Postscript/present (now past)-guy:
This was initially written out as a reply, then it devolved into a new post, but now it’s back here. It’s now been a couple of weeks of thinking and writing about this, and I’m not really 100% sure if I should continue. I wrote this as a layman, someone who is largely unpracticed in most of the knowledge structures presented below. I’m not a sociologist, for example, but I use sociology terms for my benefit. I instead now want to dive into learning whatever it is I’m thinking about and how to write and communicate it properly rather than just pulling words out of thin air to fit some abstract ideas in my mind. I want whatever it is I’m thinking about to have a solid foundation in reality, not just in my head. I planned on throwing this away, but I guess it will do better to be put here as a reminder to actually learn. Anyway, here is an outdated attempt to structure an unpracticed stream of consciousness.
We all have our own opinions on privacy, but at the end of the day, it can all boil down to this: there is a problem and it needs to be solved. The Privacy Problem is a problem, and we individually fix it in multiple ways, like by using apps that respect our privacy, using cash to pay for stuff, adding uBlock Origin to our list of browser extensions, etc.
These are all simply bandaid solutions, which makes them somewhat inefficient. True solutions, as opposed to bandaid solutions, can only be found by those who understand what the problem really is. This is a basic postulate of problem-solving. To solve a problem efficiently, you must first understand what that problem is. For example: you cannot solve
123 * 3 efficiently unless you understand what
123 means on a fundamental level, what
3 means on a fundamental level, and what multiplication means on a fundamental level. To better visualize this postulate, imagine children trying to solve that math problem. Their efficiency in problem-solving is dependent upon their mathematical skillset. An adult would largely be more efficient in problem-solving here because their mathematical skillset is more refined.
Efficiency in problem-solving has two major factors. They are: 1) the speed at which you find a solution; and 2) the belief that your solution is true. Both of these factors contribute to being an efficient problem solver. Focusing only on the first factor will leave you arbitrarily spitting out answers. You do not believe that your solution is true because you do not truly understand which variables are at play in determining a solution. All you can say is maybe. Focusing only on the second factor will leave you in a world of knowledge, which is of no use if you cannot provide a solution to a problem within a specific timeframe.
The second factor, “the belief that your solution is true”, has some underlying meaning that must be laid out to be logically understood. To believe that a solution is true means that you have considered it true as a logical consequence of your own personal understanding of the fundamental meanings of the problem. You are able to discern whether any given answer is either true or false, relevant or irrelevant, or whatever in between, based on what you know about the problem. For example, a 1st grader cannot say that
369 is the solution to
123 * 3 and believe it to be true if they used a calculator. They are unsure of the solution and require external help to figure it out. They did not use their own personal understanding of the problem. And if they did understand the actual process for
123 * 3 and they gave out
469 as the solution, they would still be efficient, but just incorrect. It is simply now a matter of further deepening their understanding of basic arithmetic. Efficient, but incorrect.
The variables that determine the solution to that problem are
3, and multiplication, and that 1st grader may find it difficult to understand what any of that means. However, as they climb the ranks of age, their understanding of it increases. This gives evidence to the phenomenon that having a better understanding of a problem greatly improves the efficiency of its problem-solving as opposed to the speed at which that solution is found. Both are very important and play an obvious role in efficiency, but the second factor is most likely what you should put effort into. If we allow that 1st grader to climb the ranks of age and only train him to respond to math problems as quickly as he can, rather than teaching him the actual subject, then we can see that he lags behind in his efficiency at solving math problems.
Well, then, how do we go about trying to understand the problem even further, if that’s even possible? What does that even mean? Well, in this example, the average 1st grader has a difficult time grasping what multiplication truly means, coupled with the fact that big numbers (relatively speaking) are very abstract to them. “What do I do with the numbers? What do those numbers mean?” These are very simple questions to us, but to him, he’d have to really think about them. Those numbers symbolize something of value and relevancy to us in the real world. Sure, pure mathematics can define what those numbers are, but to do basic arithmetic, definitions do not matter. People understand basic arithmetic better when given not a list of definitions but instead a real-world example to relate the problem to.
1 does not simply mean one. It means one of something, and that something is valuable to us. One more dead animal carcass over there means more food for the village. One more hut means one more item of shelter we can use for safety against nature. A human being one thousand years ago would not understand how valuable one dollar of US currency is for us, only that it is of value. They can logically conclude that having more of it is better than having less of it. But relationships between the variables matter. Both five million dollars and one hundred dollars are technically more valuable than one dollar, but how would they arrive at that specific conclusion of five million dollars? They can’t! Because they don’t truly understand on a fundamental level what a dollar means in relation to us. They could choose any arbitrary number and be equally fine with any of it (assuming their goal here is to give us enough money for financial freedom). They are not affected by it because it is not something of value or relevancy to them. They could choose a hundred or a googol to give to you but wouldn’t realize that a hundred is far too little (still technically more valuable, but enough), and a googol is far too much (so much that it would crash the economy and render it useless).
Understanding something isn’t knowing what the definitions are, but instead analyzing the various relationships amongst those variables. What is the relationship between
3 in multiplication? Well,
123 is a hundred and twenty-three of something, and
3 is three batches of that something. That is how we fundamentally understand multiplication. You have three batches of one hundred and twenty-three things. People who understand this will be massively more efficient at solving it than those who don’t, and the people who are able to solve it quickly as well are massively more efficient than them. They come to a conclusion quickly and with the true belief that it is the correct solution because they fundamentally understand the relationships between the variables that make up the solution.
In summary, you must be quick and you must be sure in order to be efficient. And to be sure, you must first understand what that problem is! In order to understand what that problem is, you must dedicate some time to identifying and analyzing the relationships that result from a set of variables. So what exactly is the best way to systematically do this? Social structures! A social structure is an arrangement of variables organized in such a way as to establish specific goals of interactions. Variables can be anything that affects the social structure in some arbitrary way. They could be necessary for that social structure to exist or simply something that occupies it. They can be an institution, a plot of land, people, groups of people, types of people, roles, animals, chairs, etc. I think it’s best to simplify the variables as much as you can while still having the specific goals of interests remain largely similar, if not untouched. Complex or abstract variables—like “types of people”—can entail their own social structures, which may complicate things. However, I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s simply another approach.
How do social structures help us solve problems? Well, it helps us solve specific types of problems, such as the Privacy Problem. If we want to be efficient at problem-solving, which is necessarily the case if we want a solution, then we can either expend our efforts in being quick or understanding the problem more. Because the Privacy Problem is a social issue at heart, we must look at it from a sociological perspective. Analyzing social structures helps us understand things through that lens, which is a major factor in efficiency in problem-solving.
Here is an iterative process for constructing social structures based on a problem we encounter and/or want to solve.
- vaguely present your understanding of a problem;
- state some variables that could be at play;
- construct a social structure using those variables as aid (this could mean one social structure, two social structures, nested social structures, social structures existing within multiple other social structures, etc.);
- identify and analyze the resulting relationships of those variables within the social structures that it occupies (relationships between variables within the social structure and variables outside the social structure are possible, but in order to understand that relationship, you’d have to consequently construct the social structure occupied by that other variable as well);
This is an iterative process. You can skip to previous or upcoming nonadjacent steps. Everything within this process can help further the efficiency of our problem-solving by refining our understanding of the problem itself. Say I am done with this process on a particular problem; my understanding of the problem may have increased a bit, and I go back to step 1 and input my new understanding of the problem, which regroups, recombines, reseparates, etc., variables that I can use to reconstruct a better social structure, upon which I can use to understand the relationships between those variables better, which I can then use to better understand the problem, which can take me back to step 1 again for more refinement, etc.
Here is a non-abstract example:
1) vaguely present your understanding of a problem
Bullying is a problem. Kids bully other kids, and teachers don’t do much about it.
2) state some variables that could be at play
Some variables would include the bullies, the victims, and the teachers. We can simplify this into students and teachers.
3) construct a social structure using those variables as aid (this could mean one social structure, two social structures, nested social structures, social structures existing within multiple other social structures, etc.)
I can construct a social structure from these variables resembling a school. I can determine what that social structure vaguely looks like by analyzing its specific goals of interactions. In this social structure (a school), a goal of interaction is for students and teachers to interact in such a way that teachers teach students and students learn from teachers.
4) identify and analyze the resulting relationships of those variables within the social structures that it occupies (relationships between variables within the social structure and variables outside the social structure are possible, but in order to understand that relationship, you’d have to consequently construct the social structure occupied by that other variable as well)
Identify: teachers teach students; students learn from teachers. Analyze: why is this the case? Since this social structure is so small, we should look outside of it for help. We can identify relationships between variables within and outside the social structure, such as teachers and their relationship with money. They need money to survive, teaching is a relatively simple job position, so they become teachers. Because they do it for the money, they don’t care about bullying. Another relationship: students and the social structure of their household. Their parents, the rules of the house, expectations, etc. We can relate this back to the original social structure because it helps strengthen our understanding of the original variables’ relationship.
Separately analyzing this new social structure using this same process, we can see that despite bullying being a cause to a problem within the social structure of schools, it is also a consequence to an existing problem within the social structure of households. More social structures than this emerge as well, but this is simply an example you can use to wrap your head around this process. In short, to give a true solution to bullying rather than a bandaid solution, one must construct the various social structures that are interconnected with the original social structure that the bullying problem occupied and then account for the new variables within those new social structures. In this example, it can include parents, family members, peers, friends, etc. Upon analyzing the relationships, we understand more about the problem. It is only after this that we can attempt to solve the problem.
Social structures can exist within multiple and/or individual social structures, or they can have nested social structures within themselves and/or other social structures. The social structure of a school, as established prior, exists within a larger social structure and has variables within it that have relationships with variables in other multiple social structures. It also has nested social structures within it, like cliques, friend groups, and classrooms. The household, the friend group, social media, the internet, the psychology field, the government, the economic structure of civilization, etc. All of these things come into play when trying to solve the bullying problem.
I want to acknowledge that even if we were to find a solution to the Privacy Problem in an efficient manner, it must still be practically put to use in the real, physical world, which means transforming the social structure. Transforming a social structure from within itself is far more difficult than constructing a new social structure in some abstract reality. One can come up with a solution to the bullying problem, but it is hard to physically implement that into society. So no, this post won’t solve the Privacy Problem, but I hope that it helps many people reframe their way of thinking about it.
Analyzing social structures can help us explore the relationships between the variables within them. The status of those relationships can tell you how a problem came to be. They can be found by examining what the specific goals of interactions are in that social structure. Why does it exist? What does it achieve by existing? What is it supposed to achieve? Are the relationship values inflated at all (does it represent how the variables actually feel about the relationship)? Changing the specific goals of interactions changes the relationships, which can remove the problem altogether. However, this necessarily results in a change in the social structure, which can be hard because the specific goals of interactions that result in these relationships may want to be kept that way by some variables within the social structure. Some relationships may want to be maintained by one variable, multiple variables, or the social structure itself. This is known as rigidity.
Rigidity is good within a social structure because it provides a clear outline of relationships. In our social structure, the government gives us protection but also requires orderly behavior from us. That is a rudimentary (and unnuanced) outline of our relationship. It is a fairly rigid social structure because we want to maintain this relationship for our own individual sake. Example: I want to go to the library without fear of it getting bombed. The library not getting bombed is an example of them offering us protection, and not having bomb-making tools is an example of us providing orderly behavior for them. But now say that there is an underlying problem. The government is providing too much protection under the guise of more order, so much so that freedom is but a dream. They are a variable within the solution, and because they want this relationship to be maintained, a true solution cannot come to fruition. The rigidity of this social structure prevents us from solving the underlying issue.
Rigidity can be a bad thing when it prevents a true solution to a problem. That is, however, if you value the fixing of the problem as greater than the change in the current social structure. Both include vast immediate change, so we also have to evaluate what is “better”, however that even means. All that the variables can do within the social structure, if the social structure remains rigid, is provide bandaid solutions. In the specific case of, say, e-mail communication, bandaid solutions are like PGP, and SimpleX Chat is the true solution, so to speak. E-mail is widely adopted, and so we want to maintain the relationships we have with it. We want the social structure to remain rigid and strong. The specific goal of interaction pertaining to e-mail communication is to use it as a digital mailing system, which is necessary for the larger social structure to continue existing, which adds more to its rigidity. This results in the social structure of e-mail communication being more rigid for reasons outside of its own social structure. And so all we can do is either provide bandaid solutions or permit sociostructural change for the real solution.
So not only would we have to find an accurate true solution to the Privacy Problem, which is a lengthy process itself, but we must also choose if we value the true solution more or less than the bandaid solutions packaged with the rigidity of our current social structure. We can also choose to slowly implement the solution bit by bit, slowly transforming the social structure from within itself, which is how a lot of true solutions are implemented, but there are numerous issues with it. They are slow, they can corrupt over time, the status quo can change in such a way that leaves the true solution’s implementation unviable or useless to continue implementing, and they can also introduce new variables within new social structures that result in some other problem manifesting, etc. In the particular case of the Privacy Problem, we seem to be pushing out these bandaid solutions while also slowly implementing some true solutions over time. (Also, remember that true solutions are solutions generated by the iterative process.) This is a bad thing because bandaid solutions keep the social structure more rigid (or at least prevent the quality of its rigidity from falling), while the slow implementation of the true solution tries to slowly transform the social structure from within itself. We are fighting against ourselves. One solution negatively affects the success of the other.
I spoke about a topic similar to this where I stated that future technology is built using previous technology and will thus necessarily have some aspect of that previous technology, but because it is new technology, it will also introduce some new things as well. I related this back to privacy by adding that all of these new technologies that we’ve been creating have been introducing privacy-invasive tech, which will then be used to build future technology that will one day inherently have privacy-invasive tech like we’ve never seen. I stated that I fear it will be so embedded in our social structure that there will eventually come a time when privacy, in the context of the Privacy War, is not only not real anymore but could be completely forgotten as a concept. Give it a read if you’d like; it’s very short.
In that post, I referred to bandaid solutions here as simply “reactionary” to “what already is”. To do this is to basically acknowledge the existence of a rigid social structure and let it continue existing. Using PGP will not get rid of the privacy issues involved with e-mail communication; it only covers them up with a bandaid. In fact, it will keep e-mail communication alive by allowing individuals who have problems with it to keep using it, which prevents us from determining the true nature of the relationship within the social structure. Is that relationship actually something all the involved variables want to maintain? Or is it artificially kept alive by millions and billions of tiny bandages? (It’s the latter, by the way.) When you use PGP with e-mail communications, you are effectively signaling to those of us trying to analyze the social structure that you are okay with it being the status quo, which inflates the relationship value and gives a false reality. This leads to less effort being put into finding the true solutions. You’re not leveraging your analysis of the social structure. You are simply reacting. You are simply saying owwie and putting a bandage on it.
I also referred to true solutions there as “massive non-reactionary change”. Change brought about from the ground up, actively transforming the social structure, ultimately results in some form of anarchic timespan in some place, industry, or whatever, possibly everywhere if it affected the larger social structure that much. SimpleX Chat could be regarded as a true solution to the e-mail communication problem since it is drastically different from every messenger and seems to have privacy from the ground up. However, there is more than just the e-mail communication problem in relation to e-mail, and SimpleX Chat doesn’t solve every one of them. E-mail is also used as an identifier of sorts for account creation, and so one might consider Mullvad’s implementation of their account system to be a true solution to the e-mail identification problem. Passwords are also very flawed, and so passkeys can be seen as the true solution to this as well. We think we’re getting somewhere, but each of these true solutions only transforms the nested social structures found within the larger social structure. None of them actually solves the whole Privacy Problem altogether. They are only regarded as true solutions in the context of their own social structure, but they are actually bandaid solutions to the Privacy Problem as a whole.
It all eventually leads to the Privacy Problem, so we must put effort into working on it. If not, the relationships between variables within our social structures remain inflated. And sooner or later, the social structure will lose its rigidity and collapse. When that happens, it won’t just result in a short-lived anarchic timespan within the nested social structures, like the fall of writing mail and the rise of electronic communication methods, or the fall of e-mail communication and the rise of instant messengers battling out who gets to be the top dawg. It will actually happen to the larger social structure if left unchecked for some lengthy time. As for the specifics, I don’t know. Now I don’t want to spoil you guys by trying to find a true solution to the Privacy Problem using the iterative process. You guys can do that for yourselves. It’s going to include a lot of social structures, that’s for sure.
Finally, if you’re unsure of how to start the process for the Privacy Problem, I suggest reading that older topic I wrote about. It will start you off on step 1 (“vaguely present your understanding of a problem”). That older topic is my own personal understanding of the Privacy Problem within the social structure of technology, so yours may differ. You might construct your social structure completely differently from mine; you might consider a completely separate social structure from technology, maybe larger or nested; you might include different variables; you might measure relationship values differently; etc. Do keep in mind that you can start anywhere in the process, as long as you iterate through the whole process again and use all the steps for refining your understanding of the problem. There is no end to it; it’s all for further refinement. Also, that topic does not have 1–1 concepts related to this post because I wrote that one before I wrote this one. So reading this post first may result in confusion due to the fact that the earlier post was not presented as following the iterative process.