“Standing in line to
See the show tonight
And there’s a light on
(Lyrics from The Red Hot Chili Peppers – By the Way)
Verses, words that many of us know, words that came to my mind that late afternoon when nobody-knows-how many students, professors, people of the McGill community waited for hours before listening to Edward Snowden. I was among them and I strongly believe that GradLife should have a page about this event, about his words.
First of all, I should thank Edward Snowden for talking to us.
Second, for McGill giving us the opportunity to listen to him.
As Snowden says, surveillance is one of the problems that troubles the contemporary world, where technology is involved in the power relations between governments and citizens. If we know anything about these agencies’ exploitation of their own power, it is thanks to Snowden and the other ‘whistleblowers’ who preceded him inspiring his choice. Although I will likely sound very banal, I want to stress the significance of this choice: to radically change your own life because of a moral belief, an ethical choice whose strength many of us should embrace (or should have embraced). I do not want to repeat the opinion of many that described, with words or images, Snowden’s life. I want to add mine and my reaction to some of the words that closed his speech.
At the end of his dialogue with McGill, Snowden talked specifically about privacy and private property. And I heard him saying that privacy is “the basis from which other rights derive their meaning…the right to the self”, something equivalent to private property, that is “the ability to have something for yourself, whether it’s a home, whether it’s a car, whether it’s a pencil, whether it is an idea, whether it is a belief.” Then, I thought that I was missing something, as if, suddenly, the social system in which I live in now is the only one in which human beings can exist as selves and individuals.
Well, I hope not.
From that night on , I have kept thinking about this association between privacy, private property and human beings individuality. In the past, many human communities existed without even knowing the concept of private property. And the example comes right from this continent, where Native American populations lived sharing all they needed within their own community.
Yes, the present is not the past. Yet, I told myself that there are many communities in the world where the word privacy does not exist, let alone private property. In Italy, where I am from, groups of people gathered and found the way to undermine private property relations from inside the capitalist system itself, buying large areas of land to live in it and share its products. Nomadelfia and Urupia are just two examples, but in different parts of the country this form of association helped the locals to protect the environment from being exploited.
Questions naturally arise.
Shall I define my identity and my right to exist only in terms of privacy and private property? Is the right to own a car equivalent to owning an idea? I disagree. I think that what Snowden said is very important. Everyone should remember this. However, we need to remember that the Western social system, in which we were born and live, is just an example of how human beings relate to their own mates, to the environment and those who live in it. How would you explain to a tree the importance of private property?
I don’t want to be misunderstood. I am not writing a political discourse. Yet, if we want to build a fairer relationship with the environment and other beings that populate this world, then concepts like privacy and private property, children of a too contemporary and individualist Western thought, should be redefined towards something more inclusive and aware that our freedom ends where the other’s freedom begins.
Banner Image by McGill GradLife Instagrammer @digitalpigeons// @gradlifemcgill