This analysis first appeared in Die Welt
Imagine the following situation: An exhibitionist doesn't have curtains on his windows, so those on both the street and courtyard sides of his apartment can see everything that goes on inside - what he does, who comes to visit, who he goes to bed with and wakes up next to.
The exhibitionist doesn't just casually let this go on; he actually wants it that way. It's the way he lives.
Then one day he notices that one of the neighbors has a telescope facing his apartment. The exhibitionist calls the neighbor. "How dare you spy on me. You're invading my private space!" he yells into the phone, furious. "I didn't think you cared, maybe even liked it," the neighbor says, defending himself. "Yes!" the exhibitionist screams, "but not when you do it!"
You've guessed where this is going. A society of exhibitionists gets teed-off when it's watched by voyeurs. Professional ones, as it happens in the present NSA brouhaha, in the service of foreign powers.
German blogger Sascha Lobo says he feels "astonishment, dismay, outrage, irritation, a sense of powerlessness, anger and revulsion," and Germany's President Joachim Gauck wonders "if I can openly phone or e-mail at all anymore."
These are amazing reactions given that our multi-directional, equal, free and transparent society is built on three pillars: quashing the private sphere, exhibitionism and voyeurism.
"Like a beach for nudists"
It's not just on the train that we have to put up with business people discussing private matters with their significant others or personal assistants, absolutely unconcerned that we really don't want to know. And celebrities of all stripes seem to feel obliged to share their private lives with us via Facebook, Twitter or one of the TV formats specifically created to deliver news-that's-not-really-news to a society of voyeurs, who absolutely want to know what a well-known actor's illegitimate son has to say about him, or how a famous actress is doing in rehab. Check out shows like Brisant (ARD) or Explosiv and Exclusiv (RTL) on German TV and you'll see why the only places in the country that still have peep shows are places where television reception is poor.
All must be revealed! Germany is like a beach for nudists. Instead of perceiving people who "out themselves" as perpetrating a form of indecent exposure, we cover them with praise for their "courage." And if somebody isn't up for such exposure because they want to keep their private life to themselves, they are constantly prodded to go for it.
For example, to "help" gay soccer players come out, the German Football Association (DFB) has published a brochure entitled Fussball und Homosexualität ("Soccer and Homosexuality"). Its purpose is to provide "support for homosexual players both male and female." In addition, German Minister of Justice Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, who favors "informational self-determination," has asked national trainer Joachim Löw, together with national team players, to participate in Christopher Street Day (an annual European LGBT street event).
"Participation on the part of the DFB in 2014, with their own float, would be a great sign because it would be so visible," she explained, without for a moment thinking of the right to "informational self-determination" for players who are gay but don't wish to come out, or heterosexuals who don't wish to be taken for gay.
Meanwhile, three dozen German writers have written an open letter to Angela Merkel urging the German chancellor to protect them from "foreign intelligence agencies monitoring our phone calls and electronic communication" because "this is an historic attack on our democratic constitutional state in the form of a reversal of the principle of presumption of innocence to presuming the guilt of millions."