Writing at Public Discourse, Anthony Esolen expresses well what I left unexamined in an earlier essay (The Pleasure of Success, the Joy of Obedience). He writes:
[W]hat happens when the conditions and assumptions that made the assessment possible no longer obtain: when self-government has been absorbed into the machinery of a vast, impersonal state, whose acts and ends are evaluated quantitatively according to a model of industrial efficiency (or inefficiency), and when people are taught that there is no objective moral or metaphysical truth, and no beauty of being, to provide the objects of contemplation. If solitude is the flower of life in community, then perhaps we may say, turning the equation inside out, that the terminus of a life that knows no contemplation, no higher good than the efficient pursuit of quantifiable objects, is isolation.
He continues: Continue reading
Privacy in our culture has come to serve not a deepening of community life but an ever deeper sense of social isolation. Even otherwise laudable behavior is increasingly justified not by the goodness of what is done but by the modern sense of privacy. Even among those who ought to know better, the Gospel is presented in terms that are almost wholly personal without any sense of its public character and demands. Our sense of isolation from each other has become so profound that even to suggest that there is a human nature and that true happiness is only possible when we live in conformity to our nature, is seen a provocation and an assault on the radical autonomy of the individual.
Paradoxically, when privacy is in the service of isolation it is also the source of what Peggy Noonan (The Eyes Have It) describes as our increasingly “exhibitionist culture.” She writes that more and more we “know things about each other (or think we do) that we should not know, have no right to know, and have a right, actually, not to know.” While technology has a role to play here, Noonan sees the cause as rooted in the loss of what I would call the right sense of personal privacy. Lose this, Noonan says, and “we lose some of our humanity; we lose things that are particular to us, that make us separate and distinctive as souls, as, actually, children of God.” And with this loss comes as well the loss of a truly civil society. “We also lose trust, not only in each other but in our institutions, which we come to fear. “
Not that the modern sense of privacy is all bad. Without privacy, without a door I can close (and the trust that you will respect that closed door) I cannot from time to time withdraw into solitude. Rightly understood, privacy is the functional expression of solitude. Continue reading