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Archive for November, 2008

are you now, or have you ever been, a POST-PARTISAN MELLOW-HARSHER?!?

Posted by pocochina on November 17, 2008

There have been quite a few excellent posts about the incoming Obama Administration’s job application, which asks applicants not just if they are Russian Bond girls or own an arsenal, but some deeply intrusive questions about a person’s family’s possessions, and an individual’s internet presence.  I’m not going to re-invent the wheel, but I do have a few additional concerns I hadn’t noticed anywhere else.  Check that article though, and you saw it too:  any electronic communication that could be embarrassing or a conflict of interests; a diary, for fuck’s sake.  Not a “livejournal,” not an “online diary,”  a diary. Like the one that you kept buried under your sock drawer when you were six.  Bear in mind that the executive branch of the government deals with everything, and there is nobody who entirely agrees on anything, so sticking to the strictest meaning of the words, everything you’ve ever said is a potential conflict of interests.  And if you wrote an entry in your diary trying to decide what they mean by “could be,” you’d have to report it.  Right now, in this blog post, I’m criticizing the HR practices of this new administration on philosophical and political grounds.  If I ever apply for a job with them, I’ll have to report this post.  This isn’t some tinfoil hatted fourteen-conditional hypothetical screed.  If you apply for certain jobs with the incoming administration, you are subject to an invasion of your privacy.

There’s a lot that’s creepy about any employer going that deeply into an individual’s personal life, most clearly that it’s called personal because it’s not at work.  (Lawyers and their tricky using words for WHAT THEY MEAN bullshit!)  But there’s something particularly disturbing about the government itself doing this, at least partially because the government is bound by certain big, honkin’ rules that private employers aren’t.  It’s a bit precious to assume without further reassurance – like a notorized, publicly available contract – that someone prying this deeply into your personal life of course has your best interests at heart.  I haven’t looked at the application, so I can’t say for sure, but I’d feel a lot better if there was some sort of majorly binding limiting and confidentiality clause.  As in, “this application will be reviewed with your name separate from your number, will be used solely for the purposes of evaluating your fitness for the job for which you have applied, and will be immediately shredded at your request after we have made our decision for the post.”  It wouldn’t be perfect, but it’d be something.

“But P,” I can hear you asking, “they’re not going to lock you up, for fuck’s sake!  It’s just vetting!”  No, it’s happening in conjunction with vetting.  We don’t have any assurances that it is actually just vetting.  And also, unlike a sensitive job in the private sector, this boss comes with the ability not just to lock you up, but to name you publicly, control your and your family’s financial aid to schools, and to audit your taxes with a fine tooth comb until the day you die.  We could talk all day about the power imbalance between private employees and employers and how much labor laws should recognize it, but we as a society take it as a given that the government has more power than we do.

Speaking of the power of the government, there’s an exertion of psychological power here that makes me a little uncomfortable.  I’m not a huge tech person, so I’d love some input on this from someone who is, but my understanding is that your computer tracks every website you’ve ever been to, and that your IP address leaves a tag when you post a blog post or a comment.  It seems to me that most Americans, and especially those privileged enough to be qualified for these jobs, have laptops and do most personal posting from those laptops; even if someone was on a work computer, that computer would still have an IP address and be registered at a desk for tech support reasons.  If I understand this correctly, then one of two things is happening here.  Thing One:  this information is all available to the government, they just want to see what you will and won’t cop to, thus figuring out what you’re ashamed of and hiding.   This strikes me as the more likely scenario, and it makes me deeply uncomfortable.  Thing Two:  this information exists, but there are legal issues with compelling such information from private actors as part of a background check on potential employees.  Now, if there’s a legal issue with compelling this information from someone else, there sure as shit is at least an ethical issue with compelling it from you.

There are a few things a lot more structurally unjust about this rule besides the traditional liberal right to privacy concern.  Dan Savage, though mocked by some commenters, is absolutely right to fixate on the potential professional future of FemDomDem.*  We still a closeted population about sex.  The internet is a useful tool for allowing people with similar sexual interests to meet, and one of the major attractions of the internet is the small measure of anonymity it gives.  People don’t walk around in “SEXY DD DOMME” sandwich boards partially because of reasonable fear of street harassment or worse, but also due to a mature, rational preference to keep that part of life separate from employers, strangers, and the federal  fucking government. And yes, all too many queer Americans live in communities can only safely meet partners or seek community with like-minded folks online, and yes, requiring this information is a forcible outing to the U.S. government.  Though facially neutral, this falls harder on the shoulders of queer folks.

And women.  Did I mention women?  Ah.  Ahahahaha.  There’s a reason that the atheism of Melissa McEwan and Amanda Marcotte was a Very Serious Issue, and the churchlessness of Karl Rove is not.  Partially it’s the iron rule that everything a liberal does is – OBVI! – against truth, justice, and the American Way, but they’re also outspoken feminist women who not only dared to disagree with a lot of people but to do so, on the internet, out loud and shit where people could hear them!  It’s not just in the realms of sexuality.  Women are likely to be judged more harshly for holding certain opinions.  As with POC who are anti-racist activists:  POLITICAL!  Conflict of interests!   Whereas a white guy who belongs to racist, sexist clubs was just tryin’ to help out his school, y’all.

But what I find most chilling is that it essentially strips public sector employment opportunities from everyone except those who have a) never had a problem or b) never found anyone who could help them with their problem.  Sexual assault survivors, women who’ve had abortions, mothers who have been on welfare – these are all issues the Obama Administration will have to make the political decisons to address at all, and if so, how to address them.  Those of us freaks and geeks who have put private and political parts of our lives on the internet, to flesh out our thoughts, to seek community and support and commonality – whether we’ve chosen to address human rights abuses in Europe, our questions about our sexuality, our problems with the Democratic Primary of 2008, our struggles with the mental health profession, our cervical placements, our disabilities – we’ve talked about these things for all kinds of reasons.  Chief among these reasons are to understand our lives better, to have a better intellectual grasp on the issues that shape our lives, or even just as a tool in the struggle to be a happy, productive member of society.  Those of us with our messy, politically charged, potentially embarrassing lives online are the right people to be in on these policy decisions, not for some mushy feel-good liberal thinking, but because we know what these policies will mean to us, and we, all on our own and for absolutely no charge, have reached out to the world, and said, hey, what do you think? We can’t solve problems if we don’t stand up and call them by their names, whether those names are sexism, homophobia, racism, ableism; we can’t speak to our experience as a society if we individuals can’t name our parts in it.

*No, not me.  Though, cute handle.

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Posted in feminism, obama, politics, privacy | 1 Comment »