Saturday, December 23, 2017

Mourning the Dead

Bill was my buddy.  He was from Kentucky, and we were bunk-mates in Officer Candidate School, room-mates in Paratrooper School, and next door neighbors in the Special Forces Officer Course.  In Vietnam, he commanded a platoon of "tunnel rats" - those guys with the terrifying duty of flushing the Vietcong out of tunnels.  Accepting his immediate death, one Vietcong soldier bravely popped up from a hole along the treeline and began firing.  Both of Bill's shins were shattered.  His war on the battlefield was over, but the far worse war in his mind was just beginning.  He killed himself in 1985, and I cried.  What had been a treasured friendship in my life became a gaping emptiness.

A bit dramatic maybe, but it is not unlike the emptiness I feel when a treasured value is lost.  While nobody patronizes me about the loss of my Army buddy,  I am patronized about my feelings with respect to privacy.

At one time, privacy was central to being American.  We were a sturdy people who braved the wild to make a better life and, as an example, didn't "cotton" to Federal revenue agents snooping around the farm during Prohibition.  We were men of few words.  The Second Amendment was not just about protecting our guns but protecting our freedoms, including our freedom of privacy.  There are 350 million guns in America, and we still lost our freedom of privacy anyway.

The mother of the Libertarian Party was Ayn Rand, who wrote convincingly of the need for strong individuals to stand up against the government, who snooped on everything you did.  George Orwell's classic book called 1984 described a government dedicated to destroying privacy.  Orwell had no idea that corporations were a greater threat.

Today, younger people patronize those old fools who remember privacy and still treasure it.  Just like they can't even pretend to understand my loss with Bill, they will never understand why the loss of privacy is important to an old fool.  They just snicker or chuckle at the obsolete value.

The only thing worse than an old fool is an old existentialist, who sees life as a wide frigid river, full of ice floes, each inhabited by a single individual, flowing toward their inevitable death.  Younger people laugh at old existentialists, saying "at least you can die alone in privacy."  (Apparently, they are unaware of the myriad machines, tubes, & electrodes that monitor the dying process, whenever possible.)  There is more privacy on the ice floe.

Before retiring last night, I checked my iPhone and found that Apple had gone into the pictures on my phone.  By facial recognition, they determined the most common face, which was my wife, and arranged a photo montage of her.  Apple could tell the date of each photo and arranged the photos of my wife in chronological order.  They even set it to music.  Kindly, they allowed me to choose between four or five innocuous songs.  Thru the kindness of artificial intelligence, it allowed me to choose between the long or short version of the montage and even to stagger the length of time each photo was displayed.  Of course, they did not extend to me the courtesy of asking whether I wanted such a wonderful montage, much less whether I wanted their software program to organize my life.  They violated my privacy!  Creating something nice doesn't change that.  Regardless, my privacy was violated, which I'm sure was legal.  However, should it be legal?  Ayn Rand railed against government snooping, but does that make corporate snooping acceptable?

The point is this:  The loss of a freedom hurts as much as the loss of a great friend.  Freedom of privacy is gone, and that makes me sad.  Emptiness doesn't always fill up again.  Sometimes, the emptiness remains.  Please be considerate of the emptiness of others, without patronizing old fools.