Mental Defilements

We have seen that Soraj Hongladarom argues for a Thai notion of privacy that rests on especially Buddhist understandings of the self. As we might expect, Hongladarom goes on further to argue for correlative data privacy protections – protections that might seem limited as compared with contemporary Western (especially EU) laws, but are nonetheless recognizable as protections justified for the sake of participating in democratic governance, for example.

But Hongladarom goes still further. He draws on the Buddhist analysis of human discontent as rooted in the ego-illusion to point out:

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Violating privacy is motivated by what Buddhists call mental defilements (kleshas), of which there are three – greed, anger, and delusion. Since violating privacy normally brings about unfair material benefits, it is in the category of greed. In any case, the antidote is to cultivate love and compassion. Problems in the social domain, according to Buddhists, arise because of these mental defilements, and the ultimate antidote to social problems lies within the individuals themselves and their states of mind.

In other words, from a Buddhist perspective, if we want to enjoy privacy protections, then we must go beyond (negative) laws that largely tell us what not to do (most simply, don’t violate others’ rights to privacy) to important positive ethical injunctions that tell us what to do – namely, to pursue enlightenment (in the form of overcoming the ego-illusion), in part through cultivating love and compassion for others.

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