My guess: most people do not first look at any website or information request and ask themselves what data the issuers/owners are gathering, and how they will use it. I do.
Another guess: most people just toss the junk mail, probably without opening it. I do that with nearly none of it.
This makes me the oddball, a lifetime position of comfort for me. In fact, it is a position of such comfort that it comes with intellectual risk. There is always the possibility that my crowd-averse nature will go so far that it may become as mindless as a crowd. If my view is that the larger the group, the dumber its collective decisions tend to get, then a natural bias against conformity is not unreasonable provided I do not take that too far. Put another way, it’s also dumb and mindless to refuse to consider doing what everyone else does. Maybe everyone else is, in at least a few cases, doing what makes sense. The idea is to think, not to find a new way to refuse to think. If one is going to refuse to think, we already have ample incentive and opportunity there: just make the choices everyone else makes, and enjoy the warm sussuration of conformist reassurance, of crowd membership. Blind nonconformity isn’t any brighter than blind conformity.
But I can’t really win. What I do is like throwing grains of sand in front of a semi, one grain at a time. And I realize it. I do it anyway.
I block as much data hydra stuff on websites as I can. I don’t even bother reading New York Times articles; requires a login, end of consideration. I enable scripts one at a time until a given page works enough for me to do what I want to do there, or I decide I don’t want it badly enough. I go through life without running Google’s scripts or taking Google cookies. I send back piles of junk mail. Other junk mail I rip up, stuff into a business reply envelope, and mail back. Whatever’s going in the trash goes into it stripped of my identifying information, even to the extent of peeling address labels off shipping boxes, including any label that contains the tracking number. I mute the TV during commercials, or watch almost exclusively DVRed shows. I refuse to connect my TV to the Internet. I refuse to connect my game console to the Internet. I go into my Facebook ad preferences and remove any that are relevant, leaving only those that make no sense. Metaphorically speaking, I kick, scream, bite, curse, imprecate, slash, and knee the whole way as the world tries to drag me into Alwaysconnectedland and Surveillistan.
Why on earth? How is this worth my energy? Don’t I have better things to do? What good could this possibly accomplish? Did I mistake Don Quixote for a self-help book? Do I need mental help?
The answer to that last question depends on perspective. If you believe that only actions that effect external change have value, then yeah, you probably reckon I should go on medication. But you probably assume there’s anger involved, and there isn’t.
On the contrary, this is how I defeat anger. I have learned that I take more harm from meek submission against what I find offensive than I do from (mostly, nearly) ineffective resistance. In my world view, a great many things should cause tremendous outrage and resistance, and the world does not share my view. In my world view, the center of the moral continuum does not move, and the world’s moral continuum moves every day. I think the world needs memory care. Let’s say there are a hundred unjust killings per day for one year. Next year, there are five hundred. Suddenly the world will think of only a hundred as Good Old Days, and if it drops to two hundred fifty, will call that excellent. To me, the hundred unjust killings are still awful, two-fifty is two and a half times as awful, etc. Fewer is better, certainly, but my ‘normal’ did not reset with the world’s. This does not bother me. The world is wrong most of the time anyway. I lack the need for community reinforcement of my perspective, and as mentioned, tend to distrust it.
Thus, I have not adjusted my ‘normal’ to the advance of the surveillance state, to intrusive marketing, to a postal service existing in the main to deliver garbage no one wants, and so on. I don’t want to. I was once told by a famous author that I lived in my own little world (and he meant that as a compliment). He was wrong. I live in the real world with realistic expectations. I just don’t move my moral compass to agree with the rest of the world’s. If I move it, I do so without consulting majority opinion.
Thus, in my view, when confronted by a wrong thing, I have no moral obligation to “let it go” or “just say it’s okay.” That’s how the world handles most wrongs, via rationalization, and I can see why. If it didn’t, it would go around angry all the time; the level of wrong is at overload, so most people just rationalize away a given portion of the wrong. If they did not, I guess they’d feel guilty. I understand that.
Unlike them, I do something. Might be something small and unbelievably petty, but I resist. I throw my grain of sand. I have found that I take more harm from bottled anger than from practical resistance within my system of values. This is a better way to live while refusing to conform my moral compass to society’s mobile, amnesiac version. Do I think it makes me better than anyone else? I don’t think about that at all. I think the collected mass of humanity is so dumb, as my very religious father used to say, that they ain’t sure if Christ was crucified or run over by a milk truck. As individuals, that’s different, because when outside of the suffocation of groupthink, individual intellects and morals can shine. Some are better and smarter than me in some ways. Some are in every way I can assess. Some aren’t. Some are saints. Some are contemptible. I don’t think about that because they have their talents and values, and I have mine, and a diverse humanity is much to be treasured.
Plus, without a diverse humanity, where would I get a massive number of people to disagree with?
So I answer telemarketing calls in foreign languages, or pretend to be inarticulate, or pretend that a microwave is my computer.
I open junk mail that might have a business reply envelope, and stuff all the garbage in and mail it back.
I shred everything with my name or address on it. The labels I can’t peel off plastic mailers, I cut off and burn in an old coffee can.
The only discards I don’t shred the ID info from are those I stamp REFUSED–OBJECTIONABLE MAIL–RETURN TO SENDER. Why should I have to dispose of their garbage? Ah, but the PO has to dispose of unwanted junk? Great, let the PO do it, since they enable this whole situation by giving junk mailers a lower price.
A provider asks if she can share some information with the insurance company. I say “if I have a choice, then no.” When told I do not, I tell her to tell them the minimum that will make them go away.
Someone calls and begins firing questions. No. No one gets to ask any questions until I finish asking all my own questions, and if they asked even one inappropriate question, my own questions could take a very long time. I do not desire to earn this person’s approval by “being nice.” Nosey people do not deserve “nice.”
A lawn service sticks a flyer onto my house. I call the deputies to find out what it will take to get them punished for that. A sergeant advises me to put up a NO TRESPASSING sign. I do it. I resent random businesses sticking crap to my house. In the newspaper box, that’s one thing; on my house, forget it.
A marketing company sends me an unwanted survey. I owe them no truth, especially if they ask a single question I consider nosey (the one about my income is an automatic). I have some fun. I create a fake name and comically dysfunctional household and fill out the survey accordingly. I’ll get junk for years based on their sale of that data, and I’ll know where it originated. I got sample adult diapers from one outfit for years.
Like many of you, I mute commercials unless I can fast-forward them, but if I have to mute them, I look away. I presume that companies are well aware that many people mute the commercials and that visuals must carry the load. If I look down at my book, even those do not get to stamp images into my mind.
“What are the last four of your social?” In the first place, I hate that it’s so commonplace they don’t even feel they need to say ‘social security number’ in full. In the second, I resent even more that it’s become a default password, so it sets my teeth on edge. I growl: “Decline to provide. We do not use that as a password.” Try it and you will find that nearly every business that has used that as your default password will have some other way of ascertaining your identity (I have no fundamental problem with that).
In general, I ask about the motivation of anything government or corporations shove at me. I begin by assuming that the motive is control (government) or control and profit (corporations). The burden of proof otherwise is on them, and if they do not bother to meet it, I will do my level best not to cooperate in some way I can get by with. For example, I never did get an Idaho driver’s license. Why not? Because fuck you, Butch Otter; my Washington license was still valid, and I didn’t really give a shit what your state law said unless you were prepared to push the issue, and I knew you were not. Of course, I am not confessing to anything of the kind in Oregon; I still live in Oregon. All I can say is that Oregon is many times more authoritarian than either Washington or Idaho, and therefore much more satisfying when (in theory) one finds a way to (in theory) disobey one of its laws. Oregon works very, very hard to avoid loopholes. If you found one, you did well.
Why direct that at Otter? Because I have learned, and I believe, that the top person is responsible for everything. He’s the governor of Idaho (that little DWI incident a few years back is kind of overlooked; pick one of his multiple excuses), and I reserve the right to hold him accountable. Can he control everything? Of course not. Is that my problem? No. Does he care about my problems? Ha! Am I obligated to care about his, in that case? If you’ve read this far, what do you suppose my answer is? So if I had a problem with Idaho’s state government, I had one with Butch. I reserve the right to lay it at his feet, and to curse him over it.
I do these things not because I harbor delusions that I will change the system–though if everyone did them, it certainly would. I’m not doing this as my contribution to humanity, though I sometimes let myself think that in weak moments. I’m doing it because I take more emotional and psychological harm from mindless compliance than I do from wasted time.