Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mind Your Own Business

Way back in 1928, Supreme court Justice Louis Brandeis referred to "the right to be let alone" as "the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men".  I agree.  We have, and ought to have, the right to be left alone - by the media, the government, and nosy people in general.

Of course, this right is not absolute.  I should not have the right to be left alone to beat my wife, molest little kids, start a dog fighting ring or other crimes that involve the direct harming of others.  But whatever I do that I want to keep to myself, that doesn't involve me hurting others, ought to be left up to me, without the interference of nosey parties.

With that said, we are a society obsessed with other people's lives.  When Charlie Sheen announced his mid-life crisis and desired to have endless coke parties with porn stars, the media couldn't get enough.  I addressed it myself on this blog, but mostly just to say nobody should care.  This isn't news, a rich middle aged guy having a very expensive midlife crisis. 

A few weeks ago, several of Sarah Palin's emails were made public.  Rather than hanging our heads in shame over this invasion of privacy, we celebrated it on TV and on the Internet.  I'm no fan of Mrs. Palin, but even the jerks in our society should have the right to reasonably expect some measure of privacy.  Unless her emails have her confessing to crimes, I'm not interested.

More recently, Congressman Anthony Weiner's private life of sexy text messages and PG-13 pictures sent to various women has come to light, and the predictable media feeding frenzy has engaged.  Arnold Schwarzenegger’s many mistresses and love children became public shortly after he left office, and we all dove into the buffet at the never ending trough of public shame.

The Washington versions of our obsession with all things private is just one chapter in our saga.  Visit sites like TMZ, PerezHilton, or scan the magazines at the checkout stands anywhere in America, and you will see two things: a society obsessed with other people's private lives, and an well-funded industry dedicated to enabling this addiction.  I don't find Anthony Weiner's activities nearly as obscene as our general attitude that we are entitled to know the details.  It has been suggested that we should find better ways to spend our time, both individually and collectively.  Will it happen, though?  Of course not. 

Like Pavlov's dogs, we have been conditioned to respond to the stimuli our masters have chosen.  How much weight has Kirstie Allie lost and/or gained back?  Do Tom Cruise and Katey Holmes have a happy marriage?  What about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie? What are the stars of "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" doing off-camera?  What is the private life of your favorite celebrity really like?

I have to admit that I find myself cheering every time some celebrity beats the hell out of someone in the paparazzi for taking pictures of their kids or crowding them out so they can't successfully walk to their cars when they leave restaurants.  Without the paparazzi and the tabloids, we would have lost track of Lindsay Lohan and the Olson twins, and we probably would have no idea who Paris Hilton is at all.  And to me, those are good things.  In a perfect world, or at least a self-respecting one, we wouldn't bother to care.

Our obsession does not end with the private side of celebrity.  Our government makes it a policy to wage war waged on harmless stoners, under the flimsy pretext of a "war on drugs".  Tactically, financially, morally, our war on drugs is a colossal failure and needs to end.  And since I'm one of the people funding it through my tax dollars, I feel that I should get a say in this.  But to admit defeat in the war on drugs would be to acknowledge that it's okay to leave people alone sometimes.  And that is not a message that we as a society are ready to accept.

Ask people whether two gay people they don’t even know should have the right to marry, and suddenly everyone has an opinion.  Ask them if a gay couple who they’ve never met is fit to adopt and raise a child, and you’ll get even stronger opinions.  Whatever happened to “none of your business”?  Whatever happened to minding our own business?

I've said it before and I’ll say it again: we ought to have the absolute right to be left alone, provided we are not actively engaged in harming others.  But in agreeing to our own right to be left alone, we must also stipulate that right for everyone else as well.  And that means the end of tabloids, scandals involving politicians’ sex lives, and the right to decide on the validity of other people’s marriages.  What ever shall we discuss now?

1 comment:

Billy K. said...

Very well put, Sir. I honestly could not agree more.