Saturday, October 30, 2010

Public And Private

How great are our possibilities to remake ourselves?

The recent little prod I gave to my estranged family got me curious enough to look at them closer than I have for a long time. As I skimmed through their tweets and blogs and writing on facebook walls, I was reminded of all I successfully left behind. Talk about depressions and medications, crude, partly ironic characterizations based on race ("Jewesses Rock!"), requests for cooperative surveillance ("Anything I should know about classmate 'X' of ours who's just contacted me?"), together with the smallest of small talk of everyday life.

As I was growing up, ordinary life presented itself to me as far from ordinary. It seemed positively bad. I'm not sure how much worse it is now, but one difference is that it is all much more out in the open. What before was kept within the family or between friends is now public communication.

This might not seem to be very important, might even be thought of as a new honesty. I noticed living in the U.S. in the last year that the way people greeted each other had become problematic. It was apparently personal in its warmth of tone, but really seemed more to be a protestation of innocence, a declaration that you and me are really, despite everything, good. People seemed more comfortable with these gestures of public kindness, both in giving and receiving them, perhaps because the public was also allowing them to express themselves more fully elsewhere.

But whenever something new arises, we have to ask ourselves, has it added something to what was already there, or replaced it, and if so, is it better or worse? It looks like everyone is really having a good time. But has talk of racial types, of who know what about whom, of insanity as a handy category to dismiss the unconventional, taken the place of some better ways of talking to each other? Instead of declaring what one is and what one wants, couldn't they be telling stories? Instead of settling everything and everyone into one type or another, couldn't they be talking to each other looking for what they might have in common?

This present kind of talk, a public declaration of the private claim that "I am something, maybe you are not, maybe you are, it is for me to determine", is rapidly becoming more frequent in private life too. Which implies that people have become strangers to each other in private life. In other words, the invasion of public life by private life has resulted in not only the loss of resources of change offered the individual by public life, the crowding out of any reminder a different way of life is possible, but also the loss of private life itself.

I grew up I watching the beginnings of this process. I insisted I should give myself a chance to have the best life, and I knew this wasn't it, wasn't even close. Let's say I was a prophet. I believed in my prophesy that there was nothing in this place for me. So after many repeated and failed attempts, I left for good. That decision opened many new roads, and closed others. It happens that as prophets go, I wasn't really cut out to be one. I was home loving, not a wanderer. I did what I had to. Everyone knows the saying about the prophet not honored in his own country.