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Is privacy normal? - Issue #317

Peggy Noonan's column on Prince Harry, published last week, ended with a broader thought about privacy. It has all of the pearl-clutching and "back in my day" of a good Noonan column, but I think her point is worth quoting at length:

But fully mature people still have a sense of their own privacy, they keep to themselves what is properly kept to oneself. Privacy isn't some relic of the pre-tech past, as I said once, it is connected to personhood. It has to do with intimate things-the inner workings of your head and heart, of your soul. You don't just give those things away. Your deepest thoughts and experiences are yours, held by you; they are part of your history. They are part of your dignity. You share them as a mark of trust. This is true intimacy, not phony intimacy but the real thing.

Whenever I see the word privacy, I think about online privacy regulations. People have a deep sense that companies generally shouldn't collect information about them on the internet; they tend to dislike use of collected information for things like advertising. But none of that makes sense unless something like Noonan's idea of privacy as a more general value exists.

I'll echo any number of pundits in pointing out the irony of Prince Harry's wildly exhibitionistic writings and interviews even as a major thread of his Netflix interview is how the press wouldn't respect his privacy. It's tough to think that privacy amounts to much when his viewers (or readers) watch him recount his deepest secrets direct-to-camera (or page).

It's funny to think about privacy as a value when our culture's top value seems to be boundary-less self-expression. More from Noonan's piece:

A friend said the other day: "Most of the forces in the world are pushing toward exhibitionism and calling it honesty. The assumption is if you keep things to yourself you have something to hide." But you aren't reserved out of shame, you are reserved out of a sense of your own value and self-respect. And it doesn't leave you alone; it means you are part of something larger, a whole world of distinct souls.

You shouldn't violate your own privacy, not for attention or admiration, and not for money. It's a mistake. And it won't heal you.

Being reserved seems like a wise response to our social media age.

For the reading this week, I have two pieces. The first is an example of someone who is incredibly unreserved: Rod Dreher feels a deep need to discuss his father's KKK past, his relationships with his family, and his divorce, all in public view. While this was a gripping read, I highly doubt it will bring him the healing it appears he needs. The second read is from an old frugality blogger. His discussion of what we believe to be normal, and how it depends on milieu, puts into sharp relief this idea that we need to broadcast everything.


A Darkness Revealed

This appears to confirm my belief that in the 1960s, my father Ray was involved in the Klan. People are going to wonder about this, and as unpleasant as it is for me to talk about in public, I can't very well keep silence.



The California Effect

The biggest life opportunity in human history is the understanding that all of us live in a bubble which we incorrectly perceive as "normal."