Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Absence of Reserve

I don’t know why I am posting this--really, it’s pretty awful. So if you have a weak stomach, just move on and you’ll be no worse for your ignorance. But, if you’re curious, I think there is a serious point in here somewhere.

There are people who can be too reserved and justly be called "uptight" or some other--perhaps, less polite--name. On the other hand, I think it is also a truism that one doesn’t come across too many folks who deserve that appellation these days. Oh, there are plenty of people who are called "uptight" but the bar has been--shall we say--lowered (just a tad). I mean, you only have to be a Republican--and not even a particularly religious one--to get that insult hurled in your direction. If you’ve ever wondered what’s happened to our larger culture to explain this, you need only look and reflect upon what you read here.

There’s a reason why the acronym, "TMI" (too much information) is used so regularly today. James Taranto uses it to point us to this story today and he means to be funny and shock us. He is, and it does. But why do so many people today feel compelled to share these kind of lurid stories about their lives with any and all comers? Frankly, I cannot begin to understand the howling about "the right to privacy" and the invasions of it by the Patriot Act when--on the other hand--so many of these same folks seem willing to put so much of themselves and their souls (however twisted they may be) upon display. The YouTube/My Space culture of our youth seems to be at odds with the protest. What, exactly, is there left to hide? What information is left to expose? Is there such a thing as the private anymore?

Discussions - 17 Comments

I feel like you are baiting me on this one. Let me suprise you and say that I agree with you. In general people share too much of themselves. People are foolish to do so. What is good advice at the poker table is good advice in life. Wear shades and speak infrequently. I have rather infrequently regreted not telling someone something. Much more frequent is the regret of sharing too much.

There are entire truckloads of serious points to be made here...but I don't think I will share them with you:)

I will be predictable on two fronts the first is disagreeing with you, the second is in continuing to share. I like what Jeniffer Cacacio wrote. I like her style. I think it is good writting, and I think it belongs in the New York Times. The rest of my disagreements all involve making distinctions, so I don't really know if you would agree or disagree or not. I would say that there are many subcultures for whom the "right to privacy" is not all that important...someone who has reached a mental state where he is putting hooks into himself is beyond has to be explanable only by some sort of post-modern manichaeism and whatever "rights" would look like from this perspective...good lord if I could tell you...I believe it would resist objectification on purpose. I am glad that I stumbled upon resisting objectification...because in truth the right to privacy as it is conceived by the You Tube/My Space folk is really about resisting classification...people are worried about infringement of privacy that sorts them into demographics for the sake of generating advertisements...for the sake of generating consumers...and they want to resist the generic story line by speaking for themselves... In effect The "right to privacy" is The irreducable aspect of man. But I am playing with Continental philosophy here...

Your point might be that in speaking so openly about themselves they are reducing themselves...objectifying themselves...I might not disagree...but I think they are doing it...that they are so a certain sense to objectify themselves in such a way as is counter the prevalent moral norms...If I go too far down this line we will be discussing Machiavelli's Mandragola and MTV...Jane Austen vs. Dostoevski...I will be discussing it because I was thinking about this essay

It is a very good essay that you probably agree with as much and probably more than I do....The key thing that jogged my memory about the essay was the way you opened this post: "I don’t know why I am posting this--really, it’s pretty awful"...quite an Austen like thing to say...and I wanted to give a reason for what I liked about Cacacio... because I love Dostoevski and of course the full scope of Twain which is somewhat dark if you read his latter stuff having to do with the possibility of human agency.

"Oh, well," she says, "as long as he's happy." I don't think people who self-mutilate, and call it art, are happy. I think they are deeply, mentally ill. And frankly, I think the writer has some mental issues too. She thinks of herself as a child when she's in her 20's. She makes a baby with a guy, but aborts it because she doesn't "love" him. She goes back years later revisiting the whole scenario. So he physically cuts himself, while she emotionally cuts herself.

Wow, I guess I'd rather be uptight than a freak.

I always enjoy reading your posts, John. When I have more time, I'll read and get back to you about the essay you linked. For now, let me agree with you that Ms. Cacacio is a fine writer. And--as I've said elsewhere--I really enjoy the narrative style of reflection and reporting. But this article of hers went beyond reflection and narration. It was painful for me to read. I felt, as I read, that she was splintering her soul in so divulging the ins and outs of her (I must say, terribly confused) private life. People wear clothes partly for warmth and comfort and partly to protect the morality of the community. The real reason most people gladly wear clothes is because what what we conceal under them is better not exposed for public consumption. In other words, we have something to hide. We would all do well to observe the same decency with our speech--not just for the sake of the listener--but for our own sakes.

I read that yesterday and could have wept for pity if the sense of being appalled at all of the above you guys mention had not predominated. Do some humans beings require/miss/desire some level of pain in life so as to need to seek it in such a way? Cacacio suggests the suspension website which has a pretty horrific gallery of photos. It is awful enough in thumbnail that I did not look closer. Postage-stamp size is plenty for me, thanks.

The point is, first page of the website has an explanation for why these people do these things. Pain fills emptiness and brings enlightenment, seems to be the theme. Life is not painful enough? I feel perpetually gob-smacked by it. No, I decline to explain why. Just take my word for it.

Perhaps it is unkind to say this, but the self-exposure of those folks we are complaining about is surely just a step or two beyond the blogging that we do. We are discussing ideas, for the most part, though I have been guilty of using examples from my life or those around me to make a point. Maybe my intellectual arsenal is simply not strong enough to do otherwise. Yet we all are exposing ourselves, in a way, discussing ideas and perspectives on religion, politics, child-rearing, all the sorts of things that polite conversation used to avoid.

Maybe blogging as we do is the "uptight" version of public revelation?

Well said above, Julie. Social norms of restraint and coverage make social life more agreeable or less disagreeable to both society and the individual. Holding back is a sign of respect for oneself, a way to preserve control over onself. Exhibitionism, on the other hand, seems to make one a slave to society, craving approval or some other response from it. But since other people, especially these days, deliver their opinions bluntly, its usually better for everyone involved not to provoke society to slip its self-restraints.

And, of course, let's not overlook that one's clothes, like one's words, can, when well-chosen, compliment oneself as well as please others. Clothes don't have to be a badge of shame, and, pace Rousseau, society doesn't always have to be a miserable prison.

On another note, I haven't seen anyone comment on this: that having written casually and in the mainstream press about her abortion, Ms. Cacacio engages in exhibitionism as ghastly as that of her ex-boyfriend. Her display of nonchalance, rather than graphic photos, about the experience hardly mitigates its repulsiveness.

Bravo, bravo JQA. Very well said--especially this: Clothes don't have to be a badge of shame, and, pace Rousseau, society doesn't always have to be a miserable prison. I hope I didn't seem to imply that they did. I would be the first to burn the berka! And this: Ms. Cacacio engages in exhibitionism as ghastly as that of her ex-boyfriend. Her display of nonchalance, rather than graphic photos, about the experience hardly mitigates its repulsiveness.

Kate says: Yet we all are exposing ourselves, in a way, discussing ideas and perspectives on religion, politics, child-rearing, all the sorts of things that polite conversation used to avoid. Yes--to some extent she is absolutely correct and I'd be lying if I said that I didn't sometimes wonder whether I have said too much. It is an important thing to keep in mind as one writes--I know that my delete button is the key I most use! But there is a huge difference between exposing one's thoughts and ideas (even if some autobiographical evidence is used to support one's claims) and engaging in what amounts to verbal flashing. Some bloggers may engage in precisely that sort of thing but I'm pretty sure that no one here has done anything worse than a Sally Rand fan dance.

JL: I know now why you liked that essay and you’re right--I liked it too, and probably more than you did. Thanks for posting it. In the interest of full disclosure (if I may say that now!) Sheehan, is a Claremont grad and an old friend of many of my friends--though we have never met.

It's outrageous and appalling when people divulge private details about themselves or others.

And it's immeasurably damaging as well.

So it's classless and hurtful at the same time.

And people who do such things have an obligation to do all that they can to make up for what they've done.

Excellent replies, if in a sense somewhat predictable. Permit me to play Machiavelli's Advocate. When I re-read Cacacio I was reminded of the Nine Inch Nails song Closer. I remmember thinking when I first heard the song in the sixth grade...that it was the height of depravity, it actually shocked me. You really have to listen to it to get the full gist...but here are the


"I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that's real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything"

I think that people reveal themselves so explicitly because they are seeking a time when they could still feel. Maybe Fung will join the conversation and explain it as Opponent Process theory of emotion

The thing is whether or not you call it Opponent Process theory, it is painfully obviously that we are no longer mooved or shocked or bothered by what once was capable of evoking in us a reaction.

So in response to JQA...I must say that I disagree with your assesment of Cacacio.

"Ms. Cacacio engages in exhibitionism as ghastly as that of her ex-boyfriend. Her display of nonchalance, rather than graphic photos, about the experience hardly mitigates its repulsiveness."

Ms. Cacacio is writting a column in which the topic is modern love. Her focus is really on nonchalance, her focus is on the Opponent Process theory...her focus is on Nine Inch Nails...what is important is her visceral first reaction...not her subsequent rationalization that tries to portray her judgements as "presumptuous narcissism." Maybe he is happy is just a way to dull the in Fight Club when the attempt is made to escape the trauma of burning lye with "therapy/moving the mind elsewhere."

Of course the first rule of Fight Club is that one should not talk about Fight Club...

John Lewis

So contra JQA I don't think Ms. Cacacio is trying to be non-chalant, or if she is then she is simultaneously critiquing the possibility of love and feeling in modernity...the topic is modern love. The non-chalant aspect of her writting simply reveals a physcological truth about the way we clothe ourselves and rationalize away our feelings overtime, and this is what she wanted to say about modern love. A clinical debate about the merits or ethical status of abortion could never express the existential impact it had upon the lives of the two people discussed in this narrative. Ms. Cacacio ends up delivering abortion in the same way that "Nip Tuck" presents plastic surgery.

By the way...I absolutely detest Nip Tuck...because I am not necessarily against plastic surgery...unless it is presented in this way.

I really think this conversation goes back and relates to Julie's discussion of body world.

In some regards then one could argue that the acronym "TMI" is used too often...Metaphorically and literally we want to live in a world with beautiful people and plastic surgery...but we don't want to know that it is because of plastic surgery. We want to support everything from a distance on the grounds of its apperance, without ever digging deeper. Woman is beautiful until she opens her mouth. We are a nation at war, that isn't really at war. We selectively choose the information we wish to be exposed to so that we can live lives of our own making, oblivious to anything that might cause reflection. We want to be consumers, gratifying our impulses in typical bourgeois fashion.

We've abandoned ourselves nearly completely to feelings. Feelings are one element of ourselves, but I doubt they were ever intended to be the dominant element. Ideally they would be subordinated to our will, which in turn is subordinated to God. Alas, such is not the case in our increasingly secular world.

The problem is, feelings are only temporarily satisfied. Addictions of all sorts are on the rise ... people are trying to satisfy an itch that simply can't be satisfied. I suppose we're capable of becoming desensitized to even things as awful as self-mutilation ... and when that desensitization sets in, one thing to do is to turn it from a private affair to a public one.

We truly are becoming a people utterly adrift. Read C.S. Lewis' 1941 classic, "Abolition of Man" for an eerie prediction of all this.

I did not read Cacacio on the topic of her abortion as having anything but regret and grief, although these are obliquely expressed. Maybe my reading is too interpretive, but that last paragraph is pretty plaintive.

Kate, I agree with you. I read it the same way and it was as if I was hit in the gut when I read it. I kept feeling, as I read her article, that if she were my daughter I would want to wrap her up in a blanket and rock her to sleep. I kept thinking that she needed a "Daddy" to take off his suit-coat and cover her up and protect her from the bad world she'd involved herself in. She seemed terribly sad adrift to me.

Exactly...her discussion of seeing kids in restaurants reminded me of the pro-life TV commercials where the child is on the swing one moment and the next he isn't. Obviously this is an emotional point is that an issue like abortion is quite clearly "TMI" we don't like seeing it anymore than we like seeing the haunting pictures of children in Sudan. We don't like seeing war, we don't like seeing a lot of things...liberals in particular are always assulting us with things we don't want to see to try to shock us out of our comfortable existance. A question arrises if the trick isn't overdone. We live in the information age so to put a twist on "TMI" we could say that we are saturated with so much information that it no longer becomes shocking. Seriously are you guys shocked or just kind of sad that you aren't shocked? I fall in the later category and I think if Cacacio appears to be non-challant then it is because she has also reached saturation. The absense of saying too much too often...results in complete indifference, which is probably the strongest argument for reserve. Of course in a world were a lot of people are indifferent the temptation is to shout louder. The sky is falling people... no seriously!!! Bah Humbug...I don't see no stinkin' Ghost of Christmas past.

No, I was moved by that last bit of the article. Maybe because I do not watch TV I have not reach that saturation point you mention, John. That is actually one reason I do not watch and cannot watch. The loudness of TV agitates me and while I know I could get used to it, I do not want to do so. It is all overdone.

The encounters I have with such things are more immediate. In my classes at the community college I have some really young mothers, 16 - 17 years old, with children, some with babies, but also some with toddlers. One high school junior attending my class to get dual credit wrote "My three year old son is the greatest joy in my life." Those young mothers always say things like that. Maybe it is TMI, but it is what they have to offer right now and is what they write about to me. That was the sort of thing I thought about when I read, What he had said to me seven years earlier played over and over in my head: “Maybe if we had a kid, we wouldn’t feel so lost anymore.” The young mothers work really hard at life (and in my classes), because they have a purpose and are not lost.

All of those people hurting themselves are sadly adrift. Where I wonder in #4 about people needing some pain or hardship in their lives relates to this. If life is too easy, are people inclined to make it hard? If so, surely there are better and more useful and more joy-making ways than hanging from your skin.

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