The Blinkered Lens of Privacy
or how our right is getting in the way of our society
Recently I asked a friend of mine a question which I had been thinking about, and in trying to explain it - a series of simple answers appeared to me, though which did not seem to resolve the matter.
Question: 'Is it possible for a conversation between two people to emerge, - a progressive exploration or perhaps even concept creation, without such an operation becoming a act of disclosure or revelation?'
Allow me to frame the circumstances within which such a question is posed. Privacy has recently been a topic of debate and discussion in India and abroad - with the Supreme Court here ruling that it is to be understood as a fundamental right of citizens. Such a hearing and verdict follows the wake of Cambridge Analytica supposedly monetising personal information of Facebook users, and other such incidents which put such a debate in the public spotlight.
I think the right to withhold information is warranted whenever the agency demanding it does not have a direct claim to the contents in question - yet it is very easy for such a matter to become a squabble over jurisdiction, which hardly resolves the issue in an everyday sense.
To use a common place example, you have the right and ability to block users from following your profile on social media. You also have such agencies in choosing not to respond to someone when asked a question. In fact, I may claim that the ability to do so in the former example spills over or bleeds into practices in everyday life. However, one must acknowledge that the valorisation of privacy, which is effectuated the moment any such data becomes monetizable is hardly a model for any kind of civil society, let alone a humane and civilized one.
If the only form of shareable correspondence between strangers is to become either instructions or directions, we would end up erecting a host of institutional and disciplinary structures which cater to merely listening to all of the occurrences of another which do not fit such parameters, such practices would only reinforce the trend of the valorisation of private or personal information, and hence cannot be a long term solution unless we are willing to pay money to share our own state of wellbeing.
An example that comes to mind is a company in India named Lend An Ear. In a session which you can book on their website for 1200 rupees, you will be provided a 'non-judgemental' listening space for you to vent your grievances which do not find a space in your everyday life. But what is happening here? It is almost as if that what you are effectively paying for is for the 'therapy session' to be non-judgemental, so that any inhibitions may be neglected and you are allowed to freely voice, and if you can pay, repeat any pathological form of expression, any re-visiting of trauma that may be harboured in your day to day life.
Therapists and counsellors, as the names indicate are not mere passive listening boards - yet are designated functionaries who are supposed to diagnose an issue, not merely to passively register it. The treatment which they may provide cannot be relegated to a mere listening followed by a prescription of sedative medication which boosts your serotonin production, ie. flunil etc. Yet this is precisely the state of mental healthcare operative in India today.
There are of course exception, Ambedkar University Delhi, my alma mater, which has a recognized psycho-socio studies department also host a clinic named Asha. While the therapists are often trained psychoanalysts, and the patients often students - the scope of the discussion is often delimited by the fact that something similar to a student-teacher relationship yet operates in such a space, not to mention that most of the people who go there seem to be struggling with the university system in some way. This is certainly not healthy or welcome in any form of analyses between analyst and patient, particularly if such content can overdetermine the possibilities that analyses offers. I would grant however that this may yet be an introductory exercise for budding clinicians to be exposed to the settings they would be required to operate in.
In assessing the kinds of 'treatment' which are emerging however, can we realistically think of having a ear lent to us as anything more than a watered down helpline? And if it is merely that - then it reinforces the conviction that what is paid for in terms of a service is precisely the non-intervention of the analyst, a nullification of the position as it were.
While interviewing professionals for a magazine based out of Hyderabad, I once tried to get in touch with a faculty member at a reputed hospital for an interview. He is a mental health professional, and as per norm I inquired about the kind of case histories he witnesses in his professional life. He was extremely reticent in revealing the particulars, which may be understandable - the details of patient's identity are protected by clauses active between the health care provider and the patient. What was disturbing to me however was they he would not even disclose the kind of pathologies he encountered, irrespective of who the patient might have been.
I think the problem emerges at two levels here - 1. If treatment is to be relegated to a place to vent, it can be readily abused, not to mention remain ineffective in identifying the root of the issue and treating the pathology in question. 2. If a professional employed by a leading institution is unwilling to share the kind of case histories he or she encounters then there can be no public awareness or the nature or depth or crises that may be plaguing the citizenry at the time - this is perhaps the more serious problem, and it's repercussions are witnessed in reports of gruesome familial violence, self harm, and other aberrant behaviors which very easily sip under the radar unreported, until an unfortunate incident occurs and the media seem to have a story.
Privacy, as a right ought to be protected - yet it cannot be a regulative principle to model society around. And in today's world where we are bunkered in our apartments hiding from an invisible virus, it is more important then every to get to know how we (as in others) are doing.
This cannot remain at a merely individual level. Public institutions, particularly those involved in medicare and education ought to be obliged to share records, publicly of their case histories, even if they have to blank out names and addresses. This would enable the creation of data banks that map the prevalence and incidence of ailments which are crucial for meeting the challenges that may sneak up on us if we do not do so.
The opening up of these relations is crucial for bridging diverse communities, yet it is a decision that needs to be enforced at the policy level, where a board takes a call on what will enable the practices and disciples which they follow and prescribe to flourish in the first place - the above arguments encapsulate my recommendations.