Inspect privacy

Privacy is something we respect, but that doesn't mean we can't inspect the concept as well.  This tension may make for a particularly suitable topic, for the simple fact that privacy is afforded by the "veil of abstraction" that is the philosopher's special tool.  As privacy is the art of ignoring details that are not one's business while continuing to engage in society, so philosophy might be considered to be the art of discarding particulars while continuing to engage in public discourse. 

For this meeting, then, it seems it would be foolish to ask participants to tell a personal story about something private, for to tell why privacy mattered to you in a particular instance might reveal what it was that you were wanting to hide.  And this makes privacy something like a "first principle":  your right to privacy cannot depend on what you are shielding.

Rather than recall instances of information sharing and hiding, we instead will create that experience, using a game.  The game pieces will be invented secrets that won't be about you, for the simple reason that they will be randomly assigned to each of us.  Each made-up secret will be on a white 3x5 index card, which you can bring to meeting, or write them down at the start of the meeting on cards that I will provide, or you can email them to me in advance.  I will collect all the cards in a big deck and shuffle them before dealing 5 to each player, face-down, of course.  So feel free to be scandalous (yet tasteful–I mean, people will be eating!)  I'm still working on the details, but believe me, it will be interesting, fun, and probably funny as well;-)

Out of this shared experience is bound to flow a good discussion, out of which we will generate an "exit question" that everyone can expound upon for the close. 

So bring an open mind and five or more fictional secrets–an assortment of embarrassing, depressing, unflattering, troubling, and gloating would be nice–to Au Coquelet on March 13.  Since we are starting by playing a game together, it would be helpful for everyone to get settled in by 7 p.m.

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  • Jeff G

    Looks like we were a little ahead of the curve...'privacy' is the word of this year!­

    December 18, 2013

  • Jeff G

    For me, this meeting was not just 2 hours, but a 3-week process that yielded a wealth of knowledge about what can and can't be accomplished in Philosophy Cafe. For example, I learned that a game can stimulate people, but it won't compensate for a difficult theme. Privacy can be a barrier to free flow of ideas and so is very interesting to me as a discussion lead, but few people want to think about it, especially in public. Games can provide a protective sense of "play" but do not change the basic feeling about the topic. A big thank-you to those who make the learning curve possible by participating, so that someday a big philosophical insight can be as readily produced as a good party!

    March 20, 2012

  • Jeff G

    Max, the email dated 3/8 changed the focus from fictional stories to types of information. So really all we need is a kind of information some people would like to have considered private. We'll assume the *data* might be embarrassing to the card holder. Examples: "where you work," "whether you've been denied medical insurance," "your zip code," "how many times your spouse has been married." Easy! Any context supplied will be presumed to apply to the cardholder, so I didn't use it much.

    March 12, 2012

  • Max

    Jeff, just to make sure I do this correctly, should the situations have details about the fictional people involved or just the thing that was to be kept secret? Clearly context always matters, so I am tempted to add a lot!

    March 12, 2012

  • Jeff G

    Wow. I just wrote up 30 privacy cards, and I didn't even venture into any racy. Your examples may be very different, but it simplifies things to avoid areas where different standards apply: intimate relationships, public figures. Do assume, though, for simplicity, that if something is known by a non-intimate it will be posted on the internet;-)

    March 11, 2012

  • Jeff G

    Ed, there's no way to tell in advance what issues we'll address as our discussion is improvised. Generally, though, the most productive dialogues start with personal experience and yield practical advice that can be applied individually (say, to change one's vote based on policy preferences.)

    March 4, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Will this include a discussion on government intrusion on privacy including through instituted taxing agencies that require the reporting of virtually every transaction in the economy?

    March 3, 2012

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