Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Public Figures, Celebrity and Private Citizens

There are some things that we need to disaggregate here.  In the United States we have conflated Public Figures and Celebrity.

First, one of the great problems in our democracy is that the populace is busy evaluating public figures using the same metrics they use to evaluate celebrities...namely their "likability."  So, I would like to draw a line here and talk about function.

Public figures are those people who have willing put themselves into positions in which they speak with the authority of the voice of the citizenry.  In other words, these are elected officials, those who are choosing to run for public office, and some leaders in the professional arm of government who are of a high enough position that they should be personally responsible to the citizens for whom they work - often these are also political appointees in the executive branch and/or appointed or elected justices, district attorneys, leadership in police forces.

The key point here is that public figures have CHOSEN roles in which they act for the public citizenry and in so doing they do not have the same rights anymore as a private citizen.  A private citizen, such as you or me, have certain appropriate expectations of privacy.  A public figure...which means someone who is in leadership or an elected position, sacrifices many of those protections of privacy.  In particular, a public figure sacrifices the rights to privacy around any personal information that might shape their decisions when they are acting as the voice of the people.

I'll use myself as an example.  If I were ever to run for public office on any level, it is my duty to disclose information that my potential constituents would need in order to evaluate whether or not I was going to serve them well.  What that would mean is that I would need to disclose my financials, including my debt, any potential conflict of interest I might have, and any other information that they might need to understand my fitness for office.  If I were to win, I would need to keep high transparency.  So, for example, one of the things that my constituents would need to know about me is that at the age of 50, I still have federal student debt.  Now, I might make that part of my platform and talk about the personal and societal effects of our current policies.  I can guarantee you that I have a lot to say about that from a sociological perspective.  However, if I went forward and then fought for universal forgiveness of student loans, the public should be keeping an eye on me because I would personally benefit from that kind of a law.  The public needs to be sure that what I propose is truly for the good of the society, and not just self-dealing.  In order to do that, it is not just the public's RIGHT to know about my personal finances in a way that would be invasive if I were not running for/occuping public office, it is the public's RESPONSIBILITY to demand it so that they can do THEIR DUTY AS CITIZENS in holding me accountable.  And this is ethically appropriate because no one is compelled to serve as a public figure.  You have to seek it.  You seek  it, you sacrifice large parts of your rights to privacy as a private citizen.  If you aren't willing to do that, you are fundamentally unworthy of public office.

Now, celebrities who are not public officials are private citizens.  They just, for whatever reason, are famous.  I have no right to know anything about Robert Downey Jr. other than what he chooses to share.  People who follow celebrities or pry into their lives are violating their rights.  Whether or not I like Robert Downey Jr. is a perfectly acceptable metric for whether I think he should be popular.  It may influence whether or not I am willing to spend money to support/partake in his art, his products, whatever.  But there is nothing in his celebrity that makes him more or less qualified for public office than other people.  The appropriate metrics for whether someone is an appropriate public figure are a combination of competence, integrity, and a variety of indicators that demonstrate good critical decision making.

The second a celebrity becomes a public figure (and we have had numerous) they give up their private citizen rights.  They don't get to fall back on those the second they run for office (or take a high enough post in government).

We are in the society of the spectacle.  We need to get clarity on the role of public figures, the metrics we should be measuring them by, and how they sacrifice the rights of privacy of private citizens...AND we need to understand what rights of privacy should be defended for private citizens (including celebrities) so that we don't end up losing those ourselves.

Now - for the magically inclined:
People who are public figures also, in my opinion, do not have the same rules as when you are dealing with private citizens.  Because they are in public office and speaking in my voice and in yours, I don't think we need personal permission to do work to hold them to account for integrity - on magical or mundane levels.  In fact, if I am a citizen who has magical abilities, I think that is part of my responsibility.  I do not have any problem calling for any elected official to be held to their oaths.  I also don't think I need to get personal permission from RBG to do work to support her healing (for example), or from any of them to do some personal protection work.  That is a wholly different thing than if I were dealing with a celebrity who is a private citizens.  I think it would be a gross violation for me to do healing work for an actor who has not put out a call inviting it, for example.  If there was a call put out, I take that as permission.  Celebrities who are not public figures should be under the same ethical protections as any other private citizen.

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