First justifications, more cultural differences – transformations and (over-?)convergence As we have seen, strongly individual notions of “privacy” have emerged in the modern West as one of the basic rights of individuals. But justifications for this right vary. As Deborah Johnson has pointed out, in the United States privacy is seen as an intrinsic good (something we take to be valuable in and of itself) and as an extrinsic good – something valuable as a means for another (intrinsic or extrinsic) good.2 In particular: we need privacy to become autonomous selves. That is, we need privacy to cultivate and practice our abilities to reflect and discern our own ethical and political beliefs, for example, and how we might enact these in our daily lives. Privacy is thus a means for the autonomous self to develop its own sense of
distinctive identity and autonomy, along with other important goods such as relationships. Only through privacy, then, can the autonomous self develop that has the capacity to engage in debate and the other practices of a democratic society. In Germany, rights to privacy are likewise considered as a basic right of an autonomous person qua citizen in a democratic society. Privacy is also seen as an instrumental good – primarily as it serves to protect autonomy, the freedom to express one’s opinion, the “right of personality” (Persönlichkeitsrecht), and the freedom to express one’s will.
By contrast, “privacy” in many Asian cultures and countries has traditionally been understood first of all as a collective rather than an individual privacy – for example, the privacy of the family vis-à-vis the larger societ. Insofar as something resembling individual privacy was considered, such privacy was looked upon in primarily negative ways. For example, Japan’s Pure Land (Jodo- shinsyu) Buddhist tradition emphasizes the notion of Musi, “no-self,” as crucial to the Buddhist project of achieving enlightenment – precisely in the form of the dissolution of the “self,” understood in Buddhism to be not simply an illusion, but a most pernicious one. As the elemental “Fourfold Truths” of Buddhism put it, our discontent or unhappiness as human beings can be traced to desire that can never be fulfilled (because either we will never obtain those objects or, if we do, we will lose them again, especially as time and death take them from us). But such desire, in turn, is generated by the self or ego. Hence, to eliminate the unhappiness of unfulfilled/unfulfillable desire, all we need do is eliminate the ego or self. The Buddhist goal of nirvana, or the “blown-out self,” thus justifies the practice of what from a modern Western perspective amounts to intentionally violating one’s “privacy”: in order to purify and thus eliminate one’s “private mind” – thereby achieving Musi, “no-self” – one should voluntarily share one’s most intimate and shameful secrets