Ben Scofield

me. still on a blog.

On Integrity

Some years ago, I remember hearing about a novel (short story, maybe?) by a futurist-minded science fiction author. The premise is that in the future, surveillance is cheap, easily accessible, and (most importantly) universal. I imagine the introduction of such technology would be a boon to law enforcement and amateur porn enthusiasts alike, but that wasn’t the point of the story, which took place after society had somewhat adjusted to the new status quo.

The author’s view of that adjustment had society fragmenting into essentially two camps. One group of people decided to live in complete darkness – the total absence of light allowed them to retain their privacy, at obvious costs. The other group chose to live as if someone was always watching – abandoning all attempts to maintain privacy. 

(I imagine that an actual future of this sort would reveal a much larger third contingent who continue to go about their business as usual, under the assumption that “sure, someone could be looking, but at any given point they probably aren’t.”)

I never actually read this story, and I haven’t been able to find any trace of it online despite my casual searches for it, so it’s possible that I imagined it. Regardless, the underlying idea has stuck with me all this time – it’s an exploration of the “morals/character is what you do when no one’s looking.” 

Now, I can’t claim to know which group I’d end up in were this hypothetical reality come to pass – the people who live with complete integrity and transparency in the light, or the people who cling to the possibility of privacy and separation between how they are and how they wish to be perceived at the cost of living in the world – but I fervently hope that I’d have the courage to join with the former. 

All of that is to say: if you catch yourself doing something that you’d be, say, embarrassed by if the rest of your community discovered it, then you’ve got an incredibly strong signal that you need to reflect on what you’re doing. That’s not to say you absolutely shouldn’t do it – maybe your community and its standards are wrong – but it’s something that you shouldn’t just accept and do without thought.

I think they key is this: integrity is being the same person in public and in private. If you wouldn’t be proud that your private actions came to light, then Something is Wrong*.

To kickstart some arguments, here are things you might want to bring up in comments: dancing like no one is watching, using different voices with different listeners, aliases, privacy as a natural right.

* Note: this is something that I (and I imagine many others) struggle with, as you might gather from my post on self-deception. If there’s any good news in this thought, it’s that integrity of this sort is and will always be a journey.

Disclaimer: this is incomplete. There’s a ton more to say, and much of it ties into projects and questions that are more in keeping with things I’ve written and spoken about in the past (mastery, intentionality, etc.) I’m publishing this early to get this first step off my mind so that I can move on to the next bits.