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In the absence of privacy, conformism flourishes.
... the recent fuss over that celeb threesome, complete with saliva-coated details about an olive oil-filled paddling pool, did highlight something else, too: the devaluation of privacy, that relentless, creeping demand that we are entitled to know what people get up to behind closed doors. This isn’t just about sex, although sex, as a private, intimate act negotiated beyond social rules, is central to the publicising crusade. No, the creeping demand to publicise the private is addressed to our whole intimate and, increasingly, inner lives. Illnesses are there to be disclosed; emails released; conversations reported. There is nothing private anymore. Not in fact, but in principle. That is, we are increasingly encouraged to live as if our life could be made public, that a particular comment, or a particular relationship, could be thrown, or wikileaked, before the public, where it will be judged, censured, condemned. It is as if one’s private life is always potentially public, to be viewed, at all times, through the eyes of a public other.
But today, too many are in thrall to the ‘lyrical dreams of the transparent glass house’. ‘Transparency’ has become the sine qua non for a man to live correctly, to conform to the correct opinions, the correct views, the correct conduct. It has become a panacea for politicians battling public cynicism, and a virtue-signalling buzzword for business. Transparency is no longer a threat, as it was in the imaginings of Orwell or the life of Kundera: it is an aspiration.
Because privacy is viewed with suspicion, its meaning associated less with freedom than with concealment and secrecy (which are no bad things anyway), with getting up to no good, and worse, a suspicion writ large in that phrase beloved of abuse-hunters, ‘Behind closed doors’. It’s quite a turnaround. The closed door might once have represented the legitimate limit to the public’s gaze; now it’s an impediment to seeing what we, the public, need to see, a sign that something untoward could be happening, something sexually deviant, ideologically improper, politically incorrect, perhaps involving marital infidelity and olive oil, perhaps not.
The demonisation of the private sphere, sullied with connotations of abuse and corruption, rests on the denigration of individual freedom and autonomy in general. We cannot be left alone, and, too often now, we no longer want to be left alone. Independence of thought and life has been supplanted by instagrammed dependence on the validation of others.
My own view is that if you are not breaking the law then you have a right to privacy. Adultery is not a factor in how well you perform on the public stage in my opinion, be it a politician or a celebrity. I also find it worrying that by normalising transparency in private life we are in fact giving up a personal freedom as well as the right to challenge encroachment into our own private life when the tables are reversed.
One of the issues as I see it is that this is not about your present life, but every minute of your past life, too.
The difference, I guess, is in the definition of 'normalising transparency' and then the distinction between transparency and invasion.
So while we have a right to privacy, we also have a responsibility not to throw that away by broadcasting every tiny detail of our lives over social media.