The afternoon after her conversation with Dan, Mae finds it impossible to focus on anything. She feels guilty for having taken the kayak without telling anyone. Just before six pm, Eamon Bailey’s assistant leads Mae—who’s feeling intensely nervous—to Bailey’s library. Mae pretends that she’s never been to the library before.
Instead of standing up for herself (e.g., telling Dan that stealing the kayak wasn’t a big deal at all, and that he should mind his own business), Mae caves in and feels intensely guilty for her “horrible crime.” In the library, she’s forced to keep another secret—that Mae has taken her there before.
Inside the library, Mae meets Eamon Bailey. Immediately, he asks her if she’s ever been here before; Mae denies that she has, and Bailey’s face twitches oddly. He asks Mae about her friendship with Annie, and he offers her tea. Then, without warning, he asks Mae about the events of last night. He wonders if Mae would have behaved differently if she’d known about the SeeChange cameras. Mae admits that if she’d known about the cameras, she wouldn’t have taken the kayak. Noticing that Mae is nervous, Bailey laughs merrily and assures her that she’s not being fired.
Bailey seems to know that Mae has been into his library before—it seems reasonable to guess that he installed some SeeChange cameras there, and that he’s testing Mae. In many ways, Bailey is the most dangerous person in the novel: he’s committed to a totalitarian ideology, but he’s also charming and likeable. In short, he seduces the Circle employees into giving up their human right to privacy.
Bailey asks Mae, “Are you ever happy when a friend keeps a secret from you?” Mae is forced to admit, “No.” Bailey proceeds to argue that secrets are never acceptable—secrets are always signs that a “guilty party” is trying to hiding something from others. He talks about the pain that his brother had to endure in the days before it was common to come out of the closet. Then, when his brother came out, he was amazed to find that his parents barely cared. He argues that secrets are also unacceptable in the case of politics, and that heroic figures like Julian Assange have changed the world by leaking secrets to the press. Everyone, he argues, “has the right to know everything.”
Bailey’s sophistry is convincing to Mae, but it shouldn’t be convincing to readers. Notice how Bailey uses a bait and switch argument, combined with excessive emotional appeals, to conclude that everyone has the right to know everything. It’s not clear how such a conclusion follows from the idea that secrets sometimes make Mae unhappy. Bailey’s point seems to be that revealing a secret never causes any damage—an argument that many (including many real-life critics of Julian Assange) would dispute.
Bailey reminds Mae of her role in Gus’s LuvLuv demonstration, and he asks why she felt uncomfortable. Mae explains that she didn’t like being surprised on the day of the demonstration. Nevertheless, Bailey argues that none of the information that Gus and Francis talked about was incorrect or even particularly offensive. Mae argues that the information they presented was “incomplete”—it didn’t encompass her total being. Bailey smiles and thanks Mae for making such a point. The goal of the Circle, he insists, is to make people’s online personalities complete. When everyone in the world has gone “transparent,” he argues, humanity will no longer be tempted by “darkness.” Bailey laughs and says, “That’s the Midwestern church-goer in me.”
Bailey continues to trick Mae into surrendering her right to privacy, offering half-baked arguments about the digitalization of human nature. Mae’s argument about her information being incomplete suggests a profound point: human nature can never be entirely represented in quantitative form. There will always be intangible concepts and values that mere numbers fail to represent. Bizarrely, Bailey, who is apparently a Christian, thinks that human nature can be represented online in its entirety. Furthermore, Bailey’s arguments don’t address the dehumanizing, objectifying experience of being reduced to mere numbers on a screen.
Mae awkwardly blurts out that “some things” about people should be kept private—their sex lives, for example. Bailey argues that nobody will spy on other people if they themselves are being watched, too. Indeed, once everybody is being watched at all times, people will behave more politely and morally. Gently, Bailey asks Mae if she has anything to tell him. Shyly, she admits that she’s been to his library before. Bailey smiles and says that he already knew this. Instantly, Mae feels very relieved.
Bailey’s arguments parallel those of the famous 18th century thinker Jeremy Bentham, who proposed a “Panopticon”—a device that allows all people to see one another. Even if total transparency makes people behave more politely, it will also make them more frightened and anxious: they’ll behave well, but only because they’re afraid of reprisal.
In the days following her conversation with Bailey, Mae feels dizzy and exhilarated. Her work remains excellent, and her PartiRank is very respectable. On Friday, she shows up early to the Great Hall for the weekly lecture, in which she’ll be playing a special part. Bailey greets her and thanks her for coming down—the two of them will be “recreating the conversation we had last week.”
In this important passage, we see Mae transitioning from a reluctant employee of the Circle to an enthusiastic collaborator. She’s not just talking with Bailey anymore— she’s trying to convince other Circle employees to surrender their right to privacy, too, by staging a conversation with Bailey in front of an audience.
The presentation begins. Bailey invites Mae to the stage, where he asks Mae about the “awakening” she had in the previous week. Following the script she and Bailey have discussed already, Mae tells Bailey about how she felt guilty for stealing a kayak from a beach, and for refusing to “share” her experience with anyone via photos or posts. She proceeds to argue that “secrets are lies.” Bailey nods and asks for this message to be displayed on the wall.
Notice that Bailey uses the word “awakening,” a sign of his religious faith. Also, notice that Mae and Bailey believe that her real crime wasn’t stealing the kayak—her crime was refusing to post online about it. Because Bailey has convinced her already, Mae is more than happy to help him trick Circle employees with his bogus arguments.
Bailey asks Mae about her kayaking. He wonders why Mae hasn’t posted any videos or pictures from her time spent kayaking. He brings up his son, Gunner, who has cerebral palsy, and he points out that Gunner will never be able to go kayaking himself. If Mae doesn’t post about her experiences, she’ll deprive Gunner and millions of other disabled people of the experience. Mae nods and says, “Equal access to all possible human experiences is a basic human right.” Following her script, she talks about the need to share experiences with other people. Bailey nods and projects two new phrases onto the wall: “Sharing is caring,” and “Privacy is theft.” Bailey thanks Mae for her honesty, and the crowd bursts into thunderous applause. Over the applause, Bailey announces that Mae will be “going transparent immediately.”
Again and again in the novel, we see Circle employees using emotional appeals to justify their unethical behavior—whether it’s putting tracking devices in all children or surrendering privacy. Here, Bailey uses an emotional description of his son’s disabilities to argue, illogically, that people have a moral duty to give up their privacy. As we’ve already seen via Mae’s kayak journeys, privacy isn’t necessarily theft—in fact, privacy can be very empowering and rewarding. Book One concludes with the announcement that Mae is going transparent. We’re not sure if Mae is hearing this news for the first time, or if she and Bailey talked about it beforehand—and that’s the point. Mae’s freedom to make her own decisions gets swept up in Bailey’s fanatical utopianism.