The computer is the confessional of the contemporary age. Gone are the priests, shamen and medicine men of centuries past. Today, instead, we tell our darkest secrets to search engines, to machines that don’t possess the ability to judge, to condemn or cast us out. In our weakest moments, we reach out to the most unfeeling thing we know of, looking for answers to some of our most human questions, knowing that somewhere out there, in this writhing sea of 8 billion souls, someone has to have asked the same question, or looked for the same information, and someone else has hopefully provided it. In this way, computers act as our only truly impartial counsellors on everything from embarrassing health maladies to psychological foibles to strange sexual desires.
Yet this dream of perfect anonymity, as it existed as recently as only 15 years ago, has begun wearing warily thin. As we all found out with the Snowden debacle, something many of us long suspected of taking place was indeed happening. While the ostensible reasons for this remain, of course, flimsily associated with security and safety for the common man, there’s an itch in the back of every thinking brain, and in the bottom of every feeling gut that suggests something deeper: that there are factions out there that are very interested in the questions that same common man is asking the computer at 3am on a Sunday Morning.
And of course. This should come as no surprise. For the most part, we remain the greatest mysteries to one another. We want to know ourselves. We want to find out what’s happening beneath the surface. The most common question almost any human has, no matter their locale or circumstance, is always what the other is thinking. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of humanity, of having incarnated here, in these bodies, alert and cogitating furiously, yet so maddeningly separate from the same inner workings of everyone else. When a device arrives that suddenly has the ability to show us the most intimate thoughts of humanity itself, would you be able to resist?
It is a fine moral line. So many people get so up-in-arms over the loss of perceived privacy without questioning whether or not they would do the same in a similar, or even not-so-similar situation. Do not get me wrong. I am not trying to defend the actions of the NSA — I am just trying to put things in perspective. Humanity, at this point in history, is a very dangerous machine. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that the more knowledge we can attain about that machine, the better? For the first time in history there is a concrete log being created of some of the most taboo aspects of the human collective, heretofore only speculated upon. Is this really something that should be left to the wayside? Lost to flounder in the unchecked annals of obscurity?
The mere suggestion is a dangerous and taboo one itself. If we don’t have a right to privacy, what do we have? This is a question that is not going to go away. In fact, it is set to likely become one of the most pressing moral issues of the next half century. As our technology continues its exponential growth into greater intelligence and complexity, and is increasingly adopted by more and more people, the veil of privacy as we have traditionally known it will continue to be lifted. The implications are frightening, to say the least. Yet could this movement not be compared to the process of enlightenment itself?
A quote such as this is understandable in the context of the individual, in coming to understand oneself more deeply and thus engendering the growth of wisdom due to said knowledge, but having your own dirty laundry strung out in front of the masses is an entirely different matter altogether. Or, it is when all of the individuals that make up humanity are viewed as separate. If, on the other hand, one were to think of humanity as one body, one mind, wouldn’t it stand to reason that the process as it is now taking place is one and the same? As I’ve addressed before, our technology has begun shedding light on some of the darkest aspects of humanity and regardless of how you, or anyone else feels about the issue, it’s very unlikely to stop. The dirtiest dregs of civilization are being appropriately exposed and called out — despotism, religious fanaticism and its deleterious byproducts, subterfuge in the political, governmental and banking institutions — the list goes on. This is something that could’ve never been hoped for without the advent of technology.
Yet one of the inevitable byproducts of this is, of course, having our own personal information obtained, reviewed and catalogued regardless of how we feel about it. There is no question about this. The only surprising thing about the NSA scandal, for me at least, was how many people were actually surprised by it. For any thinking person, it only stands to reason. Of course they’re doing such a thing. Of course almost everyone is. The only way to fully guarantee your own privacy in this day and age, it seems, is to keep it completely relegated to the realm of thought, which means avoiding the tempting, all-knowing computer as confessional altogether.
Still there are those determined to find a way.
Enter the Deep Web. As the analogy goes, if you liken the internet to the ocean, everything you can find through the avenue of traditional search engines is akin to dragging a net across the water’s surface. There remain depths below that are inaccessible by any standard means, yet contain leagues of information only available to those armed with the proper equipment to obtain it, and the know-how to do so. In this case, software such as Tor, and the use of virtual machines — a set-up that is said to allow complete anonymity when surfing the web, and near-complete anonymity when using it.
Unsurprisingly, the Deep Web is a haven of criminality, used for everything from guns and weapons-trading to sex trafficking. And, while attempts to police it have been relatively successful (who remembers Silk Road?) for the most part, it remains a very effective — albeit complicated and time-consuming — way of retaining one’s privacy online.
So what’s to stop the mass of the population — everyone from ‘innocents’ interested in retaining their rights of privacy to the above-mentioned ‘dregs’ — from flocking to this safe-haven of online anonymity? Absolutely nothing, apart from accessibility. Though I haven’t fact-checked it, it would most likely stand to reason that its usage has increased significantly since the NSA issue came to light.
Where does this get us, then, in regards to the issues of privacy, public-scrutiny and the forced enlightenment of the population as a whole, as mentioned above? Not very far. Even in the ever-accelerating age of technological privacy-dissolution, as long as there is something to hide, it appears we will find a way to hide it. The urge to do so is understandable. Our identities are inherently intertwined with our secret inner lives. When those selves are threatened, we will find a way to protect them.
The whole thing, it seems, is just part of the on-going unconscious movement of the self — both individual and collective — the veil falling and dissolving accordingly as the technology passes us through the years. Yes, progress is being made, but it is painfully slow, and victim to its own inability to find a common moral ground on which to stand. In this way the entire privacy problem is synonymous with so many of the other, ostensibly divergent issues we are suffering as a species at this time. Our economical, ecological and political problems all, ultimately, break down to one of individual self-awareness.
So many of us would like to think ourselves superior to others out there — and in terms of our behaviour, we may well be — but for many of us, we are no different when it comes to our personal level of self-awareness. We may believe ourselves to be more conscious than a member of ISIS, or the CEO of a company responsible for massive ecological degradation, but are we, really? How many of us remain the simple byproducts of our families and respective cultures and the underlying motives, beliefs and desires therein — even those of us who have 'rebelled' — thinking what we’re doing is right, either from within or against the context as it's been so defined for us since birth, just as the aforementioned do?
This is what the unconscious movement of the human species does. It creates extremes on both ends of the spectrum, and everything in between. We have this idea that everyone from the most successful athlete or celebrity all the way to the homeless beggar, or the serial killer or terrorist created themselves that way. That they decided to do what they do. Yet how many, in reality, simply allowed themselves to slide into who they are by declining the choice to step away from those results as they materialized over time? Or how many others lacked the vision to even see any other choice? By simply being the unconscious result of their genetics, environment and psychological motivations? This is how we end up with the Tom Cruises, Hugh Heffners and Jeffery Dahmers of the world. This is how we end up with ISIS and the Bush family. And yes, this is how we end up with you and I.
The real revolution will only begin when we are able to see this, and continuously come back to it. It will only begin once we develop the ability to recognize the archetypes as they exist everywhere — in ourselves as well as our institutions — and come to see how and why they are running things as they are. Not until we are able to do this, to develop the tools of proper vision — the transpersonal, observational consciousness of reason itself, based on the sanctity and preservation of life itself — will we develop the ability to dismantle and reassemble those archetypes under the illumination of its inherent wisdom. Once this begins to take place, a world in which the need for privacy as we now understand it will most likely dissolve. While it is impossible to say exactly what this will look like, we can be confident in the assumption that it won’t include ISIS, or the Bush family, and that there won’t be any more Heffners (most likely), or Jeffrey Dahmers, or Tom Cruises, just people choosing to be who they are, time and again, and unafraid of sharing those selves with the world.