Monday, November 26, 2012

Theology of the Body and Google Street View

The point of privacy is to ensure interpretations that flow from love. It's always fascinating to watch hippie-types question the need for privacy and modesty when they first realize that those practices are deliberately designed to keep people out. "How horrible," they think, "Wouldn't it be much better if we were just open and honest with one another: hey, this is me; love me for who I am." (Point of grammar: does that last sentence need a question mark? If so, where would it go?)

Of course, it becomes pretty clear fairly soon that this openness and honesty doesn't really work all that well. Firstly because people don't always love each other, and granting someone who doesn't love you access to all your vulnerabilities sounds superficially Christian but is, in fact, a recipe for disaster. Part of Christian charity means not placing temptations in the path of other people, including temptations to look down upon, or judge unjustly, someone else.

The second reason is that even if someone is looking with a good will, they will not necessarily have the commitment in love required to properly interpret what they see.

This is why it is only to lovers that we grant unconditional access to our bodies in all their naked vulnerability. Only a lover has pledged to unconditionally love the whole you and to see every part of your body as an expression of you; and it is only someone who knows you and your life who knows how to interpret and love the body that bears the mark of that life.

This unconditional commitment to love and to know requires a certain amount of proximity. Married people don't live together just because it's convenient. Married people live together because it is within the context of this proximity that one can truly know one another. Even if you could afford it and it would be more convenient, it would still be properly weird for a married couple (all else being equal) to choose to live in separate houses.

Now the argument for Google Street View is that the service involves nothing more than what you can see from the street, and that pictures taken from public property have been determined by the courts to be legally publishable and not invasions of privacy.

Nevertheless, I do think Google Street View is an invasion of privacy: morally, if not legally. Privacy is a guard against those who are not able to love you, either because of a lack of good will, or because of vice (Aristotelian, not Miami), or because of an ignorance that precludes an interpretation in love. It is this last reason that pretty much necessarily applies. Google's motto is "Don't be evil," and I feel relatively comfortable attributing to the company, in the present incarnation at least, a good will, but that in no way protects them from the misinterpretation that precludes the love that must flow from a proper essential judgment.

This is why we have no problem inviting a friend to come in and look over our whole house, but would be extremely offended and creeped-out if instead they elected to stand outside and peer in at it through the windows. Even if we are not doing anything in the house that we wouldn't do in a public place, by remaining outside the community and insisting on that outsider's view, the friend has refused to enter the relationship - that commitment of love - that will allow them to properly interpret what they see and so make proper essential judgments from which further love must flow.

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