Re: poly: Pondering Privacy

From: Robin Hanson <>
Date: Wed Jun 03 1998 - 16:11:44 PDT

On 5/21/98 Hal F. wrote:
>> Here's an example: insurance. ...
>It's a bit harder to apply this to real situations, like the gay
>youth in an oppressive, small-town community in the bible belt. If we
>force him to reveal his sexual preference it does give some benefit to
>community members. Previously they were saddened by the thought that
>there might be a gay boy hiding among the supposedly upstanding youths
>of their community. Now if we suppose there is some method to expose
>gays, then the community can drive them out of town and sleep easier,
>knowing that there are no longer any homosexuals around. This may be a
>net economic gain if the percentage of anti-gay bigots is large enough,
>but it does not seem to be an outcome that I find attractive.
>Privacy forces society to be more tolerant, in effect, by allowing people
>to hide those aspects of their lives which society would not approve of.
>Economics may not be able to say whether it is good for a society to be
>more tolerant, but this is a value which I personally favor.

One's analysis of this situation depends on one's theory of bigotry.

If it's just a matter of people directly and strongly preferring not to
associate with gays, then the straightforward economic analysis would say
that everyone would be better off if the straights paid the gays to go
live by themselves. If in fact gay's desire to live among straights is
not so strong, there must be enough of a cash transfer so that both gays
and straights would be happier. Under this model, who do you think you
would be helping if you instead forced gays to live among straights in
the closet?

A model I find more plausible, however, is that what people really care
about is convincing their associates that they are not gay. They want
potential mates to see them as available and interested, and don't want
potential mates or rivals to think them "weak", "effeminate", or other
undesirable features they believe are associated with gays.

Given this assumption, it can be an equilibrium for most to support a
policy of "bashing" gays. If gays are very infrequently "outed", one
is unlikely to personally have to do any bashing. And if the few gays
that are outed are odd "swish" ones from lower social classes, unlike
the people you (the influential high class person) privately know to
be gay, there is little chance that the people you know and care about
will be bashed.

The implications of transparency under this alternative model can be
rather different. A gay-bashing equilibrium might be much more severe,
but perhaps also much less likely.

Robin Hanson
RWJF Health Policy Scholar, Sch. of Public Health 510-643-1884
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 FAX: 510-643-2627
Received on Wed Jun 3 23:17:09 1998

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