Privacy expectations and a 'neighbor' analogy

Bob Sheridan bobsheridan at
Wed Jul 13 14:16:54 PDT 2005

In discussing privacy in decision-making, i.e. liberty/due process, I 
find myself reasoning from the analogy, below, and am requesting to have 
it critiqued, please.

The analogy is this:  that if you would not wish to have your neighbors 
involved in your decisionmaking on such things as how you'd like to 
behave in the bedroom with a consenting adult, or with whom, or the 
consequences of that behavior, such as pregnancy, then you certainly 
don't wish to see government making those decisions for you, because 
government is the neighbors writ large. 

I understand the obvious limitation on the argument that there comes a 
point where the neighbors, acting through government, have a right to an 
opinion.  Immediately after the moment of birth would be first, 
immediately before is the second, over which there is great debate, as 
in the so-called 'partial birth abortion' issue.  Having said that, I'm 
not particularly interested in getting into a discussion of late-term 
Roe and progeny, as such.  I am interested in knowing where this analogy 
which compares government to the neighbors breaks down and becomes 
useless, assuming, as I do, that it has some explanatory utility as an 
analogy in the first place.

Why do I think it a useful analogy, perhaps even a test?  Because if you 
don't want the neighbors involved in the decision-making process, you 
probably don't feel that their views are more legitimate because they 
succeed in having the town board of selectmen, city council, state 
legislature, or national congress to enact their views into laws 
governing you.

I haven't seen this "neighbor" analogy/argument and suspect that there's 
probably a reason that I haven't tumbled to it yet.

I'm supposing that there exist independent government grounds, such as 
public health concerns, where government has, I presume, rights to 
regulate that go beyond the views of long-nosed neighbors who may wish 
to impose private moralities, such as religious-based.  When I was a 
kid, the public schools in NYC required, at least I think it was 
required (we certainly wanted them), polio vaccinations for all 
schoolkids when that disease was such a scourge.

Is the 'neighbors as government' or 'government as the neighbors writ 
large' analogy or argument one that has been discussed in such terms?

Analytically, some folks, students, let's say,  have a fairly clear 
understanding of what they don't want the neighbors poking their noses 
into, but may be a lot more deferential when it appears that 
"government" is poking its nose into the same or similar areas, such as 
abortion and sexual relationships. The former miscegenation laws would 
be an example.

Thanks in advance.

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