented with eloquence and wit." -Brendan Driscoll, Booklist"Privacy brings Garret Keizer's spirited, reflective, whip-smart and incisive analysis to this far-ranging yet elusive concept." -Concord Monitor"We all know about airport security, strip searches, racial profiling, and the increasingly sophisticated ways that corporate America uses to track our every interest for marketing purposes. Mr. Keizer digs much deeper than that well plowed ground. . . . This is a dense, thoughtful, and deeply researched (the bibliography is 11 pages) little book that covers a lot of ground, makes one think, and explores a variety of aspects of the general theme, some more easily substantiated than others. . . . This is a book to be read slowly, thoughtfully, and probably more than once." -Barton Chronicle (Vermont)"Privacy has become one of the defining issues of our time, and Garret Keizer is now its most searching interrogator and publicist. He is vast of reference, bracing of clarity, and graceful of expression. What an invigorating instruction: to follow an engaged intelligence as it hits its marks, one after the next." -Sven Birkerts, author of The Glutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age"Garret Keizer is a very serious thinker and a good writer, much concerned with fundamental realities and fundamental problems. As with any good essay, reading Privacy is not the end of it; it calls for serious contemplation." -John Lukacs, author of Five Days in London: May 1940"Very few writers combine thoughtfulness and rage as satisfyingly as Garret Keizer..This is not just a book about noise; it is a profound meditation on power---its painful absence and its flagrant abuse." -Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine on The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want"This is a masterpiece of social reportage and---wondrously, given all its burning indictments---of decency and affirmation." -Ron Powers, author of Mark Twain: A Life and coauthor of Flags of Our Fathers on The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want