Hackers found the personal information of nine thousand employees of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). They used tools to scrape LinkedIn. The hacker collective Anonymous took what they found, and made into a database. Names, locations, descriptions, the works. At first, the data appeared on various Twitter accounts. Then Wikileaks came into play. As of this writing, Wikileaks has a searchable database of ICE agents online. Google “ICE Patrol” and you’ll find it. There’s no way to remove the info. Once it’s online, it’s there forever.
Let’s get this out of the way first: nobody should be doxxed. Not even ICE. ICE is America’s Gestapo, and deserves to be shamed. ICE must be fought. There’s no way around it. But while the avenues of public condemnation and politics are open, we are morally obliged to stick to those methods.
It is both sweet and glorious to deride the vicious. If Trump’s night creatures crawl into the public square, they should be mocked and jeered. But when it comes to the question of doxxing, we’re less sure. We all understand Henry Kissinger should be in The Hague, and that his house should be protested day and night. How far do we take that? Do we put his credit card numbers online?
Progressives still believe in trial by jury, presumed innocence, and the rule of law. We hold these beliefs, even though we know how rigged the system is, and how often it fails. We know that calls for “proper” behavior amount to conservative tone-policing rhetoric, or centrist timidity. We know that righteous anger is a crucial tool in the fight against injustice. Those who would deprive the oppressed of this tool are not the friend of the oppressed.
So how do we avoid the cowardly hollowness of civility, and still hold ourselves accountable to upright behavior?
The mainstream media pretends that American politics exists in two separate spheres: the public sphere of power and the private sphere of personal life. Yet when we accept this division, we accept the premise that what powerful people do at their jobs is separate from who they are.
Neoliberals, centrists, and right-wingers have seizures when the two-sphere idea is challenged. But the oppressed know there is no division between the two spheres. The oppressed understand that the two-sphere worldview is an artifact of privilege.
Only the privileged can afford to live in a world where politics does not effect them every moment of every day. For the privileged, the Mitch McConnell who tried to kill Obamacare and Mitch McConnell the private citizen are two separate people.
But for the single mother with a deathly sick child, there is no separation between the political and the private. She suffers either way. There is no place she can run. How can anyone look her in the face and claim there are two spheres? Where is the refuge that can shield her from politics?
Modern American politics is little else but deciding who suffers and why. Second-wave feminism argued that “The personal is political.” But the personal is not just political. The political dictates, to a large extent, what is personal. Your body—your family —- your job — your health. We think of these four areas as personal.
But just how personal? That’s determined by politics. Our system decided a long time ago that all four of these were up for debate, at least where women and oppressed people were concerned.
If this political-versus-personal division is baseless (it is) then we owe it to ourselves to decide, in a rational way, what is off-limits in an ethical society.
Nobody should be doxxed. But I mean that in the most sweeping way possible. A society where government agents are undoxxable would also make immigrants undoxxable. The people who were the most upset about the doxxing of ICE, the folks who have been the most vexed about a lack of civility, why, they were just fine with the NSA spying on ordinary Americans. Isn’t it strange how that works?
Or maybe it’s not that strange. Civility is the sexual fetish of people who are just fine with established power. In the context of politics, “civility” has a particular implication which is precious to its adherents: the betters should respect one another, and you should respect your betters. No surprise there. The establishment wants to bring back feudalism in economics: why not bring it back in manners?
However, we don’t live in an ethical society. We live in this one, where they have border jails for children. In 2018 America, ICE is essentially a gang of legalized criminals. They’re the same as the Jim Crow cops who defended white supremacy in Selma. And we are obliged to push back against then. If that’s true, what makes civil disobedience different from doxxing? Why is it praiseworthy to surround the ICE headquarters in Portland, and beyond decency to dox ICE online?
Doxxing is harmful because it hurts the innocent people around the doxxed. Doxxing is wrong because it denies the wicked the right to privacy that ordinary people should possess.
I am against doxxing ICE, but because doxxing is indecent, not because it is uncivil.
What is called for here is decency, not civility.
Civility is not the same thing as decency. ICE doesn’t deserve civility. Ever. Civility is concerned with the feelings of your equal. ICE are not our equals. President Trump is not our equal. His employees are not our equals. They’re monsters, and they do not deserve our respect. They deserve our condemnation, now and for the rest of their lives, in every restaurant and in every public space they ever visit.
What they also deserve is our decency. Decency is not concerned with the feelings of the other party, but the good behavior of the practitioner. We jeer Donald Trump because it is the decent thing for us to do. We impeach and throw Donald Trump in jail because it is the decent thing for us to do. We curse the name of the House of Trump forever because it is the decent thing for us to do. We shut down ICE compounds and call them fascists because it is the decent thing for us to do.
I am genuinely sad for the innocent families of the ICE agents that got doxxed. That shouldn’t have happened to spouses and children. I cannot defend Wikileaks for doing what it did. What I can do is attack the strange worldview of people who believe in well-ordered, well-mannered oppression. Who are fighting for civility, instead of decency.
And I wonder: if the U.S., during the Cold War, had found a way to broadcast the home addresses of KGB agents to ordinary Soviet citizens, what would our reaction have been? Answer honestly. The personal is political, the political is personal. We are all persons, and we have political duties to ourselves and one another. Everyone deserves privacy, or nobody does.