Privacy and bindweed

This being the height of the growing season in our garden, it is also the time when too much attention to any given part of a flower-bed is likely to reveal that bane of the gardener’s life, a vigorous, thrusting tentacle of bindweed (convolvulus arvensis). The worst thing about bindweed is its deeply-buried, brittle and highly regenerative root system. No matter how diligently you dig and rummage and loosen, chances are you will leave a fragment of root behind – and in due course the whole grisly process starts again from the tiniest remnant. As one of my uncles used to put it, it’s enough to make a man kick his grandmother.

That’s rather how I feel about another pernicious and unwelcome part of the landscape: the often-repeated claim that “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”.

Just like the bindweed, this is impossible to eradicate, and just like the bindweed, it stifles and chokes more desirable things, such as rational debate about privacy and why and how to protect it. If I had my way, I’d recruit a small army of bindweed eradicators, and we would periodically blitz the garden; we might not wipe the bindweed out, but we would probably at least keep it from strangling the flowers.

With that in mind, I’d like to recruit all my readers (yes, both of you ;^) as privacy pest controllers, armed with these handy tools to counter the “nothing to hide” argument.

1 – “A virtuous person cannot be the victim of crime”. That’s obviously nonsense, isn’t it? Just because I have no murky secrets in my past,and my life is a model of probity, doesn’t mean I have nothing of interest to the criminal. Indeed, in the online world I might, as a result, have a spotless reputation. Just the thing, if you’re looking for a clean ID to hi-jack.

The point is that the “nothing to hide, nothing to fear”argument glibly – and fatally – skims over the question “from whom do you have nothing to fear?”. Fatally, because when that question is answered, it becomes obvious that the people you should fear can harm your interests whether or not you have ‘anything to hide’.

2 – We are social animals. Personal privacy is a social concept. If you have nothing to hide from anyone, you are not a social being as the rest of us understand it.

Please… whenever you encounter the ‘privacy bindweed’, attack it at the roots with these weedkillers. Just be warned: one go is not enough. This requires long-term and repeated effort – but the privacy garden will thank you for it.

Peony “Pink Sorbet”
(larger images available here)
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3 thoughts on “Privacy and bindweed

  1. CarolynC says:

    >the people you should fear can harm your interests whether or not you have 'anything to hide'.Excellent point.On personal privacy being a social concept, yes, of course. I suspect it is also cultural, i.e. viewed differently by different cultures. When I try to think of an example of why one would want to have personal privacy, the reasons point back to #1. For example, if one would “tell all”, one should have a “fear of unintended consequences”. Lovely garden. :^)

  2. Robin Wilton says:

    Thanks Carolyn.I absolutely argee that there is no single norm for privacy – even within a single society. It's one of the many reasons why I disapprove of Mr Zuckerberg's remark that "privacy as a social norm is a thing of the past". Never mind the obvious and profound differences between, say, Japan and California in terms of expectations concerning personal privacy: there are different privacy norms between people in a business meeting, and the same people in a pub…

  3. Robin Wilton says:

    Sorry… *agree, not "argee"

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