Sunday, September 6, 2009

Two-sided Questions

I once knew a man who answered every question with “It all depends.” I never tried it, but I believe if you had asked him his name, he would have said “It all depends.” One time I actually did ask him, “John, (his name was John) can you ever answer a question without saying, ‘It all depends?’” He said, “Well, yes and no.” I never tried it again.

The reason I brought this up is because the older I get, the more trouble I have deciding between two opposing arguments. I can easily decide between steak or seafood for dinner, or between red and white wine. But it seems I can see both sides of most discussions, and I have a really hard time coming down on either side. I could flip a coin, but I know I would be dissatisfied with the outcome no matter which side won the toss.

For example, I live near Lancaster, Pa., a city with a population of 50,000+. Lancaster has been in the national news lately because a story in the LA Times called it the most watched little city in America. The city is in the process of installing some 160 video cameras in and around the downtown area.

Until the story came out, no one thought much about it; but now there is a big brouhaha going on. One side of the argument is that 1.) the cameras are in the public street where you have no expectation of privacy, 2.) if you have nothing to hide you will not be affected, and 3.) it will make everyone safer except for the felons.

The other side argues that 1.) the cameras see whoever comes in or out of my front door, 2.) they can see who I am and sell tapes to stalkers, divorce lawyers or anyone else, 3.) who knows what mischief the people watching the cameras might dream up, and 4.) they are an invasion of my privacy no matter what.

So far the cameras of caught several accidents and crimes on tape. Although face recognition software is not part of the system, they have helped police capture and convict several felons.

Benjamin Franklin said that people who give up freedom for safety deserve neither, but of course old Ben could never imagine the things that go on in the street today.

I kind of buy into the safety argument, but on the other hand, the idea that someone a mile away watches my every move is kind of creepy. I keep asking myself, “Self, what would Ben do?” Self answers, "It all depends."

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