On the legal blog that I run, Above the Law ("ATL"), I write about people -- law students, lawyers, and judges -- who engage in embarrassing, unethical, or even criminal conduct. ATL is a self-described "legal tabloid," a gossip blog. Writing about this stuff is my job.
Sometimes the people I write about, or their friends or family members, email me to complain. They usually don't claim libel or slander (since truth is an absolute defense in a defamation action, and what I write is true (most of the time, anyway)). Instead, they claim that I've violated their "privacy."
I try to explain why what I've written about is a legitimate subject of discussion, why they have no reasonable expectation of privacy in the matter in question, etc. I try to be nice about it.
But sometimes I just want to say: "I don't believe in privacy. Privacy is the refuge of scoundrels. People who aren't doing anything wrong don't need privacy." As Judge Richard Posner has noted:
[W]e tend to place somewhat too much weight on privacy. The word "privacy" has strongly positive connotations (like "freedom"), which obscures analysis....
[P]eople try to "put their best foot forward." Often this involves concealing information that would cause potential transacting partners to refuse to transact with them or to demand better terms as a condition of doing so. Such concealment is a species of fraud....
No one wants privacy more than criminals!
Indeed. Privacy is what allows us to eat pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream in a single sitting, to cheat on our spouses, to pick our noses, to watch porn, to abuse our children. Privacy facilitates all sorts of unsavory, unethical, and even illegal conduct.
Privacy is an antiquated notion in the internet age. Gossip about an event can hit the blogs before the event is over. Photographs and video of scandalous conduct can be uploaded to Facebook or YouTube in minutes (or even seconds). As I once quipped before a group of Yale Law School alumni I was addressing, "Privacy is roadkill on the information superhighway."
As Nietzsche might say, "Privacy is dead." Or, at the very least, "privacy is so twentieth century."
My thesis: If we had less privacy, we would be better people. As Justice Louis Brandeis once observed, sunlight is the best disinfectant. He was talking about public institutions, but it's equally true of private individuals.
If we are constantly being watched, like Truman Burbank of The Truman Show, we will lead better lives. We will commit fewer crimes. We will eat healthier foods. We will call our mothers more often. We will treat our fellow human beings with more respect. Would law firm partners yell at their associates as much if they knew that their rants would show up on the internet (a la Alec Baldwin's phone message to his daughter)?
I've decided to harness a lack of privacy for my own self-improvement. I have the following goals:
- To bring my weight down to 145 pounds (and to be in better shape overall).
- To bring my Above the Law ("ATL") email backlog down to under 500 messages.
- To bring my personal email backlog down to under 50 messages.
Welcome to what I'm calling Project Truman Show. I'm making myself the star of my own reality TV show, exposing myself for all the world to see. Every day, before I go to bed, I will log in to answer the following questions:
- What did you eat today?
- What exercise did you do today?
- What is your ATL email backlog?
- What is your personal email backlog?
And on a weekly basis, every Monday morning, I will log in and answer the following question:
- How much do you weigh?
(I don't want to track my weight on a daily basis because it can fluctuate for all sorts of random reasons. Instead, I'll do it on a weekly basis. I'll weigh myself every Monday morning, before I've eaten anything for the day.)
On Monday I will also take a shirtless picture of myself and upload it to the site. Why? When I ran my "Project Truman Show" idea by a friend, his skeptical response was: "Okay, how long until you start lying?"
I assured him that I wouldn't lie (and swore on the grave of my recently deceased grandmother, my Lola Ever -- may she rest in peace). I also asked him: What would be a way for me to prove I'm telling the truth? He suggested that I post shirtless photos to my blog. So I said fine -- done.
The image on the right is a thumbnail; click to enlarge. (Warning: You might be grossed out by how fat I am.) The photo on the left is was taken in the Philippines, where I was vacationing, in December 2004, back when I was in fighting form. The photo on the right is what I look like today -- three and a half years, and about 25 pounds, later.
My goal is to return to what I once looked like. Please help me along in my journey. Check in on this site regularly, to see if I'm making any progress.
Make rude comments about what a fat pig I am; shame me into slimming down. If you notice progress, post a compliment or some encouragement. If you notice a lack of progress, or slacking off on my part, call me out on it.
I can't do this without your help. The more public scrutiny, the better. Send this link to your friends, so they will watch me too.
Project Truman Show starts tomorrow. Tomorrow is a Tuesday, but since today is a holiday (Memorial Day), I will treat Tuesday as the start of the week. I will post my weight tomorrow morning. I will start publicly tracking my food intake, exercise, and email backlogs tomorrow as well. (Today I'm going to pig out, of course, enjoying my last few hours of freedom.)
This is going to be an interesting journey. Thanks for joining me for the ride!