Nature of Privacy

In ethical terms, Hongladarom hereby articulates for us an important ethical pluralism regarding the nature of privacy. Such a pluralism, as we will explore more fully in chapter 6, stands in the middle ground between ethical relativism and ethical absolutism. Most briefly, the important point is that, in such pluralism, it is possible to hold together both shared norms and values (in this case, privacy) while these norms and values are understood, interpreted, and/or applied in diverse ways – that is, in ways that reflect the distinctive values and norms of diverse cultures. In this way, pluralism allows for a shared global ethics, on the one hand, while avoiding, on the other hand, a kind of homogenizing ethics that ignores or obliterates all important cultural differences. And so, ethical pluralism provides the possibility of a global ethics made up of shared norms and values while preserving the essential differences that define diverse cultural identities.

In the case of “privacy,” these cross-cultural comparisons can thus be understood to constitute an example of such an ethical pluralism. This is to say: US-style conceptions of “privacy” as strongly individual and (earlier) Thai notions of “privacy” as primarily familial privacy thus present us with strongly different ideas of “privacy.” For the ethical relativist, these differences would be one more example arguing that there are no universal values or norms: the validity of ethical norms and values is solely relative to a given culture and time. In this instance, the US notion of individual privacy as a positive good is legitimate – but only if you’re a member of the US culture; and the (earlier) Thai emphasis on familial privacy alone as ethically acceptable is also legitimate if you were born and raised in Thai culture in those days. This is fine – at least as long as people from both cultures have nothing to do with one another and thus require no shared norms or values.

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